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Feature
 
 
Building A Champion

Goldinger
on 02/06/2003

 

In 1970, the city of Milwaukee was awarded a baseball team in shambles-the Seattle Pilots. Featuring only two starters with batting averages over .270 and not a single starting pitcher with an ERA under 4.00, it was going to be a long year for the new team. But looking into the distant future, this team was going to make the city proud. It would only be a matter of time.

Changing the name from the Pilots to the Brewers, this team would win fewer than seventy games for three consecutive seasons, and even have three managers in 1972. Though the turnaround would begin only five years later, the tide truly began to turn due to excellent front office wheeling and dealing.

Right before the 1973 season began, the Brewers made a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies that would be the first of many lopsided trades that would launch the Brewers to prominence. Looking for a third-baseman, the Brewers packaged former Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg along with some spare parts to acquire the twenty-five-year-old Don Money. He would be just the first piece of the puzzle.

Just a year later, an eighteen-year-old phenom made his major league debut. Robin Yount, just one year removed from high school, took the field for the 1974 Brewers. Few ballplayers appear in the major leagues at age eighteen, and even fewer start for the team. Yount would be the heart and soul of the franchise for twenty years and would win two MVP Awards.

The following year, 1975 would see the Brewers take a step back from building its nucleus. Homerun King Hank Aaron would return to Milwaukee where he played for the Braves in the 1960s. He would have two mediocre seasons, but it was just nice to see him finish his career where it started.

Some players who would help the team win many games in the future started to make an impact for the club in 1976. Charlie Moore, Jim Gantner, and Gorman Thomas would get more playing time. The team didn't do much on the field, but the potential was plain to see.

In 1977, it was obvious the Brewers knew what direction they were heading when starting catcher Darrell Porter was shipped to Kansas City for what amounted to be two cans of soda and a bag of pretzels. Porter was more trouble than he was worth, and championship caliber teams didn't need trouble. It was ironic that Porter would go on to help the Cardinals beat the Brewers in the 1982 World Series.

The most important thing to happen to the team in 1977 was the acquisition of first-baseman Cecil Cooper. A pure hitter, Cooper came over in a deal with the Red Sox for slugger George "Boomer" Scott. It was a gamble by the front office, but a gamble that paid dividends for many years to follow. A little known hurler was also acquired in 1977. Mike Caldwell arrived from Cincinnati in a minor deal. With little to no expectations, he would go on to be the ace of the staff for the next five years, winning a lot of games.

Finally, in 1978, it all clicked. Ben Oglivie came over from Detroit for Jim Slaton. Ironically, Slaton would return after the season as a free agent and become a key part of the World Series team. Rookie Paul Molitor would make his major league debut after just one season in the minor leagues. The Brewers would also sign a key free agent, RBI machine Larry Hisle that season. Unfortunately for the Brewers and Hisle, he would play just one healthy season. He would never even have 100 at bats in a season the rest of his career.

With most of the parts in place, the Brewers started winning games. There were pennant races in Milwaukee for the first time in decades. Balls were flying out of the park with reckless and abandon. The team was almost ready for the big time. There were just a few small pieces missing.

After the 1980 season, all the pieces fell into place. Involved in the biggest deal at the winter meetings, the Brewers traded Sixto Lezcano, Lary Sorenson, and two top prospects to St. Louis for veteran hurlers Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers, and catcher Ted Simmons. Adding veterans with post-season experience was all this club needed. In 1981, the Brewers found themselves in the post-season for the first time. A year later, it would be a World Series appearance.

Before free agency changed the face of the game, this was how a championship caliber team was built. Each year, one or two pieces were added to the puzzle. Then, throw in a free agent or two and add some rookies and the team would turn around. This was before multi-million dollar contracts were the norm.

There will never be another team like the Brewers of the late 70s and early 80s. There where characters-Gorman Thomas, Pete Vuckovich, Rollie Fingers. There was class-Cecil Cooper, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor. And there was heart-Jim Gantner, Charlie Moore, Jim Slaton. Though this team is long gone, it will never be forgotten. For all the players that made those teams so great, this brat's for you!

 




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