Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9- Milwaukee Brewers

Ooooooohhhhh… Milwaukee… It’s amazing how much things changed after the 1993 season for the Milwaukee Brewers. Paul Molitor had won an elusive World Series ring with the Toronto Blue Jays and Robin Yount decided to hang up his cleats. Both players ended up making the Hall of Fame years down the road, but their loss became an immediate and questionable impact on the franchise as the 1994 season was set to kick off. As a kid I loved watching Molitor and Yount on the field, and I especially loved collecting their baseball cards as they donned the infamous “MB” glove logo on their jerseys and caps. Little did anyone know, the Brewers had been preparing for a change in the guard for some time, and what better time to unveil it than during the most controversial season in Major League Baseball history?

I’m of course taking about this…

From 1994-1996 the Brewers sported this cap for all of their home games, as well as some rather ridiculous jerseys, in an effort to celebrate 25 years of Brewers baseball in Milwaukee. I was very careful not to say “in the franchise’s history” on account of the one year they played in Seattle as the Pilots. Now, there are a few things that probably need to be pointed out to better explain my beef with this era of caps and uniforms. First off, I actually do love the colors schemes. Navy blue and gold compliment each other very well, and like the Seattle Mariners, the bluish-green trim that was introduced really made everything pop. The logo itself; however, is a different story all together. The longstanding history of MLB cap logos there have been very few that come out in an unorthodox size. By that I mean most logos tend to be somewhat equilateral in both height and width. This one, to a degree still falls within those parameters; however, the height and length go beyond what have been fairly conventional for the last hundred years or so. Just looking at how wide the “M” and how long the “B” are have never really enticed me to wear it. The same can be said about the road cap during this era which I will touch on some time down the road. should also point out that this is the Brewers cap that Bryan Mapes (@IAmMapes) bought f or me in New York City, a story I touched on in my Montreal Expos post from April 6.

Due to the fact that I wasn’t in Milwaukee when the change was made, I’ve always been rather curious to know what the perspective of the fans was when the team made the announcement and first unveiled the logo. I can assure you that 11-year-old Benjamin had a look similar to Dennis Reynolds (played by Glenn Howerton) from the episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” called “Paddy’s Pub: Home of the Original Kitten Mittens.”

All jokes aside, the ’94-’96 years were rather rough times for the Brewers under then manager Phil Garner. During their three-year stretch the Brewers failed to post a season record above .500, going 198-223 during their stretch. The poor records translated to the team finishing in the cellar in attendance, still averaging over one million fans per season, but at the cost of 12th and 13th place out of 14 in the American League. All around the team played fair; only three of their pitchers finished with records above .500: Ricky (awesome name) Bones in ’94 going 10-9, Ben McDonald in ’96 going 12-10 and lefty Scott Karl going 13-9 in ’96 as well. Offensively the team had speckles of greatness, but only a handful of times did any of the batters finish with an average of .300 or better and 20 or more home runs. Like the uniforms, the Brewers faced some dark times.

Like in any season that finishes less-than-desired expectations, there are always diamonds in the rough which pave the way for greater things to come. When marking up this cap I came across two names which I’ll never forget for both personal and grand scale reasons. Whether you’re a Brewers fan or not, I think you’ll agree.
Sorry for the subtle Coca-Cola Zero product push.

#11/14- Very few people remember this guy outside of Milwaukee, but from 1992-1999 Dave Nilsson was a stud. He was signed as an amateur free agent in 1987 out of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia and was the third Australian-born player to play in Major League Baseball; the first being Joe Quinn back in 1884 for the St. Louis Maroons. From 1992-1995 Nilsson wore #20 and switched it up from 1996-1997 to #14, but then changed it to #7 in 1998 and then back to #14 in 1999.

From 1994-1995 Nilsson had some mediocre years, much like the rest of the team, going .276/24/122 in that frame; which really isn’t that bad for a catcher. His most successful year at the plate came in 1996 however. Nilsson had a career-high .331 batting average in only 123 games with 17 home runs and 84 RBI, another career high. Nilsson never really racked up any wards throughout his career with the exception of his one and only All-Star Game appearance in 1999, the final year of his tenure in MLB.

Nilsson could have easily played for at least five more seasons, especially considering the fact that he was only 29-years-old at the end of the ’99 season; however, he declined an signing any contracts for the chance to play; opting to play for Australia in the 2000 Olympics. Such a move was unprecedented at the time, especially considering that only amateurs generally made up the rosters for all countries with the exception of Cuba, South Korea and Japan. In the 2000 Sydney Olympics had his best-ever international tournament averaging .565 and slugging .957 as a DH/1B. He led the Olympics in average that year, 151 points ahead of runner-up Doug Mientkiewicz as well as also leading in both slugging and OBP. Despite his excellent performance, Australia finished just 2–5, ahead of only South Africa.

After a two-year break from baseball, Nilsson signed a contract with the Red Sox on 21 January 2003 and was expected to play in the 2003 MLB season with a $400,000 contract. However, on 14 February it was announced that Nilsson had decided against playing after losing the will to play. Nilsson managed the Queensland Rams in the 2003 Claxton Shield, assisting them to a surprise title. He returned to playing baseball that year for Telemarket Rimini in Serie A1 in Italy, where, although only hitting .280, he ended up slugging at a league-high of .920 and had an OBP of .561.
Nilsson was back with the Australian national baseball team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. He again had a decent tournament performance batting .296/.441/.444 in 8 games. He had a perfect fielding percentage at catcher and threw out 5-of-8 attempted base-stealers. He an his teammates took home a historic silver medal in the final competition, but sadly failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympics, the final games in which baseball would be played.

Nilsson played in the Australian season for the first time in five years when he appeared in the 2004 Claxton Shield. He went 5 for 11 with 4 home runs and 12 RBI and even pitched well in one stint on the mound. He led the 2004 Shield in home runs and RBI and was named to the All-Star team at DH. Nilsson then again attempted a comeback in the major leagues. He signed with the Atlanta Braves and hit .236 in 16 games for the Richmond Braves, five years after he had last played in the Major Leagues.

Nilsson's career ended when he went 0-for-5 with a strikeout for Australia in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. In 2008 Nilsson was named to the Sports Australia Hall of Fame. He entered the Hall of Fame with swimmer Ian Thorpe, Winter Olympics gold medalist Alisa Camplin, rugby league champion Allan Langer, tennis player Mark Woodforde, Australian football and media identity Lou Richards, and swimming coach John Carew.

#26- I actually ran into this particular player on the streets of his native Portland back in 2003. He was a little bit bigger than during his playing days, and had a bit more grey in his hair and goatee, but I could still recognize a former member of the Oakland Athletics anywhere. John Jaha attended Douglas High School in the Rose City and is the most notable of seven players to make it to the Majors. The Brewers selected him in the 14th round of the 1984 amateur draft and he made his debut on July 9, 1992 at the age of 26; he went 0-3 with a strikeout.

Jaha played for the Brewers until the end of the 1998 season, the years in which they became the first team in MLB history to switch leagues. Jaha had some up-and-down years with the Brew Crew, mostly due to injuries. Jaha only played in more than 88 regular season games three times in his career: 1993 and 1996 with the Brewers and 1999 with the Athletics. ’96 was bar far the greatest year Jaha ever had with the Brewers. That season he hit an even .300 average with a then-career high 34 home runs and a career high 118 RBI. Despite these numbers Jaha did not crack the Top-30 in MVP voting. Jaha’s lifetime numbers with the Brewers are .268/105/366. After seven years of service and a career plagued with injury, the Brewers declined to re-sign him… thus allowing the Athletics to swoop in to sign him to a minor league contract before the 1999 season.

Billy Beane, starting his second full season as general manager of the Athletics still saw a bit of life in Jaha and rolled the dice. In return, Jaha hit .276 with 35 home runs and 111 RBI, earning him the American League Comeback Player of the Year award, his only trip to the All-Star Game and a spot on the AL MVP vote at #18. Injuries once again crept into the picture in 2000 and 2001 in which Jaha subsequently retired. Jaha’s 35 home runs as a designated hitter tied for the most at that position which Dave Kingman, another Oregon born and raised player, set back in 1984, which also won him the AL Comeback Player of the Year award. Crazy!

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