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?
#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.
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'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!