Happy 40th Birthday, Brewers!

Robin Yount Press Conference

April 1, 1970 is generally regarded as the day the Milwaukee Brewers were born, making this the Brewers’ unofficial 40th birthday.  Multiple promotions have been announced to commemerate the anniversary of the club’s founding, and to help celebrate, I thought I would quickly summarize the team’s first 39 years.  After the first few years, click “Read More” below to continue.

1970 – The Milwaukee Brewers play their first game, and Lew Krausse becomes the first starting pitcher in franchise history.  Krausse and battery mate Jerry McNertney will re-create the franchise’s first pitch on Opening Day this year.  Nice way to kick off the 40th anniversary, if you ask me.

1971 – Despite a 5-game improvement over their inauguaral season, the Brewers finish in last place for the first time, ending the year 32 games behind AL West-winning Oakland.  They were the only 90-loss team in the AL West.

1972 – Dave Bristol becomes the first Brewers manager to get fired, as the team struggles to a 10-20 start.  The team uses a total of 3 managers during the season.

1973 – A pair of firsts: Dave May is the first Brewers regular to hit .300 in a season, putting up a .303/.352/.473 line.  Jim Colborn is the first Brewers starter to win 20 games, going 20-12 with a 3.18 ERA.

1974 – An 18-year old kid named Robin Yount debuts.  A 20-year career begins with Yount struggling at the plate, hitting .250/.276/.346.

1975 – Hank Aaron makes his triumphant return to Milwaukee, although he’s just a shell of the player local fans remembered.  He hits .234/.332/.355 as the team’s DH.

1976 – Aaron hits career home run #755 and ends his Hall of Fame career.  The final home run ball’s landing spot received a marker in the Miller Park parking lot in 2007.

1977 – Cecil Cooper joins the club and hits .300/.326/.463 with 20 home runs.  It was Coop’s first of 11 seasons in Milwaukee, a run that included 5 All-Star game appearances and a few Top-5 MVP finishes.

1978 – For the first time in club history, the Brewers finish with a winning record.  They place third in a brutal AL East with a record of 93-69, behind New York (100-63) and Boston (99-64).  Paul Molitor finishes second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.

1979 – The Brewers win the most games in franchise history — 95 — and finish outside of the playoffs despite having the second-best record in the AL.  If only the wildcard existed back then.

1980 – Cooper hits .352 and still doesn’t win the batting title.  He does lead the AL in total bases (335) and RBI (122), though, and wins a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger.  The Brewers post their third straight winning season.

1981 – A strike ate into a large portion of the season, causing the league to implement a split-season format.  The Brewers won the second half AL East crown and faced off against the Yankees in the franchise’s first-ever playoff appearance.  The Brewers lost the best-of-five Division series after taking the Yanks to the limit.  While this season ended in heartbreaking fashion, it pales in comparison to the heartbreak the following year.

1982 – The Brewers make their first — and to date, only — World Series appearance, but lose in seven games to the Cardinals in the “Suds Series.”  Adding to the heartbreak is the fact that the Brew Crew held a 3-1 series advantage and weren’t able to seal the deal.

1983 – A bit of a post-series slump, as the Brewers fall from 95 to 87 wins and a 5th place finish in the AL East.  Cooper drives in 126 runs, a mark that stood as the franchise record until Prince Fielder broke it in 2009.

1984 – An ugly year all around.  Paul Molitor is only able to play in 13 games, and the Brewers lose 94 games while finishing in last place in the East.

1985 – Molitor is back, but the Brewers lose 90 games once again.  One bright spot — Teddy Higuera debuts and wins 15 games as a rookie, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year voting. 

1986 – Higuera wins 20 games and finishes second in the Cy Young voting.  The offense struggles, though, and the Brewers finish in 6th place for a second straight year.

1987 – “Team Streak” starts the season 13-0, but suffers a 12-game losing streak in May.  Paul Molitor gives Joe DiMaggio a run for his money, hitting in 39 consecutive games.  Juan Nieves throws the only no-hitter in franchise history.  The Brewers win 91 games and finish in third place.

1988 – The team again finishes in third place, but only two games out of first in the AL East.  A 19-year old named Gary Sheffield makes his debut, playing in 24 games.

1989 – Things begin to unravel for Teddy Higuera, who is only able to pitch in 22 games due to back and ankle problems.  The Brewers finish right at .500 and in 4th place in the East.

1990 – Sheffield becomes a full-time starter at third, but still complains about being moved from shortstop, saying the Brewers decided to play Bill Spiers at short because he was white.  Sheffield hits well under new hitting coach Don Baylor, and is one of five Brewers to hit double-digit home runs, but the pitching — including Higuera — is disappointing as the team finishes below .500.

1991 – At age 34, Molitor leads the AL in plate appearances, at-bats, runs scored, hits, and triples.  Higuera tears his rotator cuff and is never the same again, despite signing a 4-year, $13 million extension prior to the season.  Gary Sheffield intentionally botches plays in an attempt to get traded, something Milwaukee fans have never forgotten.  Another disappointing season leads to Tom Trebelhorn being fired.

1992 – Phil Garner leads a resurgence the team hadn’t seen since 1987, as the Brewers finish 92-70.  Yount collects hit #3000.  Pat Listach becomes the first Brewer to win Rookie of the Year.  Molitor hits .320/.389/.461, but is deemed “just a DH” in the offseason, and goes on to sign with the World Champion Blue Jays.  What follows is over a decade of heartache if you’re a Brewers fan.

1993 – The first year post-Molitor, and it was a disaster.  The pitching stunk, and the offense outside of Greg Vaughn stunk.  The Brewers went from 2nd in the East to last, losing 93 games.  Yount plays his last professional season, finishing his career with 3142 hits.

1994 – The strike-shortened season was the Brewers’ first in the AL Central.  Unfortunately, the re-alignment didn’t do the Brewers any favors — even in the shortened season, the Brewers finished in last. 

1995 – Baseball returned, but the Brewers didn’t get much better.  At least they didn’t finish in last, going 65-79 to finish in 4th place.  They were only 5 games out of 2nd place in the AL Central, but still finished 35 games out of first place, due to the Cleveland Indians going an incredible 100-44.

1996 – If you liked high-scoring games, you probably liked the 1996 Brewers.  They scored 894 runs…but also gave up 899.  They finished 80-82, which would unfortunately be the closest they got to a winning record for nearly 10 years.

1997 – In what would be the Brewers’ final season in the AL, offensive production fell to just 681 runs, but the starting pitching was still giving up runs at an alarming rate.  At least the bullpen was solid, featuring Bob Wickman and Doug Jones (36 saves and a 2.02 ERA at age 40).  The team finished at 78-83, good for 3rd place in the AL Central.

1998 – The move to the NL was supposed to benefit the Brewers, but if there was a benefit, we sure didn’t see it.  They finish at 74-88, good for 5th place in the NL Central, saved from the cellar (like they would be so many times) by the Pittsburgh Pirates.  Geoff Jenkins debuts, and Jeff Cirillo posts a line of .321/.402/.445. 

1999 – Miller Park was nearing completion when tragedy struck on July 14, 1999, when the “Big Blue” crane collapsed while lifting a 400-ton section of the stadium’s roof, killing three workers.  On the field, the Brewers struggled to another 5th place finish, but the hard-hitting outfield of Jenkins, Marquis Grissom, and Jeromy Burnitz combined to hit 74 home runs.  Dave Nilsson hit .309/.400/.554 from the catcher spot in his final Major League season before deciding to walk away from the pro game in order to represent Australia in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.  Phil Garner is fired before the season ends.

2000 – The final season at Milwaukee County Stadium saw the Brewers barely avoid 90 losses for the third straight season, and another year of poor pitching (outside of Jeff D’Amico, who threw 162 innings of 2.66 ERA ball).  Davey Lopes takes over as manager, and the Brewers acquire a young slugger from the Indians named Richie Sexson.  Jenkins and Burnitz both reach the 30-HR mark. 

2001 – Miller Park opens to much fanfare, with President Bush and Bud Selig throwing out the first pitches.  Sexson mashes 45 homers and nearly tops Cooper’s franchise record of 126 RBI, driving in 125 runs.  Olympic hero Ben Sheets makes his big league debut, going 11-10 with a 4.76 ERA in his first big league season at age 22.

2002 –  106 losses and the All-Star Game tie at Miller Park.  Let’s just move on.

2003 – Ned Yost and Doug Melvin take over, but the Brewers still finish in last place.  Sexson hits 45 homers again, Scott Podsednik bursts onto the scene to finish 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting, and Milwaukee is introduced to Wes Helms.  Ben Sheets is the only starter with an ERA under 5.00.

2004 – A third straight last place finish, but still some reason to be excited for the future.  Richie Sexson is traded for seemingly half of Arizona’s farm system.  Ben Sheets puts together arguably the best season by a pitcher in franchise history: 2.70 ERA, 264 strikeouts, 32 walks, 0.983 WHIp, and an 18-K outing against the Atlanta Braves. 

2005 – Mark Attanasio buys the team, and for the first time since 1992, the Brewers are a .500 team, finishing at 81-81.  Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy debut, but struggle in their first big league seasons.  Prince Fielder is called up for Interleague Play, and hits his first career home run in the same game as Weeks’ first career homer.  Chris Capuano wins 18 games, picking up the slack when Sheets gets hurt.  Derrick Turnbow comes out of nowhere to save 39 games.

2006 – Lyle Overbay is traded, clearing the way for Fielder to become the team’s first baseman.  Hardy breaks his ankle, but Bill Hall fills in admirably, hitting a career-high 35 home runs.  The pitching is a mess, though, leading to a big step backwards — Turnbow begins to unravel, Sheets gets hurt again, and we see the likes of Geremi Gonzalez, Zach Jackson, and Rick Helling make starts.

2007 – After hitting the .500 mark two seasons earlier, the Brewers finally break the 15-year drought by putting together an actual winning season.  Fielder becomes the youngest player to ever hit 50 home runs, and Ryan Braun debuts in May, OPSing 1.004 en route to the franchise’s second Rookie of the Year award.  Francisco Cordero racks of 44 saves and declares free agency, where he takes a deal with Cincinnati without giving Doug Melvin the chance to make a counter-offer.

2008 – Barring anything big happening in 2010 and beyond, this will go down as the second-biggest season in franchise history (behind 1982).  Ben Sheets manages to stay healthy for the vast majority of the season before missing the season’s final weeks.  A midseason trade for CC Sabathia catapults the Brewers to the first playoff appearance since ’82 as Sabathia puts together the best half of baseball you’ll see for awhile — 11-2, 1.65 ERA, 128 strikeouts, 25 walks, and 7 complete games, including a near no-hitter in Pittsburgh.  The Brewers are bounced from the playoffs by eventual champion Philadelphia.

2009 – After losing Sabathia and Sheets, the starting rotation is among the worst in baseball.  The offense is among the league’s best, but can’t make up for the shortcomings of the rotation.  The bullpen is lights-out for much of the year, led by future Hall of Famer and free agent steal Trevor Hoffman, who posts 37 saves.  The overall pitching deficiency proves to be too much to handle, though, as the Brewers fall back below .500.

2010 – Who knows, but early predictions show that fans are optimistic enough to predict a win total in the mid-80’s.  Why not cap off the first 40 years with a surprisingly good season?  Looking at the past 39 years, I think we deserve a good one.

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