Fresh off a four-game sweep of the Dodgers, the Brewers return to Miller Park to host the Pittsburgh Pirates. As a whole, the Pirates don’t have a very exciting roster, but there is one player that might be of interest to most Brewers fans: Infielder Casey McGehee, a (mostly) valuable contributor and fan favorite during his three years in Milwaukee.
A veteran minor leaguer in the Cubs’ system, McGehee became a Brewer after the 2008 season, when he was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs. The following year, he won a starting job after a torrid Spring, and went on to hit .285/.337/.464, a performance that, depending on your source, was either a breakout or a monumental fluke — McGehee’s OPS that year was a full eighty points higher than his previous career high in the minors. Regardless, the burly third baseman won over fans with his perceived everyman qualities and appearances with his 3-year old son, Mack, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
Despite widespread predictions of regression, McGehee put up another fine year in 2010. He was even voted Team MVP by Milwaukee’s chapter of the BBWAA, a move that was almost impossible to defend logically. The relative lack of resistance to McGehee receiving the award was a testament to how nice of a guy he was.
The next year, however, the wheels came off. Due to possible injuries, an increasinly ground-ball-oriented approach, and just plain bad luck, McGehee’s production plummeted, to the tune of a 170 point drop in OPS. McGehee’s struggles were the subject of endless speculation and rumors throughout the year, with calls to replace him with Taylor Green or Jerry Hairston getting louder and louder as the season progressed, culminating in McGehee being benched for most of the NLDS and NLCS. However, the grace with which McGehee handled the scrutiny was remarkable. He never complained or became bitter in spite of his struggles and quietly accepted the demotion when it came. The next December, he was flipped to Pittsburgh for reliever Jose Veras.
As a Pirate, McGehee hasn’t regained any of his former effectiveness: He is currently hitting .190/.281/.250 in 114 plate appearances as a pinch hitter and occasional starter. It’s unfortunate, and it’s hard to know what to make of it besides the fact that it can be a cruel game sometimes. However, he has been one of the most obvious “good guys” in the game, despite what has been a very up-and-down career. When you see McGehee tonight, try to think back to 2009 and 2010, and remember his contributions both on and off the field. There’s no way not to root for him, whichever side he’s on.