The Mount Rushmore of the Milwaukee Brewers

Ben Sheets / Presswire

We turn our attention to another of the 1969 expansion teams, although this one was known as the Seattle Pilots back then.

For a franchise that has only made 4 playoff appearances (and finished first in their division only 3 times in 43 seasons), they’ve had a lot of great players.

Let’s take a peek.

Here are the franchise WAR leaders among batters:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To
1 Robin Yount 72.4 1974 1993
2 Paul Molitor 58.0 1978 1992
3 Cecil Cooper 28.2 1977 1987
4 Ryan Braun 27.6 2007 2012
5 Don Money 26.1 1973 1983
6 Jeff Cirillo 24.5 1994 2006
7 George Scott 20.8 1972 1976
8 Geoff Jenkins 20.1 1998 2007
9 Jim Gantner 19.6 1976 1992
10 Ben Oglivie 19.6 1978 1986
11 Sixto Lezcano 17.5 1974 1980
12 Gorman Thomas 16.5 1973 1986
13 Prince Fielder 15.8 2005 2011
14 Jeromy Burnitz 14.5 1996 2001
15 Corey Hart 13.8 2004 2012
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2012.

Ryan Braun would be a great choice for this franchise’s monument, but he’s only 4th in WAR. He’s got two Hall of Famers ahead of him, not to mention Cecil Cooper. I know a lot of Brewers fans love Jim Gantner but he’s way down the line.

Among individual seasons, Tommy Harper‘s 1970 is the 3rd best the team has ever seen, and Greg Vaughn tied for 7th. Bill Hall clocks in at 14th.

Now let’s check out the pitchers:

Rk Player WAR From To
1 Teddy Higuera 28.9 1985 1994
2 Ben Sheets 24.1 2001 2008
3 Chris Bosio 17.3 1986 1992
4 Bill Wegman 16.2 1985 1995
5 Mike Caldwell 15.7 1977 1984
6 Moose Haas 14.2 1976 1985
7 Jim Slaton 13.3 1971 1983
8 Cal Eldred 11.8 1991 1999
9 Dan Plesac 11.5 1986 1992
10 Lary Sorensen 11.4 1977 1980
11 Jim Colborn 11.0 1972 1976
12 Yovani Gallardo 9.6 2007 2012
13 Doug Davis 9.1 2003 2010
14 Ken Sanders 8.5 1970 1972
15 Scott Karl 8.4 1995 1999
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2012.

Slim pickings. Higuera and Sheets both posted some great seasons with the team but stopped short from injuries.


Comments

The Mount Rushmore of the Milwaukee Brewers — 48 Comments

  1. Oh come ON. Braun is 4th in WAR, but he’s also 28 years old and signed through 2020. He’s got a better career than Cecil Cooper even if he were to get abducted by aliens tonight and never play again. Don’t get me started about Teddy Higuera.

  2. Yount, Molitor, and Braun were obvious to me.

    I took Gantner fourth due to length of service.

    I will use the same logic for Frank White when we get to the Royals.

    I do understand that Frank White was significantly better than Gantner.

  3. Yount, Molitor, and Braun, and, since I can’t vote for Jim Bouton or Joe Schultz, I’ll go with George Scott under the first-franchise-star rule, plus he drew MVP support in four out of his five years with the Brewers. (By the numbers, I know Cooper or Higuera or Fielder deserve it more.)

  4. I voted for Yount, Molitor and Braun and I wanted to add Bob Uecker as the last one but it wasn’t working for me. If any non player (and Uecker will be the first to admit he was never a player) deserves any of these its Harry Doyle (a Milwaukee Native) with the Brewers

  5. For me, the singleton ’82 pennant and close series is the Brewers’ anchor – a great hitter’s team and lots of fun to watch – and I voted for Cooper, in addition to the two HoF guys. I left the fourth slot open for Braun, but there’s too much at risk to carve such a young player in stone – think of the earthmoving costs if things go downhill!

  6. Braun is a fierce competitior and great hitter who will eventually earn his place, but not quite yet. Cooper had at least a half-dozen very good years, including a .352 avg in 1980 and the most important hit in franchise history in 1982 ALCS. Plus he was an early team leader and veteran anchor, much like Don Money, only better and with a truly unique, sweet batting stance that rivaled Yaz, Carew and Brett.

    Then there’s Uecker, who’s been the steady icon and voice of the franchise for 30+ yrs. Ask any Brewers fan, any age, who they’d most like to have a beer with, and i’ll bet he beats out anybody, except maybe Stormin Gorman Thomas.

    The top two spots, of course, go to Molly the Ignitor and Rockin Robin.

    The lack of any serious pitcher candidates highlights the team’s fundamental weakness over the years.

  7. I think you guys are missing the boat on some of these Mt. Rushmore posts. The idea, as I take it, is to choose players whom you and fans in general identify with a specific franchise, and not merely its best players or leaders in WAR. In Milwaukee’s case, if Gorman Thomas is not up there in rock with Yount and Molly it’s a crime against brats and beer and Al McGuire and all that is right and true about Milwaukee.

    Gorman Thomas embodied the Brewers. I lived in the city for a few years in the 1970s and he, even more than their elite middle infielders, was the essence of Brewerdom, the favorite of countless fans. He was scruffy and looked horrible in uniform (I don’t know if he rode a Milwaukee-made Harley but he sure should have). He played centerfield but was probably not even a good leftfielder. He swung from the heels on every pitch and struck out waaay too much, waaay before it was fashionable to do so.

    But he was the quintessential Wallbanger, hitting a boatload of homers in his prime. He had a very good year in their World Series season, ran into fences and played hurt, and could down a 12er with the Vuke the night before and still make it out onto the field the next day. I don’t care if he only posted 16.5 WAR or whatever. He was for several key, still-formative years the de facto (and ugly as hell) face of the franchise and the most beloved member of the Crew (which in many circles he remains), and it is only fitting and proper that his stone visage should glower out at all fair weather fans of any franchise and all the pretentious poodles who populate today’s lineups and want the batting gloves hanging out of their back pockets to look just so. Plus he was the first player drafted by the Pilots, so in a very real sense he was a franchise original (and would have fit in just fine with Joe Schultz).

    P.S. And, to augment this encomium to the clichéd blue-collar virtues of Stormin’ Gorman, let’s admit how smart and determined he was, other ways he mirrors the good people of Milwaukee (if not necessarily the Brewers organization). He was sent down to the minors in 1977 after being in the bigs for a few years and devoted the entire season to studying in daily, painstaking detail Mike Schmidt’s batting stance and swing on 35 mm film, working to model his own on them and better himself as a hitter, which he succeeded wildly in doing.

    • I don’t disagree with your assessment of Thomas one bit–I guess the only question is whether his tenure with the team was long enough & good enough. He had 4 outstanding seasons while with the Brewers(78, 79, 81 & 82) which is obviously a lot more than many people ever had anywhere. By a similar yardstick, Yount had 8 outstanding seasons and Molitor 9 w/ Milwaukee. I know you’re not suggesting that Thomas is in the same echelon as the two HOFers–just putting that data up there as a point of comparison.

      • You make a valid point, Andy. He wasn’t a star for long and, as you surmised, I certainly wasn’t putting him in the same class as Yount or Molitor or, as seems likely to be the case, Braun. What I’m trying to get at is that certain players – through their personalities, style of play, partying habits, whatever – form a bond with the fans of the teams they play for that extends beyond statistics and symbolizes in some deep and enduring way that franchise.

        Let’s face facts. The Brewers mostly have sucked in their four decades of AL/NL existence, due to recent small market baseball economics, Bud, what have you. They don’t boast a large roster of all-time all stars. They have been captivating and colorful and pennant-relevant for only a handful of seasons since they reverse-migrated east from Seattle. Gorman Thomas, in his decade-plus in the league, mostly sucked too, but he had those four really good seasons, he was captivating and colorful and in certain ways ahead of his time, and he embodied more than half of those infrequent years of Brewer glory with real Schlitzian gusto – and arguably better than anyone else, including the more skilled and famous Hall of Famers.

        • tag, who are you, and why do you write so well? Where do you write when you’re not here?

          My own Midwestern suds nostalgia runs towards Strohs, but I know a punch-packin’ encomium when I read one. :)

          By the way, a classic Gorman/Vuke exchange was captured by Tom Boswell in one of his books … I’ll try to dig it up.

          • Damn, I can’t find the quote. It may have been in Dan Okrent’s Nine Innings, not Boswell.

          • John, sorry I’m so late getting back to you. Who am I? A former sportswriter for newspapers small and large. I covered basketball, football and baseball, including the Brewers for a short while. My best/most fun gig was my first, writing about the Evansville Triplets, your (second fave team?) Tigers’ Triple A affiliate at the time, in the early 1980s. I met most of the core of the 1984 championship club as they came up / did rehab assignments and grew to really respect Leland, the skipper then and as on-the-ball a guy as I ever met in baseball. I’d get to the park early before games to do feature articles, and the players would ask me to fill in here and there when they were shorthanded. I had played at a high-enough level (giving up tape measure homers in my HS/Legion pitching career to future pros Ron Kittle and Lloyd McClendon back in my hometown of Gary, IN) that I could appreciate how unbelievably skilled they were.

            Senor Smoke, down on a rehab, would ask me to stand in and buzz me with high heat for yuks. Then snap off a curve on the next pitch. Louder yuks. The Bird was awesome, one of the greatest guys I had the good fortune of talking to (and drinking with). Gibby was always grumpy. Barbero Garbey was incredible with the bat and unintelligible with the mouth. Even his teammate translators had no idea what the heck he was saying. (I imagine, on the evidence of his interminable speeches, Fidel would have even been worse had he stayed in baseball.) Larry Rothschild was a future pitching coach in the making. Overall HoJo was probably the most impressive player I saw, along with the Iowa Cubs’ Mel Hall, whom I am of the opinion the Cubs screwed over royally. (Since I’m spouting on, I don’t know if you remember Rick Peters. He had a pretty good rookie year in 1980 with the Tigers. He’d been tearing it up at Evansville the year before, the Trips were winning, but then he got injured and had to sit for a few games. A copy editor who became a good friend actually wrote the headline “Triplets win with Peters out” and got it through the first edition of the paper. The sports editor nearly murdered him.)

            Anyway, I live in Switzerland now. I tired of sportswriting and wound up playing some (very low level) pro basketball here in the ’90s (long story), which, though I was waaay past my prime, was a lot of fun. I became a freelance writer, doing everything from writing bank brochures to enticing the worldwide ueberweathy 1%ers, in high-end ads, to buy obscenely overpriced watches.

            Thanks for the kind comments about my writing, by the way. Not to be a mutual admiration society here, but I’m a big fan of yours as well. You reel off some phrases – no doubt on a brutal self-imposed deadline – that leave me open-mouthed with wonder. And, speaking of Thomas Boswell, while covering Evansville native Don Mattingly during his September ’82 call-up to the Yanks, I met and began a (since lapsed) friendship with him. Another great guy who appreciated those Wallbanging Brewers, though not of course as much as the Orioles. He and Earl together were something to behold.

            Also, I’d love to read that Gorman/Vuke exchange. They were quite the pair as well. Reminded me of two of my uncles after pulling a graveyard shift in the Sheet and Tin mill. Neither Gorman nor Vuke was exceptionally gifted by MLB standards. They did it the hard way.

            Stroh’s was my stepfather’s beer, Pabst my aunt’s, Old Style, Hamm’s, Drewery’s, Falstaff et al. other relatives’ faves (and I can still do all the ditties of those brands in my head), but I was a Schlitz guy, and did dozens of tours there during college for the free samples afterward, before I graduated and got above my raisin’. Now I drink Weizenbier. It’s really just the local beer and not a pompous microbrew at all but Gorman and Vuke would still probably spit on me.

          • tag

            Great story.

            Sight out of college I lived in Green Bay for about a year and a half in 1979 & 80. Those Brewers teams had a lot to do with my finding my way back to baseball after a decade long hiatus. And the Tigers of the ’80’s sealed the deal.

            But I’m afraid that as much fun as it was to watch Thomas and as much as I enjoyed the beer and a brat in the tailgating tent that he ran in the parking lot when I went back years later and especially as great as that ‘stash would look up on the monument I have to go with Yount, Molitor, Braun and Uecker.

          • tag @40, thanks for filling in the gaps. Evansville sounds like it was a fun beat for you. And of course I remember Rick “Sneaky Pete” Peters!

      • On the other hand, after a huge ’82 season, Thomas struggled at the beginning of ’83. The Brewers traded him 50 games into the season (along with two other players) to the Indians for Rick Manning and Rick Waits. Teams don’t generally do that to their “Mount Rushmore” players.

    • I picked Thomas, along with Yount, Molitor, and Cooper before I saw your comment. If there was a fifth spot, it would have gone to Ben Oglivie or maybe a white guy with a mustache, any of them. I started watching baseball around 1982, so the Milwaukee Brewers will always be the kind of team that has Gorman Thomas playing CF. Having them in the National League is a crime against humanity.

      • Doug, my wife would agree with you 100% about Benji. She was a big fan and even dressed up one Halloween as him. You have to have a certain posterior attribute to pull it off, which she did, impressively.

        And I agree that the Crew in the NL is Á Rebour, or against nature as the French say.

    • “The idea, as I take it, is to choose players whom you and fans in general identify with a specific franchise, and not merely its best players or leaders in WAR.”

      Agree with this totally, and I’ve tried to approach these lists with this is mind. Hometown fans will always have the best perspective on this.

  8. Tangent relating to Gorman Thomas: what happened in Sacramento in 1974? Thomas hit 51 homers, and didn’t even lead his team! In all, Sacramento had 5 of the top 7 homer hitters, and 6 of the top 10. That’s not even counting guys like Jack Lind, who hit 18, but only hit 14 combined for the rest of his career. Team/league leader Bill McNulty hit 55, but never before or after hit more than 27. I know the stadium had a short left field line, but that doesn’t explain why the next two years saw a huge drop in the number of homers hit. Any chance that somebody here has a story about what happened that year?

  9. Yount, Molitor, and Braun have to be on there. Braun will easily bypass Cooper before June is over and I think everyone has to acknowledge Braun’s a better player.

    I picked Gantner 4th due to his longevity, but there really isn’t a fourth guy. Vuckovich? Fingers? Gorman Thomas as argued above? Cooper? Doesn’t really matter… The temptation is to load it up with 1982 Brewers. As far as pitchers… meh… Sheets was a true ace for a couple years but I barely even remember him and it’s only been a few years.

  10. Copied from my 1984 Topps blog on Gorman Thomas:
    Thomas spent most of the ’74 season with the AAA Sacramento Solons where he hit 51 HRs in 474 at bats.  This didn’t even lead the team as Doug McNulty hit 55.  The Solons home field was Hughs Field. Converted from a football field to a baseball field for the summer, the leftfield fence was only 233 feet away from home plate! As a team the Solons hit 305 homeruns and their unfortunate pitchers gave up 301.

    • How cool and redolent of an earlier America that Sacramento called its minor league club the Solons. If I recall my study of the classics correctly, weren’t Solons senators from ancient Greece? Imagine some club trying to get away with that now.

      • tag:
        Per Wikipedia:
        ” ” Solon established publicly funded brothels at Athens in order to “democratize” the availability of sexual pleasure” ”

        Now, THAT’S a Socialist worthy of the trust of the electorate

        • Thanks, Paul E. I remember the term being generally applied to ancient Athenian senators but forgot it derived from a single lawmaker. I wonder if Sacramento had any idea whom they were memorializing with their moniker.

          • If there were someday a team called the “Pennsylvania Pimps”, then I would hope that there would also one day, on this site, be a discussion as to who would be on their Mt. Rushmore…..

          • Well, it’s alliterative and pimps is not. Had to be the reason they went with it.

          • Nash, I know you were going for alliteration, but I think the Pimps would have to play here.

          • Ah, okay, now we are alliterative with the Pennsylvania Pimps. I’m going with Superfly for sure, and Fast Black, the guy Morgan Freeman played in his greatest movie role ever, though I’m not sure about his career WAR rates against the other great procurers.

      • Man, only in America, and I mean that in the best possible way. The greatest black comedian ever playing shortstop (in shorts?!? as Library Dave aptly noted) for a team in a classic Reaganite city of the time.

  11. I’m surprised Prince Fielder ranks so low on the WAR list — with how much attention he gets, I’d have expected him to be more than half as good as Braun. That said, I went with Yount, Molitor, Braun, and Higuera; Braun, to my mind, has already earned his spot on the wall, and I’ve always personally had a soft spot for Higuera. Not to mention I wanted a pitcher on there somewhere. :-)

    • Darien, I think Fielder’s WAR total may have suffered a bit in the recent changes that B-Ref made to their WAR system. I don’t know the specifics, but I’m pretty sure Fielder had at least two 5+ WAR years under his belt with the old system, but now only has one.

      As for comparing him to Braun, Fielder had two definite off-years in his time with the Brewers while Braun still may not have reached his peak.

  12. I would be remiss if I didn’t make a mention of another Thomas who played for the Brewers. He perhaps belongs on baseball’s Rushmore of troubled souls, or of memorable monikers, but “The Sundown Kid” could also hit. I only saw him play a couple times, but I’ll never forget him. RIP.

  13. Someone that has not been mentioned at all is Hank Aaron, he did play 2 seasons with the Brewers but obviously has a special place in the hearts of Milwaukee fans. His number is retired by the Brewers also.

  14. Yount, Molitor, Braun and Higuera just over Cecil Cooper.

    We can’t even make a Mount Rushmore out of the 1982 Brew Crew they were so awesome – Yount, Molitor, Thomas, Oglivie, Cooper, etc.

    Also, special nods for Sixto Lezcano and Bernie Brewer.

  15. Does anyone else agree that contraction of a few expansion teams would make Baseball better? The players on the contracted teams would be distributed throughout the majors with the teams with the worst record picking first. For me, I can’t touch the 61 and 62 expansions. They have been around so long that they get a pass, 1969. Two teams would go. First, the Royals. I don’t care how many good young players they have, they stink and have for years. The bonus part of this move is to send the A’s back to KC, solving the Bay Area problem, and returning an original team back to it’s former city. The Padres. Their lonh history of bad teams means they should go, and no, I’m not concerned about the new park. Great place to bring back Triple A ball. They are on a treadmill to know where. Up north, The two LA teams reap the benifits. More later.

    • Kansas City and Tampa…..two cities that don’t support their teams, yet also don;’t play in new ballparks (which leaves Pittsburgh and Cleveland alive).

      • You shouldn’t contract original teams like Cleveland and Pittsburg. Cleveland sold out how many games during those good years? The Pirates are a great baseball town with a beautiful new stadium. What’s going on there is inexcusable.

        There should be strict monitering of profit shares in places that lose every year. No money in owners pockets.

        Moving to ’77, it’s time for both the Mariners and Jays to go.
        After eliminating the cheap ownership in Seatle, I would put the Brewers back in Seattle as the Pilots, and move the Braves back to Milwaukee.

        A case could be made that there are to many teams in the Great Lakes region, but, Milwaukee has proven its merit with the ’82 Brewers,and 57 Braves.

        Atlanta is not a great BB town. They couldn’t sell out playoff games. I suppose those fans deserve a break for all the dissapointment of winning divisions, only to melt down in the playoffs,or W.S., but in the end, Football rules the South.

        Toronto is a proven monster of a town but their owners won’t spend what it takes to win,and,Skydome,once a marvel, is now a dinasour with astroturf. Why they keep that turf is beyond me. It’s been along time since ’93. To long.

        Admit, these thing would never happen, but maybe they should.

    • I think your views may be shaped by your loyalties, Robert and John. I miss the focus of the 16-team era (a number my mind was strong enough to keep track of). But these teams have real fans and traditions (and I think Tampa is growing a much richer one than Florida/Miami has).

      In my view, KC fans have been tremendously supportive of a team without deep pockets (and I think a review of the 13-year history of the KC A’s would assure you that no one in KC would ever want them back – the team was not only bad, it was either contemptuous of its fans under Finley or selling them out under Johnson).

      The Tigers are a great lesson in how a small market team all but declared dead can revive very quickly. KC, Pittsburgh, and SD (which has had plenty of success, up and down) – any of them could be next, and a great story. I don’t see an Expos-like destiny in any current team (and Washington seems to have revived that franchise for now and given baseball a good addition). I’d hate to see the big-market teams drive out the small.

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