The Numbers Game: 4 Love of the Game

Paul Molitorby Kevin Kimmes

In the history of the Brewers franchise, only five numbers have ever been retired. They are:

4 – Paul Molitor
19 – Robin Yount
34 – Rollie Fingers
42 – Jackie Robinson
44 – Hank Aaron

Now I know someone is looking at that list and saying, “Wait a minute, Jackie Robinson didn’t play in Milwaukee!” Well, right you are my astute friend, he didn’t, but in 1997 the MLB universally retired Robinson’s number across all teams meaning that the only time you will see anyone wearing number 42 each year is on Jackie Robinson Day which lands on April 15th to commemorate the day Robinson broke the color barrier and debuted with the Dodgers.

Today, however, we are looking at one of the other numbers, 4, the one made famous by the man known as “The Ignitor”, Paul Molitor. Molitor wore jersey number 4 during his entire tenure in Milwaukee which stretched over 15 seasons and included time on three very famous Brewers squads: “Bambi’s Bombers”, “Harvey’s Wallbangers”, and “Team Streak”. As a member of “Team Streak”, Molitor recorded a 39 consecutive game hitting streak which ranks as the fifth-longest in modern-day baseball history, and the longest consecutive game streak since Pete Rose went on a 44 game tear in 1978.

For more info on Molitor, including his hall of fame induction speech, check out his National Baseball Hall of Fame page.

So, who else wore the number 4? Well, let’s take a look.

Seattle Pilots

No player was assigned the number 4 in the Pilots organization in 1969.

Milwaukee Brewers

No player was assigned the number 4 in the Brewers organization from 1970 through 1972.

Tim Johnson – 1973-76: I mentioned Tim Johnson in the first part of this series on Tuesday. Johnson was the everyday starting shortstop in 1973 before losing the job to “The Kid”, Robin Yount. Loss seems to be a recurring theme for Johnson as he would also lose his jersey number to Mike Hegan prior to the 1977 season. Speaking of…

Mike Hegan – 1977: In his final year in the majors, Hegan wore number 4 having previously worn number 8 (in ’69 as a Pilot and ’70-71 as a Brewer) and 6 (for Milwaukee from ’74-’76). Hegan is famous for hitting the first home run in Seattle Pilots history in his first at-bat of the ’69 season. He was also 1 of 2 Pilots to make the All-Star squad in ’69 (the other was Don Mincher). After retiring from play, Hegan would go on to be the Brewers television color commentator for 12 seasons.

Paul Molitor – 1978-92: See above.

No player was assigned the number 4 in the Brewers organization from 1993 through 1995.

Pat Listach – 1996: Having previously worn number 16 over the course of 4 seasons with Milwaukee, Listach switched to number 4 in 1996. Bad move.

The former AL Rookie of the Year would find himself traded to the Yankees along with Graeme Lloyd, while Milwaukee would receive Gerald Williams and Wisconsin native, Bob Wickman. The deal, which was primarily made so that the Yankees could acquire Lloyd, went south when Listach suffered what was initially thought to be a bruise, but turned out to actually be a broken bone in his foot. Adding insult to injury, literally, The Yankees returned Listach to the Brewers, and took Gabby Martinez in his place.

No player was assigned the number 4 in the Brewers organization from 1997 or 1998. The number was retired by the Brewers in 1999.

Come back tomorrow as we look at those players who wore the number 5.

Kevin Kimmes is a regular contributor to creamcitycables.com and an applicant for the 2013 MLB Fan Cave. You can follow him on Twitter at @kevinkimmes.

A Disturbing Trend

By: Ryan Smith

With 3,932,100 votes, Ryan Braun was the leading vote-getter for 2011’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Once again, the fans were throwing their support behind Braun, who had become a regular among the leading vote-getters for the midsummer classic. The All-Star game is meant to showcase the best players in the league, and the fans clearly understood that Ryan Braun was a unique talent that should be put on display.

Then he became Public Enemy #1.

When news of a failed drug test “leaked” to the public, the haters came out to play. All of a sudden, everything that he had accomplished up to this point in his career came into question. Pundits and fans alike didn’t seem to care that he had passed numerous drug tests throughout the regular season; one failed test meant that Braun had been juicing for his entire career.

Braun then went through the appeal process that Major League Baseball had put in place and was exonerated of these charges. He went through the process and was found innocent.

None of this should be news to you. This is the real news:

Despite his impressive numbers, Braun finds himself on the outside looking in for a starting spot in the All-Star Game.

Ryan Braun is currently 4th in All-Star voting among National League outfielders.

I don’t mean for this article to be an attack on the achievements of the three guys ahead of Braun. Matt Kemp is the top vote-getter, and even though he has only played in 36 games, his numbers over the course of those games (.355/.444/.719) were as good as anyone else’s during that same span, and Kemp wouldn’t be the first player to make it based on past success. Carlos Beltran is also putting up impressive stats (.311/.396/.591 with 19 HR and a 2.7 WAR) while taking on the unenviable task of replacing one of the all-time greats in St. Louis. Even Melky Cabrera is having an all-star caliber season (.363/.399/.532).

No, I’m not looking to break apart the seasons of those three deserving players. Instead, I just want to comment on what I fear might be unfolding before our very eyes.

This all-star game slight could be the first sign in a long line of residual backlash for Braun’s “leaked” test result.

Let’s start by looking at Braun’s stats from his MVP 2011 season: Braun produced a line of .332/.397/.597 while mashing 33 HR, driving in 111, scoring 109 runs, swiping 33 bases, and ending with a 7.8 WAR.

Now let’s take a gander at what Braun has done so far in 2012, post-leak: Braun is currently hitting .321/.400/.627, has a league-leading 20 HR, has driven in 51, has scored 47 runs, stolen 12 bases, and he currently sits at a 4.3 WAR, good enough for second-best in the NL behind Joey Votto.

By all accounts, Braun is on pace to equal if not surpass his MVP numbers from a year ago. He is doing all of this while being the only real consistent threat in an otherwise impotent Brewers offense. He no longer has the protection of Prince Fielder in the on-deck circle. Yes, Milwaukee may be struggling, but Braun is far from the reason why.

Braun’s successful appeal may have eliminated the 50-game suspension he faced, but it might not protect him from other long-term implications.

Now it comes as no surprise that fans can be fickle and hold grudges, refute legal results, and ignore compelling information that goes against what they’ve been led to believe. MLB “accidentally leaked” information that Braun test positive during the postseason last year, forcing Braun to go through the appeal process in a very public way. Fans felt betrayed by the slugger and, in turn, vilified Braun. After Braun won his appeal, MLB acted like a spoiled child who takes his ball and goes home by firing Shyam Das, baseball’s independent arbitrator since 1999 and the man who delivered the controversial decision in Braun’s appeal. So the fans who felt betrayed by Braun held on to those feelings because Major League Baseball pouted when he won his appeal.

So let the fans vote for other players instead of Braun. I personally think the All-Star Game is a joke, especially this year when the retired Tony LaRussa will manage the National League in a game that will decide home-field advantage of the World Series.

My worry is that fans aren’t the only ones who hold grudges. I’m more worried that a Hall of Fame career could very well end up not making it into Cooperstown because of the “leak”. I’m worried that the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will react the same way fans are reacting this year and choose to ignore the legal results of Braun’s appeal and the many other times that Braun has tested clean.

I’m thinking big picture. And while the all-star voting is minor in the long run, it is a very major part of the big picture.

I’m worried that this is a sign that the damage that has been done cannot be undone.

PEDs, the “Character” Clause, and Hall of Fame Voting

By Nathan Petrashek

Over on Twitter, Jim Breen of Bernie’s Crew is terribly impressed with an article by Rob Neyer. It seems Neyer doesn’t take kindly to the Cooperstown voting style of MLB.com’s Terrence Moore, and Neyer just won’t tolerate a baseball writer who won’t vote for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.*  Neyer takes Moore to task for his invocation of the so-called “character” clause, asserting that not even the legendary Mickey Mantle, with all his intoxication and womanizing, would have made it in the Hall.  To prove his point, Neyer concocts a fictional twenty-year MLB veteran named Joe, whose body begins falling apart in the midst of a wild card race.  Joe applies an unknown white substance recommended by a friend for a week to speed his recovery time.  Relating “Joe” to Mantle, Neyer asks whether a player who routinely drinks himself into a stupor and shows up for work half-drunk should make the Hall over a player like Joe, who will do whatever he can – steroid use included – to play as well as he can.

As a blogger, I like Jim Breen’s work.  He’s normally a very logical, thorough guy.  Which is why I’m shocked that he couldn’t see through Neyer’s hatchet job.

The “character” clause states that Hall of Fame voters are to consider a player’s “integrity, sportsmanship, [and] character” in addition to the player’s record, playing ability, and contributions to his teams.  It does not assign a weight to any particular factor, though obviously playing ability and records have come to dominate our discussion of what makes a very good player worthy of Cooperstown.

In fact, the character clause is deeply engrained in the Hall of Fame voting process.  The battle over the clause was largely settled in its favor way back in 1991, when the Hall of Fame voted to exclude any person on a permanent ineligibility list maintained by the MLB.  The rule change was a direct response to the case of Pete Rose, whose Hall of Fame case was otherwise undeniable.  As a practical matter, the vote operated as a de facto exclusion on character grounds.

Despite the character clause, the Hall of Fame has its fair share of members with, shall we say, dubious moral records.  As Neyer points out, Mickey Mantle was a drunk and a was famous for arriving at the ballpark hung over.  Babe Ruth’s infidelity didn’t stop voters from naming him one of the first inductees in 1936.  Orlando Cepeda, who was inducted by the Veteran’s Commitee in 1999, has been busted for marijuana possession several times.

But there is an important distinction to be made here.  No one has ever argued, to my knowledge, that a player’s career was  helped by their excessive intoxication, or infidelity, or recreational drug use.  The fact that some members did these things does not speak highly of them, but the fact that they were able to succeed in spite of these failings says something about their abilities.

Unlike these human errors, steroids and other similar substances are taken for one reason: to give a player a competitive edge.  They’re designed to make you faster, stronger, durable.  And their roots extend so deeply beneath the numbers of some otherwise Hall-worthy players that it is virtually impossible to create a composite of the player had they not used such substances.  Because of the veil of secrecy that surrounds steroid use, there is no meaningful “before” and “after;” no way to tell who a player truly would have been absent the drug use (though some may try).  This is the most pernicious thing about baseball’s steroid era; even when you know a player was dirty (and figuring even that out is a difficult task), it is impossible to tell how dirty they were.

I, of course, find some sympathy for Neyer’s fictional Joe.  Hell, I would vote for Joe for the Hall of Fame, if the numbers were there.  Should a man’s legacy be for all time tainted because of one bad decision, made from noble intentions? But the occasional user does not, by and large, personify what we conjure up when discussing steroids in baseball.  Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were not one-time users who suffered an ethical lapse in the midst of a playoff race.  Their alleged use was repeated, sustained, and deliberate; their denials amidst the growing evidence utterly unbelievable.

The most compelling argument that the pro-Hall bunch can muster again analogizes PED users to current Hall of Fame members, but this time the focus isn’t on hangovers or weed.  It’s about amphetamines, stimulants that according to certain reports were rampant throughout baseball well into the first decade of the 21st century.  If baseball writers have voted in known amphetamine users, the argument goes, why draw an arbitrary boundary to exclude steroid users?

But pointing out the failings of other Hall of Famers doesn’t make a case for the inclusion of PED users.  As Joe Posnanski has noted, if we’re talking about playing records, the argument that “X player is in the Hall, and so Y player should be too” can be used to justify nearly anyone for inclusion.  Pointing out the ethical lapses among current members does nothing more than make the case against inclusion for those members.  It does not bolster someone else’s case for getting in.  No, the current crop of alleged PED candidates – Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire – will have to make their case on their own, regardless of what Ralph Kiner did with some greenies in 1953.

For most of the upcoming Hall of Fame players who have admitted using PEDs (or for whom there exists a sufficient factual basis to conclude that they used), there’s no good way to separate what they did from what they put in their bodies.  There are, to be sure, some players whose use may have been so fleeting that it should not bar them Cooperstown, but of course we have no idea who those players are.  In any event, past history with Bonds and McGwire almost assures that a player’s denial will never be believed.

It is a sticky and troubling situation to which there is no good solution.  I am thankful that I am not (and probably never will be) a Hall of Fame voter, for they are in the unenviable position of cleaning up the mess the Steroid Era left in baseball’s kitchen.  And so my only advice is for voters to use both their head and their conscience when evaluating  steroid use on their Hall of Fame ballot.  The fact that Jeff Bagwell – a clear-cut, no-doubt Hall of Fame player – received only 56% of the vote based largely on unsubstantiated and baseless suspicions of PED use shows the writers need to use their heads more.  But for the Bonds and McGwires of baseball, I certainly won’t fault guys like Moore for voting their conscience and taking full advantage of the “character” clause.

*Alleged steroid users, the both of them.  Nothing has, as with most things steroid-related, been proven.

Walk of Fame Quickly Becoming Shameful

The Miller Park Walk of Fame is literally that; a series of granite slabs surrounding Miller Park, each inscribed with the name of a legendary Brewers or Braves player, manager, or executive.  You can probably guess most of its membership; names like Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, and, when the ballot was opened up to Milwaukee Braves in 2007, Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn.  It took Lew Burdette three tries to finally get in, despite 2 All-Star appearances and a near-miss for the Cy Young in 1958 when he was a 20-game winner.

Despite winning a Cy Young in 1982 and pitching the Brewers to their first World Series, you won’t find Pete Vuckovich on the Walk, though.  Nor will you find Mike Caldwell, another 1982 staple who pitched over 1600 innings of 3.74 ERA baseball over 8 years for the Crew.  No Ben Oglivie, a 9-year veteran and 3-time All-Star who slashed .277/.345/.461 during his time in Milwaukee.  No Ted Simmons, Geoff Jenkins, Teddy Higuera, or Dan Plesac, either.

And if you want to talk Braves, Johnny Logan (38.1 career WAR as a Brave), Joe Adcock (31.5), and Del Crandall (33.2) are all missing.

Consider it the curse of being a great, but not elite, Brewer or Brave; unless you can make it into Cooperstown, you’re not likely to make it into the local hall, either.

I was shocked last year when none of the guys listed above managed to garner the required 75% of votes to get in.  I’m shocked again this year.  What possible case can be made against Vukovich or Caldwell?  What about Johnny Logan?

Though the selection process is similar, the local Walk of Fame is not to be confused with Cooperstown. Like the baseball hall of fame, retired players have to garner 75% of the vote for induction, with any candidates who receive fewer than 5% of the vote in any year becoming ineligible.  But unlike the national hall of fame, the local Walk begins with a much smaller pool of candidates to begin with.  These are just the greatest players in Milwaukee Brewers and Braves history, so our standards for inclusion should obviously be much lower than that of Cooperstown.  Even if great baseball talent is distributed evenly among teams (ignoring, for a moment, spending disparities), only a sliver of all great players will have found themselves in a Brewers or Braves uniform during their career.  Some non-Cooperstown players already adorn the Walk, including Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, and Gorman Thomas.  There’s really no justification for a restrictive view of our local hall.

So why do we exclude former Brewers and Braves who clearly deserve the honor?  According to the Brewers, the Walk of Fame is selected “by a committee of approximately 100 Wisconsin media members and Brewers officials.”  Last year, 57 ballots were returned; a record, according to Tom Haudricourt.  This year, the committee returned only 39 ballots.  Not even Haudricourt, who agrees that the system is flawed, filled out his ballot (albeit because of a family matter).

Missing ballots don’t entirely explain why the 39 voters didn’t induct a single player, unless it’s disproportionately stupid voters that returned their ballots.  But the low return does suggest that the process is, at best, unimportant to most of those on the committee.  And that, in turn, might speak to the amount of thought voters who did return their ballot put into it.

So we don’t have to change the process to honor deserving former players. Those voters who hold the Walk of Fame in the same regard as Cooperstown can live up to their own expectations by taking their ballots a little more seriously.  By, you know, actually filling them out, and maybe looking up a few player stats while they’re at it.

*Edit:* Not everyone who returned their ballots is to blame, and I want to be fair in my criticisms.  Higuera and Jenkins did receive nearly 50% of the vote.  Caldwell and Vuckovich each garnered just shy of 40%.  Oglivie, Simmons, and Plesac all tied with 12 votes at 30.8%.  Of the Braves, only Logan cracked 60%, while Adcock barely missed 50%, and Crandall garnered only 8 votes.  Kudos to those of you who did the right thing.