Addressing Milwaukee’s Dependence on the Bandwagon Fan

By: Ryan Smith

The term “bandwagon fan” is one that carries a negative connotation. The bandwagon fan only starts to support a team when that team is having some level of success. If the team is a historically bad team or is a team that is experiencing tough times, the bandwagon fan is nowhere to be found. To be labeled a bandwagon fan is often meant as an insult. The “true fans” have a sort of animosity towards the bandwagon fans because, well, they’re bandwagon fans.

I grew up a fan of two teams: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Boston Red Sox. I was a fan of the Brewers because I grew up in Wisconsin and was lucky enough to attend a game or two every year at County Stadium. I was a Red Sox fan because I actually got to see them play of television occasionally. I also wanted to be a pitcher when I was young, and Roger Clemens became my favorite pitcher for quite some time. When he bolted to Toronto, I stayed with Boston. To this day, I cheer for Milwaukee and Boston. It’s what I’ve always done, and while I may be more of a die-hard for Milwaukee as I attend more and more games each year, I assume I’ll always root for both teams.

Boston and Milwaukee. I’m not sure if there could be two more opposite markets outside of New York than those two. Red Sox Nation spreads far across the globe, with many lifers and bandwagon fans sporting Boston gear on a daily basis. Even when Boston struggles from time to time, they still sell out every game and do very well when it comes to merchandise sales. Frankly, Boston is such a large market naturally that the bandwagon fan does not make much of an impact to the day-to-day and season-to-season operations of the Red Sox front office.

I’m pointing all of this out because the Milwaukee Brewers are getting very close to the point where the bandwagon fans are going to disappear. And I have one message for Brewer Nation:

The Brewers need the bandwagon fans.

Without bandwagon fans, Miller Park might start looking like it did back in 2003.

It’s no secret that Milwaukee is the smallest of the small-market teams in Major League Baseball. From 2002-2006, the Brewers ranked no higher than 17th in total attendance in any of those seasons. In 2007, when Milwaukee finished above .500 for the first time since the ’92 season, Milwaukee’s attendance jumped to 12th in all of baseball. After that, the Crew finished 9th (2008), 9th (2009), 11th (2010), and 7th (2011). In 2012, the Brewers are currently sitting in 11th place once again.

It should be no surprise that as the Brewers started to find more success on the field, they also found more success at the ticket office. That’s how this whole system works. If the team is winning, the bandwagon fans will find their way to the ballpark. And when the team starts to struggle, the bandwagon fans will scatter.

Without the bandwagon fans, the front office might not spend the way they have in recent years.

But as those attendance numbers so clearly point out, those bandwagon fans are immensely important when it comes to stimulating the Milwaukee Brewers economy. And when the Brewers are selling more tickets, more jerseys, more concessions, more everything, the front office is going to be more inclined to spend some of that money they are making. When those attendance numbers drop, so will the payroll of the Milwaukee Brewers.

Here’s my point: the self-proclaimed “true fans” of the Milwaukee Brewers should not be so quick to vilify the bandwagoners when they jump ship because, unlike Boston, we need them.

The cold, hard truth is that the next few years could be very lean ones in Miller Park. Zack Greinke could (and should) be traded in the next few weeks. Shaun Marcum’s recent trip to the DL should be seen as a blessing to Doug Melvin, because Marcum was quickly pitching himself out of Milwaukee’s comfort zone as far as his next contract is concerned. Rickie Weeks hasn’t been Rickie Weeks ever since he legged out an infield single last July against the Cubs, spraining his ankle in the process. The farm system has some decent pieces, but there’s not a lot that’s ready to be harvested for a while yet. Outside of Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and The Jonathon Lucroy, Milwaukee doesn’t have a lot of long-term promise on the current roster.

And if the bandwagon fans don’t find their way to Miller Park every now and then, things might not get much better any time soon.

So, to the bandwagon fans out there, I would just like to remind you about the fun times we’ve had these last few years. Remember the Sabathia craze? Prince’s monster shots? Braun’s MVP? T-Plush and Beast Mode? The NLCS? The tailgating? Even though times are rough right now, that can’t erase all of those memories, can it?

And to the “true fans” out there, I just want to remind you to invite those bandwagon fans out when you go to catch the game at a local sports bar. And when you are planning a weekend trip to Miller Park, remember to include those same bandwagon fans in your evite or your Facebook event. Above all else, do whatever you can to keep those bandwagon fans from straying too far.

Bandwagon fans, don’t be strangers to Miller Park. On behalf of Brew Crew Nation, this die-hard member wants to let you know that you are always welcome here.


Axford for MVP

By Nathan Petrashek

I’ll admit it; I thought John Axford should have been the 2011 NL MVP.

Well, not really.  Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp’s qualifications were beyond question, but I think Axford got the short end of the “pitchers-can’t-be-MVP’s” stick in only placing 17th.  Axford posted a 1.95 ERA last year and saved 46 for the Brewers.  He blew a whopping two saves during the regular season, and both of those came early on.  The guy was an absolute rock and, after the team acquired Francisco Rodriguez, the 8th and 9th innings were absolute locks. 

This year, Axford has doubled his blown saves and more than doubled his losses from last year, and it’s only July.

The Brewers currently stand at 33-41, 8.5 games back of the division-leading Reds.  If you assume Axford had converted all of his save opportunities, the Brewers would be an even .500 at 37-37, well within striking distance.  If you take a further leap and assume that the Brewers had found a way to win each of the games for which Axford was charged with a loss – like last night, when Axford entered in a tie game and gave up the go-ahead run – the Crew would be 40-34.

The point of this is not to place all of the blame for the Brewers’ 2012 woes on Axford’s shoulders (the remainder of the bullpen and the offense share plenty of fault).  The point is to illustrate how absolutely incredible Axford’s 2011 season was, and how critical he was to winning the division.

In this sense, Axford is not unlike Peyton Manning, whom many NFL writers jokingly said would get their MVP vote in 2011 despite being injured the entire season.  With Manning in 2010, the Colts were 10-6 and easily won the AFC South.  Without him in 2011, they had the worst record in football.  The only difference is that Axford is still pitching for the team; he’s just not doing a good job.

In a way, Axford probably set the fan base up for disappointment by throwing so well last year.  Axford was never one to toss a clean 1-2-3 inning, but he found his way out of jams the vast majority of the time.  After a season and a half of sustained success, the Brewers no doubt thought they had their closer for the future, going so far as to negotiate an extension that was ultimately never signed.  Casey McGehee, anyone?

If you follow him on Twitter, it’s pretty clear he’s having a tough time mentally overcoming his struggles, first brushing them off with self-deprecating humor, then lashing out at his critics with a #TwitterToughGuy hashtag.  Maybe it’s time for Axford to take a break from closing games.  That certainly seems to be the way the tide is flowing, as Roenicke was set to bring in K-Rod for the save last night if the Brewers managed to scratch across a couple runs in the 9th.  The truth is, when you’re finding every way imaginable to lose games, what’s the harm in switching things up?

Sink or Swim

By Nathan Petrashek

The most important series of the 2012 season for the Milwaukee Brewers begins right now.

Usually I despise calling one series, even one game, more important than any other.  From a statistical standpoint, they all count the same.  But you have to play with the hand you’re dealt.  The trade deadline means all games are not created equal.  Teams are on the verge of deciding whether they are buyers or sellers, gauging the potential of reaping some prospects for would-be free agents versus making a run at the postseason.  That’s a tough calculus to make.

The fact is, the Brewers have brought themselves to the brink with their shoddy play.  They’ve filled a season’s quota of boneheaded mistakes and blown leads.  The frustration (and ire) was apparent in Ron Roenicke’s postgame comments yesterday.  The Brewers now find themselves is 6.5 games back of front-running Cincinnati, ready to begin a three-game series against the presumptive division champs.

They also find themselves with several potential trade chips in Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Francisco Rodriguez, among others.  Those will be pretty tantalizing pieces to “one-piece-away” clubs, and the Brewers have been telling inquiring trade partners “not yet.”  Doug Melvin may have some clarity after Wednesday’s game.

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.

“A double for Aramis Ramirez … maybe …. no.”

by Nathan Petrashek

Brian Anderson uttered those words in the fifth inning of yesterday’s game.  They were immediately followed by something like “Ramirez does not run well.”  That would be an understatement.

That the third baseman hasn’t come close to filling departed slugger Prince Fielder’s shoes is a big problem, but the bigger problem may be his attitude.  In 2011, like the previous five years, Brewers fans had the pleasure of watching Fielder leg out every ball in play, regardless of whether it was a ground ball or popup.  He may have let the bat do most of his talking, but Fielder always looked like hewanted to play, and loved every minute of it.

The shift from Fielder to Ramirez has not been as smooth as most Brewers fans had hoped.  His quiet bat (.256/.329/.452) has only amplified his failure to hustle.  I can’t count how many times I have watched Ramirez jog to first.

To be sure, this isn’t a new problem with Ramirez.  Cubs fans often complained of Ramirez’s lack of effort everywhere but at the plate.  But it isn’t any more acceptable simply because the Brewers knew what they were getting.  It is incumbent on Ramirez, particularly 2012’s light-hitting version, to at least act as though he gives a damn.  If he really wants to impress his new club, that would be the way to do it.  A lack of effort is something not even a .356 average could mask.

How Greinke Will Disappoint

By Nathan Petrashek

The mood here in Kansas City is hopeful, but that spirit isn’t coming from Brewers fans, all of whom I’ve encountered over the last 24 hours have looked sullen.  Despite our mutual affiliation, I have avoided looking them in the eye for the better part of a day, and particularly after last night’s extra-innings affair.

Kansas City fans are not just hopeful because the Royals are on the verge of a sweep of the Brewers.  Everywhere – on the radio, in the stands, in restaurants – the people wonder:  might Zack Greinke return to the Royals?  Headlines like this only add fuel to the fire.

There are a few notions contributing to this idea.  First, Greinke has not sold his condo in downtown Kansas City.  Second, Greinke has nothing but kind words for the fans.  And finally, the Royals appear to be a better team than they were when Greinke demanded his trade from Kansas City.

Greinke was like a surgeon on Tuesday, slicing away each vital organ giving life to the idea that he might one day return to Kansas City.  The condo was the couple’s first home and still loved by his wife.  Greinke was impressed by the fan support (so were the Royals, with an estimated 8,000 attendance boost to watch the former Cy Young winner pitch), particularly since he had to play the “bad guy” to force a trade.  But since Greinke asked for the trade in order to play for a contender, have they become any better?  “No,” was Greinke’s answer.  The Royals just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Thing is, Brewers fans aren’t much different.  There is still a lot of hope from a fan base that should probably realize that some large-market team is going to throw a heap of money at Greinke.  We’ve been through this once before with C.C. Sabathia, whom the Yankees wanted so badly that they bid against themselves to get him.

Greinke probably isn’t going to be a fit for the Yankees; word is that some of the large-market franchises are steering clear of his anxiety problems.  But actions speak louder than words, and Greinke is talking pretty loudly these days with a 2.96 ERA and the best K/BB ratio of his career – including his Cy Young year.  That’ll generate interest from a lot of suitors – many with much more cash than the Royals or Brewers.

Taking It Out of Context

By Nathan Petrashek

Realistically, the Brewers are on what should be an extremely easy stretch of the schedule for any would-be playoff team.  After a disappointing 5-4 homestand against the Pirates, Padres, and Cubs, the Brewers are pretty much in must-win territory every game even though they’re only a handful of games out of first place.  When I left for Kansas City, I believed the Brewers had a very good chance to sweep a team that one of their fans described yesterday as being “one game from the cellar in the AL Central.”

Since getting here, I’ve realized that I need to take this three-game series against the Royals and completely remove it from the context of everything that has come before.  This allows me to enjoy the game regardless of the outcome.  This is just baseball.

If you view last night’s game separately from the season, the Brewers actually played it pretty close.

Greinke was his usual dominant self despite the fanfare of his return to Kansas City.  I’ll have more on the Greinke situation later – he had some very interesting postgame comments – but he didn’t seem at all fazed by the media and fan attention that inevitably came with his first start at Kauffman since he forced his way off the Royals.  Greinke allowed only one run, a leadoff homer by Alex Gordon.   A second run – and all that the Royals would need to win – was given up by Francisco Rodriguez.  And that’s it.  Two earned runs.  Not a bad day of pitching.

The Brewers offense sputtered against Luis Mendoza, who was clearly on his game.  Still, the Brewers had shots.  Ryan Braun was gunned down at home plate on a perfect throw by Gordon in left field in the seventh, and the Brewers had runners in scoring position in both the eighth and ninth innings.

I wish I could say there is some larger lesson to take away from a close, one-run loss against one of the worst teams in baseball.  But the reality of it is the Brewers just have to take it one game at a time.  And at this point, I think that’s probably how the fans should treat the season too.