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.

Someone Like “Ueck”: Mr. Baseball to be Imortalized August 31st in Milwaukee

by Kevin Kimmes

We here at Cream City Cables would like to extend a heartfelt congratulations (and an apology for the above Adele parody title) to Bob Uecker on becoming the latest member of the Brewers family to be immortalized outside of Miller Park.

On August 31st, “Ueck” will join Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, and Bud Selig as the most recent statue recipient at the ball park. Earlier this week, Uecker quipped that his statue would be the first one to be entirely made of paper mache, and that the team also planned on attaching some sort of feeder to it in order to attract pigeons to the statue.

When asked what the statue would look like, Uecker was quick to respond:

“Kind of a Schwarzenegger-type thing. Beefcake. Speedos. Pretty buffed. It’s really enhanced. I’ve seen pictures of the finished product, and, yes, I’m very pleased, as a matter of a fact. It’s drawing a lot of attention. More than that swimsuit issue.”

Swimsuit issue, you ask? Uecker was referring to the infamous picture of himself, poolside, that ran with an article on the Brewers in Sports Illustrated in 2008, and which can be found here.

Now you may be asking yourself, “Why has it taken this long for Uecker to take his place among the immortals, like Hank Aaron and Robin Yount, and…and…well, let’s just focus on those two statues for now…” Well the answer is simple. As current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio pointed out this week, 2012 is the 50th anniversary of Uecker’s first major league game (he debuted as a catcher with the Milwaukee Braves in 1962), and despite being a .200 hitter in his 7 years in the majors, the statue represents just the latest accomplishment for a man who can be counted as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, and the Wisconsin Meat Industry Hall of Fame, among others.

Stay tuned to Cream City Cables all season long as we will continue to cover this story and all the Uecker related news that’s fit to print (and probably some that isn’t).

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.

The First Step Toward a Championship

This is where we expected to be at the beginning of the season, right?

Never mind that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder formed one of the most epic one-two punches in perhaps baseball history.  Never mind that the team won a franchise-best 96 games during the regular season.  And never mind that the team had three legitimate aces to form the front end of their starting rotation, and a bullpen that is the envy of all postseason teams.

It would have been a long offseason for Brewers fans to endure if there hadn’t been any championship games in Milwaukee.

So with Game 1 of what is sure to be a testy and classic matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals, I’m ready to declare the season a success no matter how the Brewers fare in the NLCS.

There is absolutely no love lost between the Brewers and the Cardinals.  When Lance Berkman was questioned about that very topic, he replied simply and directly: “And that’s correct.”  The last time these two teams saw each other, Chris Carpenter threw an f-bomb at Nyjer Morgan, who would have taken on the entire Cardinals roster had he not been restrained.  I’m giving a better than 50-percent chances of a bench-clearing brawl.

That all adds to the high-tension that already accompanies a rematch of the 1982 World Series, won in seven games by the Cardinals.  But the Brewers dominated the Cardinals in Game 1 of that series; lefty Mike Caldwell tossed a three-hit complete game shutout and the Brewers’ offense – Harvey’s Wallbangers – exploded for ten runs on seventeen hits.  Molitor and Yount, yesterday’s Fielder and Braun, combined to go nine-for-twelve with two RBI each.

Caldwell was not a strikeout pitcher, but the Brewers send one out today in Zack Greinke, who had 201 strikeouts in only 171 innings during the regular season.  Greinke was consistent with his strikeouts in his short start against the D’Backs in Game 2 of the NLDS (7 K, 5 IP), but allowed four runs on eight hits. Greinke, as he has all season, really struggled to keep the ball down in the zone, and three of the hits were home runs. Brewers fans won’t have much to cheer about today if he does that against a Cardinals lineup anchored by Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman.

But enough of the game minutiae for now.  The Brewers have their first playoff series win since 1982.  And that’s something even the Cardinals can’t ruin.