Wednesday, November 9, 2011

1977 Milwaukee Brewers

For the 9th straight season the franchise finished under .500.  They won 1 more game than they lost the previous season, but the fans in Milwaukee were not exactly ecstatic.  Alex Grammas would be in the 2nd and final year of his failed tenure.  His team would finish 67-95, which would be good for sole possession of 6th place.  Thanks to expansion, 6th place wasn't last place, but at 33 games out it wasn't anything to write home about.  Still there was reason for hope.  Nobody's crystal ball could tell us that the following year under George Bamberger the team would almost reverse their record and finish 93-69, well on their way toward contention.  What happened beneath the surface during the '77 season that paid dividend in '78 ?  First off the Brewers drafted this skinny kid from Minnesota named Molitor.  He would make an immediate impact the following year with a bat that was more live than C-4 explosives.  Secondly, Gorman Thomas was demoted after spring training and he spent the whole season (1977) at Spokane (Triple A) learning to strike out a bit less and hit the ball a bit further.  Although he would never become a classic Joe DiMaggio hitting machine who played center, he came back in '78 with a more focused approach at the plate and bull in the China shop approach at covering center. Undoubtedly Bamberger, who was a pitching guru with the Orioles from the late 60's on brought his magic here to help cure the woes of a pitching staff that ranked 11th out of 14 in 1977.  Jim Slaton was the ace of this staff and he was more suited for middle relief and spot starting than a top of the rotation guy.  The offense was basically middle of the road.  Cecil Cooper who went from being a part time player in Boston to a starter here had a great season.  Don Money led all secondbasemen with 25 homers and Sixto Lezcano was his consistent self (.273-21-49).  21 year old shortstop Robin Yount was shockingly entering his 3rd season.  He hit .288, but only had 4 homers.  His power numbers would soon be arriving.  Veteran leader Sal Bando arrived as a free agent from Oakland and steadied the infield and hit 17 homer along with 82 RBI's.  DH Jamie Quirk (.217 & 3HR's) was an albatross and Steve Brye (.249-7-28) was the only one who hit over .230 on Milwaukee's weak bench.

Some 1977 highlights:
July 1, 1977: Amidst a frenzy of negative cheering, the Brewers played their first game in Seattle in 8 years, when they were the failed Seattle Pilots. The Brewers beat the hometown expansion Mariners 2-1.
September 14, 1977: Ken McMullen hit a home run in the last at bat of his career.
June 7, 1977: Paul Molitor was drafted by the Brewers in the 1st round (3rd pick) of the 1977 Major League Baseball Draft. Player signed June 24, 1977

If you were watching the Brew Crew on TV you'd be hearing the voices of Merle Harmon, the legendary Ray Scott of Packer Football and Mr. Baseball Bob Uecker on WTMJ-TV.  Your owner, Bud Selig, was just a used car salesman and not a guy who would ascend to commissioner status just yet.

It took 23 additional cards to round out the set for the Brew Crew.

Hinds only shot at the big leagues was in 1977 where he went 0-3 with a 4.73 ERA in 29 games for the Brew Crew.  Hinds pitched 72 1/3 innings and gave up an even 72 hits.  In 1978 he returned to Triple A (Spokane) and stunk up the joint with a 1-8 record and an inflated 6.73 ERA.  1979 saw him demoted once again.  This time he was in Double A Holyoke where he finished an even 8-8 (4.32), which led to him being released.  I used the photo from his '78 card, which looks to have been taken at Yankee Stadium.

In Cort's only season with the big club he did have some modest success going 1-1 (3.33) in 24 innings.  Desperate for pitching Milwaukee rushed him straight up to the majors from Double A ball.  1978 saw him spend the whole season at Spokane (AAA).  His lack of success (1-5, 6.96) saw him demoted to AA the A ball.  He never rose higher than Double A and finally hung it up after pitching for West Haven in 1981.  I found a black and white team issue photo that I colorized step by step for his updated card.

McClure bounced around he Royals then got dealt to the Brew Crew in a multi player deal that also landed Jamie Quirk and Jim Wohlford in exchange for Jim Colborn and Darrell Porter.  In 68 games out of the pen McClure went 2-1 with a bullpen best 2.52 ERA and 6 saves.  He would spend 9 1/2 seasons in Milwaukee before becoming one of those well traveled "lefty specialist.  In total he would pitch in parts of 19 seasons and play for 7 clubs.  He ended his career as an "original Marlin" in 1993.  Highlights of McClure's Brewer career include:  leading the team in saves in 1978 and 1980 and saving 2 games in the 1982 World Series.  That same World Series would supply his career low-light a blown save in game 7.  After retirement he became a pitching coach, most recently in 2011 with the Royals organization.  For this updated card I used an autographed photo that I found on ebay.
Sheldon spent parts of 3 seasons with the Brewers during the mid 1970's (1974, 75 & 77).  After a breakout year in 1975, where he played second base in 53 games and batted .287 he mysteriously found his way back in the minors.  Not the quitting type, Sheldon battled his way back to the majors in 1977, but batted just .203 in 76 plate appearances.  He would return to the minors and never see major league action again.  I used his 1976 Topps card photo for this update 1977 card.

After struggling to get playing time with the Red Sox for years Cooper was promised by manager Don Zimmer that he would be the Sox starting 1st baseman in 1977.  Before he knew it "Coop" was traded to the Brewers for former Red Sox's George Scott and Bernie Carbo.  At the time of the trade the Brewers were criticized for making moves like this.  Neither Scott nor Carbo ever again had the kind of success they had achieved in earlier seasons. Cecil Cooper would become a legend in Milwaukee.  "Coop" hit the ground running in 1977 and never looked back.  As the Brewers everyday 1st baseman (160 games) he hit an even .300 with 20 homers and 78 RBI's and had a slick glove.  For the next 11 seasons he would etch his place in the hearts of Brewer fans.  Cooper twice led the league in RBI's and doubles.  He was a 2 time Gold Glove winner, and a 5 time All-Star.  He finished his career with a .298 lifetime average with 241 homers.  I found both of these photos on ebay and thought each shot would be quite interesting for a card.  The shot on the left was clearly taken during the '77 era since the cap had the "M" on it and not the famed "mb" glove logo.  The shot on the right might have been taken in '78 or '79, but I thought it was pretty cool catching a MLB player with a beanie cap on.

Known as the "Sundown Kid", Thomas burst onto the baseball scene like a meteor during the '76 season.  He had a host of mental challenges that pushed him toward the brink of suicide.  He found religion and as a result couldn't play from sundown Friday night until sundown on Saturday.  This meant that he would have had to miss at least 2 games a week.  The Brewers were winning early on, so this wasn't an issue.  Once the losses began to pile up Thomas was made the scapegoat and sent down to the minors, a demotion he happily accepted.  Things went horrible wrong for him at Triple A and he was reassigned to Double A, which he refused.  Things spiraled out of control and eventually he was released.  After a brief stint for an independent league team in Idaho he was out of baseball and out of money.  A few years later he was arrested in Alabama for raping a child.  He hung himself in his jail cell.  A tragic ending to a tragic story.  In 1977 he was hitting .271 at the time of his demotion.  He hit .276 in 1976. He was a .275 lifetime hitter in the minors.  This tells me that even though his behavior might have been inconsistent, his performance with the bat was.  As a team Milwaukee hit a combined .258.  Jim Wohlford, his replacement in left field hit just .248 with 1 less homer in 4 times as many at bats.  Brewer owner Bud Selig claims that the two days off a week had nothing to do with the demotion, but the numbers do not bare this out.  What a shame.  I used his OYW (One Year Wonder) card for this updated 1977 card.  The photo was a bit grainy.

Davis was originally tagged to be Dan Thomas' "replacement".  Thomas wished him well as he packed up and headed out to Spokane.  Davis did about the same as Thomas did, but strangely he too got limited time.  In just 22 games he hit .275 (14-51) with no homers and 6 RBI.  1978 saw Davis get 218 at bats in 69 games.  His average leveled off at .248.  In each of the following seasons (1979 & 1980) Davis received more playing time and his average and power numbers improved steadilly.  Needing pitching desperately at the start of the '81 season the Brewers dealt him to the Phillies for Randy Lerch.  In limited action Davis hit .333 for the Phils.  He was traded in the middle of the '82 season to Toronto and then over to Pittsburgh where he hit .182.  After the Pirates dropped him the Phillies signed him to a minor league contract and assigned him to AAA Portland where he hit .328.  Instead of a trip back to the majors he was released.  Davis, who wasn't much of a defensive outfielder needed to hit big to stay in the everyday lineup.  Since his power numbers were low and his attitude was even lower nobody wanted to take a shot by signing him.  He took his talents over to Japan, where he starred for 3 years, but his attitude and drug issues earned him a one way ticket back to the states during the 1988 season.  Interestingly in 1982, when he was traded twice, he was traded for the same guy (Wayne Nordhagen) both times.

By all accounts Kirkpatrick was "toyed with" by the "rudderless Angels during his formative years in professional baseball.  Up and down 7 times during his 7 seasons with the Angels from 1962-1968, Kirkpatrick was saved by the "Baseball Gods" in the form of expansion.  In 1969 he was paroled from the Angels system and found rehabilitation with the expansion Royals.  Kirkpatrick could play everywhere.  Primarily used as a catcher he was adept at playing every position, and during some seasons he did just that.  From 1969-73 he was the Royals "jack of all trades", while hitting a consistent .248.  Before the 1973 season he was traded to Pittsburgh where he continued in the same role that he had in KC.  While he never hit more than .247 in his 2+ seasons in the Steel-town his flexibility in the field helped the Pirates win back to back division titles.  1977 saw Kirkpatrick nearing the end of the road.  At 32 he had been at this for 16 seasons already and the grind of professional ball began to slow him down.  After hitting just .143 to start the season the Pirates sent him to the Rangers.  In 20 games in Texas it didn't get much better (.188).  He finished up the season in Milwaukee and posted a .273 average in 77 at bats.  Things looked good when he headed to Spring Training in 1978, but the Brewers released him just before the season opener.  Since no other team would give him a shot on their major league roster Kirkpatrick took the only offer he could find:  A minor league contract in the Angels chain.  How funny is it that things seem to come full circle.  He started his career toiling in anonymity in the Angels chain and he ended his career the same way.  He did end it on a high not hitting .325 in 209 at bats.  Kirkpatrick's post-baseball life was quite tragic.  4 years after leaving baseball he wound up in a horrific car accident that left him paralyzed.  He would pass away at the age of 66 due to complications from cancer.  Friends and family say that through all the trials and tribulations he still maintained his sense of humor and never had a "woe's me" attitude.  I actually found this photo on a Brewer fan's FLICKR page.  I got in contact with his son, who posted on that page and he agreed to chat with me a bit about his dad.  I hope to report back on how that chat went and what interesting things I learned.

This 19 year old Puerto Rican native was rushed to the majors to provide defensive support for the Brew crew.  In turn he managed to provide some offensive support along the way by hitting .280 (7-25).  He would not return to the majors for another 3 years (1980).  By that point he would settle in comfortably with the role of utility infielder.  Romero would play the next 6 seasons in Milwaukee as a part time player who never played more than 116 games.  He moved on to Boston for the next 4 seasons, then traveled around a bit before calling it quits in Detroit in 1990 after 12 solid seasons.  I found this photo on monstermarketplace.

Beare was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 5th round of the 1974 amateur draft. He made his major league debut in September 1976 and played his last game in October 1977.  After going 2-3 (3.29) during his brief cup of coffee during the 1976 season Beare was given all the opportunity to pitch regularly in 1977.  After posting a 3-3 (6.44) record in 58 2/3 innings Beare earned himself a one way ticket back to Spokane (AAA).  He spent the next 3 seasons bouncing between minor league affiliates of the Brewers, Phillies and Padres before being released after the 1980 season by San Diego.  I airbrushed this photo, which was found on a minor league card.  I then pasted in the  Brewer "M" on the cap.

Gantner would eventually become a cornerstone at second base for the Brewers for 17 seasons.  Back in 1977 he was a 24 year old kid who hit .298 in limited (14 games) action.  After steady improvement over the next 2 season Gantner became the Brewers regular second baseman in 1980.  He would hold that position for the next decade.  After the 1992 season a 39 year old Gantner would retire from baseball after spending his entire career in Milwaukee and hitting .274.  He was a huge fan favorite.  Pictured here playing 3rd base, which is where he played for most of his first 3 seasons, Gantner autographed this photo, which appeared on ebay.

By the summer of 1977 the "Toy Cannon" was basically shooting bee-bee's.  After hitting .143 up in the Bronx in 30 games the Yankees gave him his unconditional release.  Going nowhere in the standings the Brewers decided to take a chance on him and picked him up for the balance of the season.  Wynn hit just .197 with no homers.  At 35 he was old and worn out.  The Brewers would release him at the end of the season thus ending the career of a former All-Star.  Wynn's numbers at first glance do not look overly impressive.  Take into consideration that he averaged 20+ homers a season while playing his first 13 seasons in two huge ballparks (Astrodome/Dodger Stadium) and you see what type of power he had.  During the late 60's he hit a tape measure shot out of Crosley field and onto the interstate.  After having a MVP type season in 1974 with the Dodgers, Wynn's skills began to slowly erode over the next 3 seasons, before it became completely evident that he was finished.  I took his 1977 Topps card, which had him pictured in a Braves cap and airbrushed it so he had a Brewer cap on.  I also darkened his warmup jacket to look more like Brewer blue, which was much darker than Brave blue at the time.  Due to his short (5' 8") frame and great eye Wynn walked a lot and had a great OBP during his career, which was an era where OBP went virtually un-noticed.

Sorensen had both his promising baseball and broadcasting careers cut short due to drug and alcohol abuse.  He was one of 11 players who received fines and suspensions as a result of the Pittsburgh drug trials of the early 1980's.  At the age of 21 Sorenson started 20 games for the Brewers and finished 7-10 (4.36).  He won 18, 15 and 12 games with an ERA well under 4.00 during those 3 seasons.  Milwaukee must have started noticing his proclivity toward controlled and legal substances and dealt him to the Cardinals as part of big 8 player deal that returned Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich to the Brewers.  Basically that one trade helped build the 1982 AL Pennant winners.  Milwaukee got a HOF reliever, a borderline HOF catcher and a future Cy Young award winner for a mediocre oufielder (David Green), a so-so lefty (Dave LaPoint), a solid professional hitter (Sixto Lezcano) and a drugged out hurler (Sorenson).  After 1 season in St Louis he wwas dalt to Cleveland, where everything began to unravel down that slippery slope.  Stops in Oakland, Chicago and comebacks in Montreal and San Fran did nothing to resurect a promising career that died at the end of a straw and a shotglass.  I found this photo on a card called "Brewer greats".  Quite a bit of irony, don't you think ?

Sakata was selected by CNN Sports Illustrated as one of the 50 greatest sports figures in Hawai'i history and is a member of the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame located in the Bishop Museum.  While this designation must be considered an honor it also tells you that not many great athletes have come from our nation's 50th state.  In his first shot at the majors Sakata hit .162 in 53 games (25-154) during the '77 season for the Brewers.  He "boosted" his average to .192 the following season in 30 games of action then found himself in the minors until he was traded to Baltimore where he flourished as a utility infielder over the next 6 seasons.  The only photo I could find of Sakata in a Brewer uniform was this grainy head shot from his 1980 rookie panel card.

Before the start of the 1977 season, Caldwell was traded for the third time, going to the Cincinnati Reds for Pat Darcy. After just fourteen games, the Reds traded him to the Milwaukee Brewers for minor leaguers Dick O'Keefe and Garry Pyka.  Caldwell had his best season in 1978 when he went 22-9 with a 2.36 ERA and led the AL in Complete Games with 23. Caldwell was named the AL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News and finished second in the Cy Young Award balloting to Ron Guidry. Caldwell finished in double figures in victories for 6 consecutive seasons for the Brewers (1978–1983) and won 2 games in the 1982 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in a losing effort. Caldwell was given his unconditional release by the Brewers organization in 1985.  In 1978, he was one of the three left-handed pitchers named "Mike" (the others being Mike Flanagan and Mike Willis) to hand the New York Yankees' Ron Guidry a loss in his 25-3 season. He and the Brewers shut out the Yankees and Guidry 6-0 on July 7, 1978. He is currently the pitching coach for the Scottsdale Giants.  In 1977 he went 5-8 for the Brewers.  There was no evidence to suspect that 1978 would be his breakout season.  Know to Yankee fans as "Yankee Killer", because he pitched his best games against the boys in pinstripes.  This photo was found on ebay. It is signed in blue sharpie and was taken at Comiskey.

On April 12, 1978, Haas struck out 14 batters, breaking record for strikeouts in a single game for the Brewers. this franchise records stood for 26 years.  After a 5 game tryout in 1976 Haas was given a spot in the starting rotation in '77 and responded with a 10-12 (4.33) record in 32 starts.  He would win 91 games in 10 seasons as a Brewer.  His best season being 1983 where he went 13-3 (3.27).  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Bando signed as a free agent in the off season after 11 years, 3 Championships, and 4 All-Star appearances with the A's.  A clutch player and solid glove man at third Bando continued right where he left off in Oakland.  In 1977 he played in 159 games and hit .250 with 17 homers for the Brew Crew, but more importantly he was a key influencer on the young talent coming through the system.  Bando taught the professionalism and how to be clutch in big games.  Sadly his skills began to diminish just as the Brewers began to make their championship run in the early 80's.  Topps created a horrible airbrush card for Bando with a "Crayola'ed" blue cap.  I found this nice autographed photo of him on ebay and decided that his 1977 card needed a bit of an upgrade.

Wohlford was primarily a backup outfielder, used primarily for his good fielding skills. His best performance was with the 1974 Kansas City Royals, when he had a batting average of .271. 1974 was the only year Wohlford ever had more than 500 at bats. He had a .260 career batting average.  Wohlford arrived in the offseason in a previously documented deal with the Royals.  When the Dan Thomas tragedy forced him into everyday action he responded with great defense and mediocre offense.  .248-2-36 are not the numbers for a corner outfielder on a winning ballclub.  To no one's surprise the Brewers were not a winning club in '77.  Don't put all the blame on Wohlford.  He did the best he could with the talents he had.  In limited action during the '78 season he hit .297 and in '79 with similar playing time he hit .263.  In 1980 he signed with the Giants as a free agent and did well in that 4th outfielder role.  After 3 years in San Fran he moved over to Montreal and played his part to perfection.  Wohlford was a career .260 hitter over 15 seasons for 4 different franchises.  He never hit more than 5 homers in a season and averaged around 2 for his career.

In a 16-season career, McMullen posted a .248 batting average with 156 home runs and 606 RBI in 1583 games played.  No remarkable tidbits about his career could be found while searching the Internet.  His prime years were spent with the lowly Washington Senators during the mid to late 1960's.  During that time frame he averaged 17 homers a season while hitting .252 at the hot corner.  He started his career in 1962 playing on the Koufax/Drysdale Dodgers.  He platooned at third during LA's 1963 Championship season and was dealt to Washington for Claude Osteen before the 1965 campaign.  In February of 1977 the Brewers purchased his contract from the Oakland A's.  In 63 games he hit .228 (31-136) with 5 homers and 19 RBI's.  At the end of the season he was released, so he accepted his fate and retired from baseball.  I found this photo on one of those autograph sites that advertise on Google.  On September 14, 1977 McMullen would hit the final homer of his career in the final at bat of his career.

Quirk is best known for his 3 tours of duty as a Royal. Sandwiched between his first two tours was a 1 year sojourn in Milwaukee where he hit .217 in 221 AB's as a part time DH-OF'er.  The Brewers thought so little of Quirk's skills they shipped him back to the Royals at the end of the season and got minor leaguer Gerry Ako in return.  Quirk has to be credited with making the most of his menial talents and spreading it across an 18 year career.  His career highlight was his AL West division clinching homer for the Royals in 1984.  This colossal blow was actually hit in his 1 at bat for the Indians during that season and it was against the Twins, who were then eliminated from the race.  Quirk found ways to help the Royals even when he wasn't wearing their uniform !  He played for 7 other teams, including the Brewers.  He finished his career at the age of 37 in 1992 for the AL West Champion Oakland A's as a catcher.  I used his 1978 Topps card photo, which was taken in Yankee Stadium.

Brye was involved on one of the biggest controversies in baseball on the final day of the 1976 season.[4] Kansas City's George Brett and Hal McRae were in a near deadlock for the American League batting championship. In his final at-bat, Brett hit a routine fly-ball to left field, that Brye failed to catch, and it fell for a hit. There were accusations that Brye played it badly, to deny McRae, an African American, the batting championship. It was never conclusively established that Brye intentionally failed to retire Brett.  With that said his days in Minnesota were officially gone after that game.  After 7 years as a 4th outfielder, who batted .261 in the Twin cities Brye moved over to the Brewers where he applied his mediocre skills to the craft of baseball.  Hitting .249 in 94 games, while covering all 3 outfield spots and DH earned Brye 264 plate appearances.  He signed as a free agent with the Pirates in 1978 and hit .235 in 66 games and was subsequently released.  Fighting to keep his major league dreams alive he signed a minor league contract with the Padres and hit .247 in Hawaii.  That marked the end of the line for Brye's career, but at least he got to spend his final season in an exotic locale.  I used his 1978 Topps card photo for this one.  I had to airbrush out the position circle located on the upper right corner.

Haney was valued by teams mainly for his defensive abilities. In addition to his .985 fielding percentage and skill at working with pitching staffs, he threw out 110 of 282 stolen base attempts (39.0%) and picked off 8 baserunners during his career. He was acquired three separate times by the Oakland A's, and was on their roster during their entire World Championship year of 1974.  On July 27, 1966, he hit a home run in his first major league game (second at bat) against John O'Donoghue of the Cleveland Indians.  On September 6, 1968, Haney had his first and only 4-hit game, when he hit three singles and a double against the Chicago White Sox.  He has also had five 3-hit games in his career.  Haney played in two World Series games for the Oakland A's in 1974 against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Haney caught 63 games for the Brewers in 1977 and hit .228 (29-127).  He returned as a backup in 1978, but only got into 4 games then was released.  I found this autographed photo on ebay.

Folkers was selected off waivers by the Brewers on March 23, 1977. Overall, he threw just over six innings for the Brewers that year, posting a 4.26 ERA.  In March 1978, the Brewers traded him with Jim Slaton to the Tigers for Ben Oglivie. The Brewers definitely got the better end of that deal - Folkers never appeared in a big league game with the Tigers, while Slaton only pitched one season with them (it was, however, arguably his best season in the Majors. He went 17-11 that year with a 3.89 ERA) before being reclaimed by the Brewers when he entered free agency after the 1978 season. Oglivie, on the other hand, went on the have the best years of his 16 season career while with the Brewers, hitting as many as 41 home runs in a season.  Rich Folkers played in his final big league game on June 8, 1977.  I used his 1970 Mets rookie panel card photo for this card.  Since it was impossible to find a photo of him with the Brewers I used the Met photo and airbrushed out the NY and pasted on a "M".


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