Milwaukee’s Best, Part 4: The 50 Best To Play For Braves, Brewers: 20-11

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Jeff Cirillo, shown on a 1999 poster. He was an All-Star with the Brewers in the late 1990s.

Dairyland Express’ look at the 50 best players for the Milwaukee Braves and Milwaukee Brewers continues. If you missed the first three parts, you can find them here.

Milwaukee’s Best, Part 1

Milwaukee’s Best, Part 2

Milwaukee’s Best, Part 3

Whereas the Braves put together 13 consecutive winning seasons after moving from Boston to Milwaukee and won a World Series title in their fifth season in Beer City, success has been more elusive for the Milwaukee Brewers since the Seattle Pilots relocated to Wisconsin just before the 1970 season.

The move itself was frenetic. The Pilots were awarded to Seattle as an expansion franchise by the American League in 1967 to begin play in 1969.

The team quickly went broke when its chief investor bailed out after a 64-98 inaugural season and Bud Selig bought the franchise in late March. The move from Seattle to Milwaukee happened just six days before the season opener, according to the Wall Street Journal, and it took until the team’s ninth season at Milwaukee County Stadium before the Brewers put a winner on the field.

Under a 54-year-old rookie manager, George Bamberger, the Brewers improved from 67-95 and sixth place in 1977 to a 93-69 campaign and a third-place finish in 1978.

In 1981, the Brewers came back after a players’ strike that wiped out seven weeks of the season in June, July and August. With Major League Baseball instituting a minor-league style split-season, Milwaukee went 31-22 after the return from the strike and won the AL East’s second-half title by 1½ games over both the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers.

That threw the Brewers into a first-of-its-kind Division Series for the AL East title against the New York Yankees, who were in first place at the time of the strike on June 11 and declared the first-half winner.

The Brewers dug a huge hole for themselves, losing the first two games of the series at County Stadium 5-3 and 3-0, but bounced back with 5-3 and 2-1 wins at Yankee Stadium to set up a winner-take-all fifth game.

Milwaukee got two early runs off Yankee ace Ron Guidry, but the Yankees took the lead with a four-run fourth off Moose Haas en route to a series-clinching 7-3 win.

The Brewers got off to a slow start in 1982 and manager Buck Rodgers was fired after a 2-1 win over the Seattle Mariners and the team stumbling along in a fifth-place tie, seven games behind the Tigers.

Hitting coach Harvey Kuenn was promoted to manager and led the team to a 72-43 record the rest of the way.

The Brewers clinched their first full-season division title on the final day of the season, after blowing a four-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles with four straight losses while the O’s were winning four in a row, including the first three games of a season-ending series at Baltimore.

But Robin Yount homered twice off Jim Palmer and Cecil Cooper added a shot in the sixth as the Brewers clinched the division with a 10-2 win on the final day of the season.

Milwaukee then lost the first two games of the American League Championship Series to the California Angels, dropping 8-3 and 4-2 decisions in Anaheim, Calif.

But the Brewers stormed back to win three straight games at home, clinching the pennant with a 4-3 win in Game 5 when Cooper drove in the tying and go-ahead runs off Angels reliever Luis Sanchez in the bottom of the seventh.

In the World Series for the first time against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Brewers split the first two games in St. Louis and won Games 4 and 5 at home after losing Game 3, heading back to Busch Stadium needing just one win to grab the title.

But the Cardinals rocked Don Sutton and Jim Slaton in Game 6 en route to a 13-1 win and took Game 7 6-3 to deny the Brewers the championship.

It would be 26 years before Milwaukee saw the postseason again.

In 2008, the Brewers went for broke in mid-July, acquiring free-agent-to-be CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians and took control of the NL Wild Card race.

But Milwaukee stumbled a bit in September and after the Brewers were swept in a four-game series by the Philadelphia Phillies and falling into a tie with the Phils in the Wild Card race, manager Ned Yost was fired and hitting coach Dale Sveum was named interim manager.

They went 7-5 the rest of the way, and the Phillies stormed past the New York Mets to win the NL East and Milwaukee grabbed the wild card before losing in four games to Philadelphia in the NL Division Series.

Under rookie manager Ron Roenicke in 2011, the Brewers won the NL Central title and finally eliminated the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS when Nyjer Morgan singled home Carlos Gomez in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 5 at Miller Park.

But the Brewers lost to the Cardinals in six games in the NLCS.

In all, the Brewers have had 17 managers in their 45 seasons in Milwaukee, with a record of 3,437-3,720.

The Brewers have had two Rookies of the Year. Pat Listach won the honor in 1992 and Ryan Braun took the award in 2007. Their only two Cy Young winners came in back-to-back years, with Rollie Fingers winning in 1981 and Pete Vuckovich earning the honor in 1982.

Three Brewers have been named MVP—Robin Yount twice in 1982 and 1989, Fingers in 1981 and Braun in 2011.

The only no-hitter in franchise history was authored by Juan Nieves on April 15, 1987.

Dairyland Express’ list of the top 50 players to play for the Braves or Brewers continues now with players 20 through 11.

Next: 20. A Cannon In Right Field