Although every fan thinks his or her team deserves something, I can’t help but think the Milwaukee Brewers really deserved tonight.
This is the team that wasted Robin Yount’s prime, oversaw the exile of Paul Molitor and was content to slide into the recipient role of MLB’s revenue-sharing system. Year after year, we saw mediocre baseball and year after year we stopped caring about the team by mid-July.
For years, the only thing worth paying attention to when it came to the Brewers was their Hall-of-Fame announcer Bob Uecker. Uke kept us smiling and laughing all the way through those horrific seasons of loss after loss.
In the middle of the 2000s, it was the Brewers who were the joke.
The stadium’s retractable roof leaked and it played host to the only tie in All-Star Game history. The team was on the way to a 56-106 season and any hope of respectability seemed farfetched at best. It would be the first of three-straight sixth-place finishes in the moribund NL Central.
In 2005, Bud Selig’s family finally sold the team, which finished at .500 for the first time in more than a decade. After slipping back to a sub-.500 record, they finished second in the Central with a 83-79 record.
The 2008 Season was “The Leap.” Owner Mark Attanasio pulled off the biggest trade of the year and perhaps the most important trade since the last time the Brewers made a run at glory. He pried CC Sabathia from the Cleveland Indians for a trove of prospects. Manager Ned Yost rode him to a 10-2 record, often pitching him on short rest. With 12 games left in the season and the playoffs slipping away, Attanasio fired Yost and replaced him with bench coach Dale Sveum. The team went 7-5 over that stretch and on the last day of the season secured the Wild Card for the National League.
Things looked like they would be returning to mediocrity, with two sub-.500 seasons. With stars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder heading toward potential free agency and the team regressing, Milwaukee had every reason to believe it was headed for disaster.
Instead, Attanasio and GM Doug Melvin stopped panicking and started building. They traded Cutter Dykstra for Nyjer Morgan.
They sent Brett Lawrie to Toronto for Shaun Marcum, giving them a front of the line starter with a moderate and consistent record.
Then, they went for it: They gave up four prospects and essentially gutting their farm system for Zack Greinke, a one-time Cy Young Award Winner.
While this could be perceived as going “all in” on one shot at a winner, Melvin picked up pieces that could be had for cheap or players whom he could control beyond this year. Unlike the Sabathia deal, which was a half-year rental, Melvin knew he could get players who were young, hungry and valuable and yet proven and strong.
The Brewers started 0-4 and finished April at 13 and 13, but after that, they never had a losing month. They gained on, caught and eventually passed the Cardinals for first place. The one-game lead grew to 10.5 before eventually evening out a bit. The papers started publishing the “magic number” for the team to clinch.
It’s been 29 years since Milwaukee had a division winner. It has won only one playoff game in that time span as well. And yet, unlike 2008, the Brewers seem to belong. They’re not the back-door slider that luckily caught the corner of the plate.
They are here for a reason. They’re fun, not funny.
And I couldn’t be more grateful.