January 2012

Empty Throne in Milwaukee

By Jeff Dunlap, Media and Community Outreach Assistant

I was sitting at my desk the other day, working on a project that will keep me busy all year long, when at 2:16 my phone vibrated.  I ignored the text and kept working until I felt it vibrate again.  Two texts within a minute warranted me checking my phone…

Text one from my buddy Mike:  “Dude 9 yrs $214”

Text two from my buddy Randy: “tigers”

My stomach literally dropped.  These two simple texts explained what I knew was coming but refused to believe, even without mentioning his name I knew… Prince Fielder was not coming back to Milwaukee. 

As many know, it hasn’t always been homeruns and division titles for the Brewers.  I grew up cheering for Jim Ganter, Greg Vaughn, Pat Listach, Jeff Cirillo, John Jaha, Darryl Hamilton, and Cal Eldred.  The most entertaining part of Brewer games in the 90s was Bernie Brewer sliding from the top of a keg into a beer mug (still the most disappointing thing about new Miller Park is they converted this amazing keg slide into “Bernie’s Clubhouse”).  I grew up cheering for players 95% of people outside the city of Milwaukee didn’t know of, players who didn’t have a winning season from ’92-’07. 

The first year I truly began to love baseball was ’98 (the best baseball season of ALL time).  The Brewers defensive alignment that year, 1-9, was: Cal Eldred, Mike Matheny, Mark Loretta, Fernando Vina, Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin, Geoff Jenkins, Marquis Grissom, and Jeremy Burnitz with John Jaha sharing time at first base with Loretta… these players combined for a 74-88 record in ‘98.  I was ecstatic.

Being excited over a 74-88 record can paint a picture for those out there who don’t understand what it’s like to love a team that quite simply, sucks.  However, in 2002 things began to change.  As documented in the book “Moneyball” Prince Fielder was considered by many teams as being too fat.  However, when the Brewers pick came along, they went with the hefty lefty and sparked the Brewers resurgence in baseball.  From 2000-2005 the Brewers selected, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and Ryan Braun in consecutive drafts.  The most important of those draft picks being The Prince himself, anchoring what would become one of the best young teams in all of baseball.

The Prince deal itself is no surprise.  You knew the slugger was going to get paid.  Even the duration of the contract, while slightly surprising, is not ridiculous.  What is strange, and bothersome as a Brewers fan, is the team he went to.  A team with one of the best hitting first basemen in baseball.  A team that within a year will have to fit 3 players for only two positions.  Prince himself came out and publicly stated that he wanted to play first base, that he wouldn’t DH.  Yet, he will have to DH at times his first year and most likely much more in the following years when Victor Martinez returns.  Now, for those that think Prince can’t play first, I have seen Prince play.  I can promise any doubting fan that Prince is an athlete, regardless of how he looks.  The man is not slow, and has become an average first baseman defensively.  Too much stock is put into his weight and its affect on his position.  You can either make the athletic plays or you can’t, Prince can.  I believe Prince can and should play first, and I thought he felt the same way, but the fact is he signed with a team that is going to DH him.

As a fan I may sound bitter, and that’s because I am.  I finally have a team that I can watch win some games and then, POOF! its best hitter is gone.  I know why, I even understand it.  Hell, I might have done the same thing.  The thing about it though, is that I’m a Brewers fan.  A die hard Brewers fan.  I built their new stadium (the state increased taxes in the 5 surrounding counties to pay for the stadium, one of which I lived in), I’ve bought tickets, I’ve bought merchandise, and I’ve watched them lose for YEARS.  This gives me the right to be upset when one of the best players in the game up and moves to Detroit…. I mean come on, Detroit?  This wasn’t a “he wants to win now” situation.  If Prince wanted to win now he could and should have stayed in Milwaukee.  The Crew plays in a worse division with a better team top to bottom.  Even with Prince’s departure the Crew is in line to compete for another Division title.  All of which means that his decision was based on money. 

As stated earlier, I understand going somewhere else for more money.  In almost every other profession in the world you go where the money is.  The Brewers could have probably offered a contract of 6-8 years around 20 million dollars.  That’s 160 million dollars.  Some of you might be saying, “Well that’s 40 to 50 extra million dollars”, but what can you possible do with 200 million dollars that you can’t do with 160?  As an accountant taking a new job and higher salary may change your lifestyle quite a bit, but when you’re dealing with such monstrous contracts aren’t there more important things, especially in baseball?

Ryan Braun signed the biggest contract for a player with less than 1 year major league service in 2008, but that contract was widely considered “team friendly”.  It was a 45 million dollar 7 year extension.  45 million dollars for 7 years for RYAN BRAUN.  It is your right to prematurely judge and dislike Ryan Braun over his apparent drug test failure, but there can be no argument that Braun is one of the best players in the game just as Prince is.  Yet, when Braun signed that first contract extension he was asked why he didn’t wait, and most likely receive a larger contract.  His reply was simple, “For me to have the opportunity to secure my future financially is something that means a lot to me. I just feel like I was ready to make the commitment to the city of Milwaukee.”  Was Prince not going to be financially secure in Milwaukee?  He must have not have been willing to make a commitment to the City of Milwaukee.  This is not fine with me, not after what the Brewers and the city of Milwaukee have done for him.

Baseball and its contracts cannot be compared to any other profession.  Financial security and lifestyle are not a problem for baseball stars.  Their massive contracts have guaranteed them a lifestyle that many of us can only dream of.  With this type of security, legacy and commitment to not only the game, but a city should matter.  However, the truth about these superstars, role models, sport gods, or whatever you may call them is that they are people.  Some are nice others are mean.  Some are humble others are cocky.  Some are loyal, others simply are not. 

Prince Fielder was an important, if not the most important, piece in turning Milwaukee’s franchise around.  I recognize it, and I thank him a million times over for his contribution.  I’ll give him a standing ovation on his first at bat back in Milwaukee.  However, I will not show him unconditional love as a Brewers fan because he’s not a Brewer.  He made a choice to sign in Detroit, just as Braun made a choice to stay in Milwaukee, just as I have made a choice to be upset and bitter about his departure.  I’m a fan, I get to do that.

 

Jeff has begun his first year with the Crawdads as a Media and Community Outreach Assistant.  The Waukesha, WI native attended school at Northeastern University where he played varsity baseball for the Huskies while earning his degree in Communications.  Jeff is an avid Wisconsin sports fan and enjoys staying active any way possible.

The Greatest’s 70th makes me want more…

By Jeff Dunlap, Media and Community Outreach Assistant

The sporting world celebrated the birthday of one of its most enduring and important athletes this past week when Mohammed Ali turned 70.  With “The Greatest” celebrating his birthday on Tuesday, a rare spotlight was shone on one of the world’s most important pastimes, a pastime that seems to be slowly fading to the background.

Combined with Ali’s birthday was a reminder of what boxing once was, its lasting impact on many, and proof that athletes can transcend sports to truly create a better world.  Few, if any, athletes can claim to have such an unadulterated legacy as Ali enjoys to this day, nevertheless every athlete and non-athlete alike should strive to have one just like it.

Which brings me to my point; boxing is fading with fewer and fewer stars and only heavyweight competition can save it.

While I cannot claim to be a boxing expert, I can claim being a sports fan, and like other sports fans I enjoy the most prestigious events featuring the best athletes.  This means I enjoy the Super Bowl more than the regular season, the World Series over the Divisional Series, the gold medal game over the bronze, and so on.  The lack of allure in heavyweight boxing has directly affected the sport’s popularity and its impact in today’s culture.  If asked to name champion boxers in today’s sport many would have to refer to Pacquiao, Mayweather, Marquez, or Hopkins.  These are all great fighters and some, Like Pacquiao, have committed to making this world a better place outside of the ring. I consider these fighters important figures within the sport, but not AS important as captivating heavyweights.

The only notable heavyweights today are the Klitschko brothers.  Their monopoly on the heavyweight division doesn’t allow for the casual sport fan to become interested.  What’s worse is these brothers have declared they will never fight each other.  For many of us with siblings, being payed to start a fight with the other would be a dream come true, yet these Ukrainian brothers are content on never creating the only interesting heavyweight matchup  available. 

This is not meant to be a knock on the other weight classes within boxing.  Like everybody else I have been pleading for a Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight for years.  I hope that today’s announcement of Mayweather contacting Pacquiao directly on the phone is the next step towards a fight.  However, I want to see the biggest, fastest, strongest athletes in the ring.  I want to see Louis, Frazier, Ali, Foreman, Tyson, or even Lenox Lewis.  I want to spend my money on a pay-per-view event that involves heavyweights.  The last interesting heavyweight ppv was in 2002 when Lenox Lewis knocked out Mike Tyson.  For all you math whizzes out there that’s 10 years!

The great sport of boxing has taken a beating (pun intended) in the eyes of sports fans this past decade. The welterweights are doing their part to keep the sport relevant, but need some help from the big boys, quite literally. 

Jeff has begun his first year with the Crawdads as a Media and Community Outreach Assistant.  The Waukesha, WI native attended school at Northeastern University where he played varsity baseball for the Huskies while earning his degree in Communications.  Jeff is an avid Wisconsin sports fan and enjoys staying active any way possible.

Hall of Fame Voting, Part I: Larkin and Morris

By Jeff Dickson, Director of Food & Beverage

Part 1 of series of blogs on the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it’s inductees, names still on the ballot, the voting process, and what it takes to make it to Cooperstown. 

Barry Larkin was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame last week, his third time on the ballot, with 86.4 percent of the vote. In this round of voting he was the only one to reach the 75 percent mark that brings enshrinement, and will join Ron Santo, who was voted in by the Golden Era Committee, in Cooperstown on July 22 to be inducted among the greatest to ever play the game. 

Santo, who unfortunately passed away in 2010, had spent many years on the outside looking in despite having a fantastic career and being known as one of the best third baseman in baseball history. 

Larkin only had to wait until his third time on the ballot, however that was at least a year too long. Hall of Fame voting comes under scrutiny every year; some arguing too many get in, others arguing too many are left off. Larkin was one of the best shortstops in his era, combining solid hitting, speed and defense that helped him win a World Series and an MVP award. 

He seemed like a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer to me, although I know that many voters simply do not vote for a player on the first ballot, with the thinking that that is an honor to only a select few, the best of the best, even among the greats that are in the Hall. A similar thing happened to Roberto Alomar, although his umpire spitting incident may have cost him some initial votes as well, as some sort of punishment that writers decided on their own accord was necessary. 

But Larkin and Alomar are in, so it does little good to complain about how long it took them to get there, especially since it was not long compared to many other players. Voting issues, of course, are not only with those that make it in. The two names left off this year that are of most concern to me moving forward are Jack Morris and Tim Raines; and for very different reasons.

Morris, one of the best pitchers of the 1980’s, made a giant jump this year and was named on 66.7 percent of the ballots. He will most likely make it in the Hall next year if historical precedence in terms of voting trends has anything to do with it. And good for him. He has been waiting for a long time, and his induction day will surely be one of the greatest days of his life. It’s just too bad he didn’t have a Hall of Fame career.

If you have done any reading on this topic then you probably are aware of his 3.90 ERA, which would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall. You probably also know the arguments for him; his classic and dominating postseason games, his willingness and ability to throw many, many innings, and his overall charisma and ‘bulldog’ mentality on the mound. The only problem is that his postseason success really wasn’t all that brilliant (7-4, 3.80 ERA) and the rest of his arguments really have nothing to do with how well he actually pitched.

To really put his career in perspective, take a look at Jonathan Bernhardt’s article at Baseball Prospectus. In essence, Morris was a very good pitcher for his career, and had brief moments of greatness. However, he never had a truly domination season (0 Cy Young awards) and for his career he was slightly above average when compared to his peers (105 ERA+). 

Morris will probably get in the Hall, and all will ultimately be forgotten. But the idea that a player’s career narrative plays a bigger role in getting into the Hall than his actual performance is a shame. Players can be remembered for great moments or seasons without having to be in the Hall (Roger Maris, Dave Roberts, etc.). And there is nothing wrong with having been a very, very, very good Major League Baseball player. 

I also wanted to briefly touch on Tim Raines, who is not as close as Morris to being inducted, but should have been long ago. Raines was 5th in voting this year, finishing with less than 50 percent of the vote. Perhaps the second greatest leadoff hitter in history, behind Ricky Henderson, Raines had a remarkably quiet career, mostly because he spent so much of it in Montreal. His .294 batting average and 170 home runs don’t jump off the page but, his role was to get on base and do what he could to score. His .385 on base percentage is outstanding for a career, as are his 808 steals and 1571 runs scored, not to mention his fine play in the outfield. 

Raines did things quieter than Henderson, with the prime of his career spent in Canada, and without staggering numbers in the categories most voters look to first. But he was great, and should be in the Hall. Maybe once Morris makes it in the voters will be able to find a new champion for their cause, as I’m sure many players from the ‘Steroid Era’ will have a hard time getting support from the old guard of voters.

I just may have a few thoughts on that line of thinking, as well. So stay tuned, and if you get the chance go look up Jeff Bagwell. Like Raines, he has a long way to go, but maybe they will both get the kind of support from the voters that Morris has been getting.

Jeff is entering his second season with the ‘Dads and first as the director of food & beverage.  The Oneonta, NY native joined the Crawdads in 2011 as a concessions assistant, and has previously worked with the Oneonta Outlaws as a sports marketing intern.  Jeff is a die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Phillies and North Carolina Tar Heels.