Sunday, October 19, 2008

Brewers A Playoff Team, But Still A Podunk Organization

There was a time when Milwaukee was one of the finest baseball cities in all of America. They made beer there, and they made baseball fans.

There was also a time when there were two big league baseball teams in Boston, until it was decided that Boston wasn’t a city big enough to handle two, after all. So the Braves, the National League entry, packed up its bats and balls and tomahawks and moved west, to Brew Town, in 1953.

And Milwaukee welcomed the Braves with open arms. Little Milwaukee, one of the original American League towns, way back in 1901. Big league baseball didn’t last long in Milwaukee, though; minor league ball took over after just one season. But professional baseball, in various forms, was played in Milwaukee for the next five decades, and so the loyal fan base was thrilled to be a big league city once again in ’53.

This was no pretend, expansion team. These were the Braves, established and talented. Filling out the uniforms were the likes of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, and Lew Burdette. They won pennants in 1957 and ’58 and when they didn’t, they were usually finishing second in the years after moving to Milwaukee.

Beer and baseball always was a good combination – Milwaukee just laid it bare, was all.

Yet the Braves were eventually absconded, ripped from the city of Milwaukee and transplanted in the bourgeoning metropolis of Atlanta in 1966. The venerable Mathews went with them, just as he did when the team left Boston for Milwaukee, making him the only Brave to play for the organization in all three cities. An answer to one of the classic trivia questions.

Baseball righted itself after a few years of lunacy, and awarded another MLB franchise to Milwaukee in 1970, when the Seattle Pilots couldn’t answer the bell for their second season. The Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers – which just happened to be the name of that original AL team of 1901.

The Brewers became a power in the early-1980s, going to the World Series in ’82, where they lost to another beer-and-baseball franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals, who call Busch Stadium home. As in Anheuser-Busch.

Milwaukee has stayed a big league baseball town ever since 1970, even when the product on the field was minor league, which it was for most of the years between 1984-2006.

Then, a renaissance in 2007. The Brewers’ first winning season since 1992. Young talent that was maturing, including lefty slugger Prince Fielder, whose dad cranked baseballs out of Tiger Stadium back in the day.

More winning in 2008, the Brewers threatening to claim their division. When that chance started to fade, there was always that trusty Wild Card – the Champions of Second Place Teams. The Brewers set their sights on finishing in second place, the Cubs clearly about to win the Central Division. But the Brewers’ second place would have to be better than the second place of the East Division, and that of the West Division, if post-season baseball was to return to Milwaukee for the first time since 1982.

This is where the Brewers started to show why they are a Podunk organization playing in a big league town.

With only 12 games left to play in the season, the Second Place Championship slipping away thanks to a frosty September, the Brewers fired their manager, Ned Yost. No team in big league history, Podunk or not, had ever fired a manager that close to the finish line with the playoffs still a distinct possibility. The Brewers made history, but it was bone-headed history.

They promoted coach Dale Sveum (pronounced Swaym) to manage the team through the final 12 games, and, it was hoped, the playoffs. Sveum was a Brewers player, dating back to the final, pseudo-glory years of 1987-88, when the team briefly rose to above-.500 ball. He was a loyal soldier, a Brewer through and through. It was with admittedly mixed emotions that Sveum took over for his fired friend, Ned Yost.

Neither Yost (top) nor Sveum deserved the treatment they received from the Brewers

I wrote at the time that the Brewers, by firing Yost with such little time left in the season, were blatantly exhibiting the panic often displayed by losing organizations that have no clue about winning. It wouldn’t matter, I argued, if the Brewers made the playoffs under Sveum. It was still a dumb move. The team would be making the playoffs despite the firing, not because of it – if they made it at all.

The Brewers made the playoffs despite the move. I wasn’t impressed. Yost should never have been canned that late in the season, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.

So Sveum did his part, navigating his team through the rough waters and claiming the Second Place Championship with only 12 games with which to work. The Brewers were back in the playoffs for the first time in 26 years.

They didn’t last long. The Philadelphia Phillies bounced them out of the first round, three games to one. But Dale Sveum jumped in during a ridiculous situation and did what he was charged with doing. No doubt he was looking forward to stating his case for remaining the Brewers’ manager, in the form of an off-season job interview.

Not gonna happen.

The Brewers, almost surreptitiously, announced Friday that when the team goes looking for a permanent – HA!! – manager, Dale Sveum won’t be among those considered. They did so, with the playoffs still in full swing – the news, they hoped, swamped by the baseball still going on.

But I noticed.

The Brewers are still Podunk. They used Dale Sveum, plain and simple – one of their own. A Brewer at heart. They put him into a bad situation, he made the best of it, and now they won’t even sit down with him to discuss the job. They just set themselves back 106 years, when they were a minor league team in 1902.

Yet general manager Doug Melvin, who fired Yost, is receiving a three-year contract extension. Go figure.

The Brewers not only kicked Sveum to the curb, they apparently refuse to even acknowledge what he did. Here’s owner Mark Attanasio: “The team reached a significant milestone by getting to the postseason,” he said, “and this could not have been accomplished without the efforts of Doug Melvin and his staff.”

Oh, REALLY now?

It gets worse. The Brewers coldly added that ruling out Sveum “allows us to widen our search to experienced managerial candidates,” according to the rewarded Melvin.

Sveum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was shocked when Melvin told him the team decided to look for someone with more experience.

“Basically, my heart was ripped out of my chest," he said.

The Milwaukee Brewers ought to be ashamed of themselves. First they canned a fine manager in Ned Yost in panic, then threw a dedicated Brewer, Sveum, into the fire they created. Then, after Sveum delivered under stupid circumstances, the team thanks him by not even giving him the courtesy of a job interview, and by not mentioning his name after reaching their “significant milestone.”

It’s bush. It’s crappy. It’s a shocking display of disloyalty. Milwaukee is still a good baseball city, but their team is still Podunk, and apparently always will be, under this clownish ownership.

Way to go, you misguided, ungrateful boobs.

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