10 years ago today: Remembering the worst Milwaukee Brewers season ever
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Depending on your outlook, the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers season could signify a number of things. The upcoming campaign could be the team’s first real opportunity to leapfrog the Albert Pujols-less Cardinals en route to National League supremacy. This year could also signify a one-season window for the Crew to get to the World Series before Zack Greinke leaves and the Reds take over as top dogs in the division. Or it might be the first of many fruitless seasons awaiting the team following Prince Fielder’s departure. Who knows? Maybe Nyjer Morgan will be ironically voted Wisconsin’s governor in a recall election. There’s no telling what awaits us.
A bit of significance the 2012 season already holds is the 10-year anniversary of the worst Milwaukee Brewers team ever. The 56-106 squad was the only team in the franchise’s history with losses in the triple digits, while utterly wasting Richie Sexson in his prime and paying Jeffrey Hammonds nearly $8 million to hit .257 with 41 RBI. To help introduce the promising ’12 Brewers, The A.V. Club reluctantly looks back at the Jorge Fabregas-era Crew in order to quash any doubts about Milwaukee’s modern World Series chances.
At the helm
The ’02 Brewers began the team’s all-time worst season under the “leadership” of Davey Lopes, who nudged the Crew to a 68-94 record the season before. However, the skipper’s third season in Milwaukee lasted less than a month, as he was shown the door after a 3-12 start. Interim manager Jerry Royster did his best to make Lopes seem like Phil Garner by comparison, contributing a 53-94 record of his own.
Current skipper Ron Roenicke managed to win two more games in his first season than Lopes lost during his last full season. The 96 regular season wins Running Ron notched last year marked the Brewers’ single-season high, even topping the ’82 season win total.
In 2002, before he was regarded as a perennial disabled-list resident, Ben Sheets was entering his second season (first full season) as a promising 23-year-old innings-eater who was only a few years removed from Olympic glory. Compared to his counterparts in the ’02 rotation—a cast that included Glendon Rusch, Ruben Quevedo, Jamey Wright, and Nick Neugebauer—and his oft-injured future self, Sheets put up respectable numbers that are similar to (if not slightly worse than) the ones modern Milwaukee whipping boy Shaun Marcum posted last year.
Today, the biggest problem with the front of Milwaukee’s rotation is deciding the “true ace” of the team. Yovani Gallardo holds the honor of pitching opening day games and has the numbers to justify it, but Greinke has a Cy Young Award on his mantle, is coming off a 200-strikeout season (of which he missed the first month), and has NEVER lost at Miller Park. The present ace dilemma sure beats the heated debates about Wayne Franklin getting a shot at Neugebauer’s No. 5 spot that likely raged 10 years ago.
Not counting Geoff Jenkins, who missed almost 100 games due to injury, the following people set foot in the Brewers outfield in 2002: Jeffrey Hammonds (made the Jeff Suppan deal a few seasons later seem like a good value), Alex Ochoa (proved anyone can hit for the cycle), Alex Sanchez (later suspended for testing positive for PEDs), Matt Stairs (16 homers was third-most on the team), Ryan Thompson, Jim Rushford, and Ryan Christianson. (It’s unclear whether these last three people ever actually existed.)
That group looks even worse when set beside the current Brewers outfield corps, complete with an MVP-winning energy-drink mogul who recently won a suspension appeal, a two-time All-Star, a clutch-hitting crazy person, a highly touted Japanese import, and an incredible defender.
In the stands
A decade ago, the Brewers failed to bring 2 million through the turnstiles. Most of the 1.9 million gluttons for punishment who ventured into Miller Park likely came to experience the then-year-old stadium for the first time. That, or to feel the cool breeze provided by one of Jose Hernandez’s 188 Ks. In all, it was a season devoid of expectations, absent of talent, and without any tangible payroll or plan to right the sinking ship.
Friday’s opening day sellout officially begins a season that will bring more than 3 million visitors into Miller Park to watch a well-constructed team realistically compete for a pennant. It doesn’t take 2002 to appreciate what’s about to unfold in Milwaukee in 2012, but it sure helps.