Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#314 - Milwaukee Brewers/ Pilots & Brewers Records

This is a surprisingly not bad team photo, given some of the bombs we've had recently. It's a bit blurry, but it shows the big scoreboard beer keg and it is close enough to the players that we can recognize just about everybody. The first person in the first standing row - it may be a woman - looks like Robin Yount but that guy was still in high school when this photo was taken. The Brewers had the best season of the team's young existence in '73. Although one-time phenom Bill Parsons couldn't find the plate and Don Money began his AL career in Mendoza territory, the first consistently-fielded team in history got it together and when Jim Colborn stepped into the rotation things started rolling. In June the team went 18-11, including a ten-game winning streak to knock Detroit out of first. That must have REALLY pissed off Billy Martin. Then in July the pitching coach quit and first place was history. In the meantime Money had his average up in the .280's and the team was still at .500 in late August, by far the latest in the season that happened. A September swoon brought them back to earth but Colborn became the first franchise pitcher to win 20 and the team would not perform as well again until Bambi came along.

The checklist front is pretty prosaic: no fancy signatures or symbols. The '73 starting line-up is pretty well represented and the big off-season trade with California is evident by the inclusion of Ken Berry and Clyde Wright. But only a couple pitchers from the '73 staff are here. I guess that is pretty emblematic as the lack of solid pitching after Mr. Colborn sort of did these guys in late in the season.

While I do enjoy researching these big posts, I must admit I'm happy to find that only a couple of these guys aren't in this set. Let's get to them:

Before there was David Clyde there was Lew Krausse. Lew was a huge phenom in high school in PA and by his own count he threw 18 no-hitters by his graduation. In '61 he was signed by the Kansas City A's for a huge bonus baby package of $125,000. According to Lew he really signed because the A's - who employed his dad, a former big league pitcher, as a scout - promised to keep his dad employed another five years if Junior signed. A week later he made his first start, pitching a three-hit shutout. in his second game he gave up his first homer - ever - and in his third game his elbow popped. It turned out the tendon had detached but nobody realized it until the end of his rookie year. He ended it going 2-5 with a 4.82 ERA and then hit the minors. After a decent '62 in A ball he spent the next three in Triple A where he didn't have a consistently good season until going 12-7 with a 3.22 ERA in '65. He also got in a few games up top that season and the prior one but didn't do too well. On top of that his '65 Topps card had someone else's photo on it. In '66 he had his best season back in KC: 14-9 with a 2.99 ERA. The rest of his time with the A's was rocky as his record never really came close to '66 and he ran afoul of Charlie O. In '69 he appeared in "The Breakfast Club" (check out his card) by which season he was pitching more in relief than in the rotation. In '70 he went to the Pilots/Brewers in the trade that brought Oakland Don Mincher. That year he went 13-18 with a high ERA in the rotation and then had a significantly better '71 - 8-12 with a 2.94 ERA in the rotation and long relief - before going to Boston in another big trade. By then his arm was a mess and he missed most of the season to injury. He then moved around a bit and spent most of '73 for Oakland at Triple A where he had pretty good numbers. He didn't have a Topps card in either '73 or '74 but did get one in '75 after moving to Atlanta for most of the '74 season, going 4-3 his final season in the majors. In '75 he was back in the Oakland system where he ended things as a pitcher. For his career he went 66-91 up top with a 4.00 ERA, 21 complete games, five shutouts, and 21 saves. After playing Lew returned to the KC area where he plays golf and shows up at reunions. I have no idea what he has done professionally after ball but he - along with Clyde - prominently surfaced in an SI article about Steven Strasburg in 2009.

Gene Brabender was a big right-hander who earned a degree of immortality in "Ball Four." Born and raised in Wisconsin, he was the first native to play for the Brewers. Gene played everywhere in high school baseball, also playing football and hoops. After attending Whitewater University for a semester he was signed by the Dodgers in '61. For them he had a tough time in the low minors that season but improved his ERA by over two runs in D ball in '62. The next year he went 15-10 in A ball and had a couple nice relief outings up a level. He then lost all of '64 and '65 to the military where he served as an MP on Army posts and played ball. O's scouts observed him there the second season and later made him a Rule 5 draft pick. In '66 he made his debut up top for the Series winners, throwing middle relief and having a pretty good rookie season with a 4-3 record, 3.55 ERA, and a couple saves. He split '67 between Triple A and Baltimore and improved his stats up top, now strictly as a starter. In '68 he split time between the pen and the rotation and after the season was traded to the new Pilots with Gordie Lund for Chico Salmon. In '69 Gene went 13-14, setting a record for wins for an expansion team that lasted almost 30 years. His ERA rose a run though due to a shoulder problem. That got worse the next year as his record tumbled hard: 6-15 with an ERA above 6.00. After the season he was sent to the Angels for Bill Voss but for California he couldn't get healthy and after an 8.00 ERA in a few games at Triple A in '71 was done. He finished with a record of 35-43 with a 4.25 ERA, 15 complete games, four shutouts, and six saves. After playing he ran a mobile home business on the Wisconsin peninsula until '78 when he returned to his hometown to do construction work. He passed away in '96 from an aneurysm when he was 55.

It is now tally time. On the offensive side a couple guys have cards elsewhere: catcher Ellie Rodriguez and outfielder Joe Lahoud had been traded to California. Only John Felske's 22 at bats are not represented. That's about the best we've seen. The downside is that a few pitchers are absent. Skip Lockwood also moved to the Angels. But closer Frank Linzy (2-6 with 13 saves), former Phillie Chris Short (3-5), Carlos Velasquez (2-2), Ray Newman (2-1), and Ray Gardner (1-1) are all missing as well as a few 0-1 guys. That means only 134 of 162 decisions are represented by this set, ranking Milwaukee close to the bottom. On the team card a bunch of these missing guys are present: Linzy is number 25 in the third row; Short the first guy in the fourth row, Velasquez the third from the right in the third row; Newman the third guy from the right in the fourth row; and Gardner the concerned-looking guy in the middle of the fourth row.

In music on January 18th of '73 the Rolling Stones put on a fund-raiser in LA for victims of the Nicaragua earthquake, the same quake Roberto Clemente was rushing to when his plane went down. Mick Jagger's wife back then, Bianca, was from Nicaragua and the group raised $200,000 to which they added $150,000 of their own money. I hadn't known those guys to be that generous before finding this out.

The Phillies and the Brewers did a big recent trade that helps out here:

1. Billy Champion was on the '73 Brewers;
2. Champion and Barry Lersch on the '69 to '72 Phillies.

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