MILWAUKEE -- Using regular-season victories records as the barometer, here are the best summers in Brewers history.
Manager: Ron Roenicke
Long before “Beast Mode” became a thing and the 2011 Brewers won their division for the first time in a generation, they needed some pitching to go with that high-energy offense. So general manager Doug Melvin parted with five premium prospects in the span of two weeks in December 2010 to swing a pair of trades that announced to the baseball world that Milwaukee was all-in for what might be Prince Fielder’s final season in a Brewers uniform. Nine months later, the pitchers Melvin acquired, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, were preparing to pitch in the postseason for the first time, Fielder was coming off one of his best all-around campaigns, Ryan Braun was poised to be the team’s first league MVP in 22 years and the Brewers were division champions for the first time since 1982.
"This was the plan," said principal owner Mark Attanasio the day they clinched the National League Central. "This is everything we hoped for."
The Brewers beat the D-backs in a thrilling NL Division Series, clinching their first postseason series win since ’82 on Nyjer Morgan’s extra-inning walk-off single in Game 5, before falling to St. Louis in six games in the NL Championship Series.
Manager: Craig Counsell
The ’11 season was special, but there’s an argument that the Brewers' '18 season might have been even more impressive. Milwaukee began September five games back of the Cubs for first place in the NL Central, only to storm back and force a division-deciding Game 163 at Wrigley Field, which they won. Christian Yelich was the club's catalyst, putting together one of the most dominant second-half performances in history en route to winning the NL MVP Award. Milwaukee went on to sweep Colorado in the NLDS, but it fell to the Dodgers in a seven-game NLCS. Three years after Counsell became manager of his hometown team and David Stearns became baseball’s youngest GM at the time, the Brewers’ rebuild had reached its destination.
Manager: George Bamberger
It may break some hearts that we’re already at No. 3 and the ’82 Brewers have yet to make an appearance, but if we’re going by raw winning percentage, then the ’79 club comes out ahead. This was the second year under GM Harry Dalton and manager George Bamberger, who had led the Brewers to an incredible 26-win improvement from ’77 to ’78 before the club took another step forward in ’79, only to finish eight games back of the powerhouse Orioles in the American League East. Four of Bambi’s Bombers garnered MVP votes, led by Gorman Thomas, who led the league and set a franchise record with 45 home runs. Sixto Lezcano led the team with a .987 OPS. The Brewers weren’t shut out until their final game of the season.
Managers: Buck Rodgers and Harvey Kuenn
Whatever the regular-season winning percentages say, this was the best season in Brewers history. Harvey’s Wallbangers led the Majors in runs, home runs and slugging percentage. Paul Molitor scored 136 runs, most for an AL player in 33 years. Robin Yount posted one of the best seasons for a shortstop in history, winning the first of his two career AL MVP Awards. Yount, Molitor and Cecil Cooper all topped 200 hits. Cooper, Thomas and Ben Oglivie all topped 30 home runs. Mike Caldwell and Pete Vuckovich served as gritty leaders of the starting rotation, and Vuckovich won the AL Cy Young Award. The Brewers made it to the World Series for the only time to date, taking a 3-2 Series lead over the Cardinals before falling in seven games. And yet they didn’t look like a World Series contender two months into the season. The Brewers started the year 22-24, prompting a change at manager from Rodgers to Kuenn, the hometown hitting coach who had been with the Brewers since 1972. Once Kuenn took over, the team took off.
“When Harvey took over, everyone had a different attitude,” Jim Gantner said. “It was, ‘Here we go.’”
When Bamberger interviewed for the Brewers’ managerial vacancy in the winter of 1978-79 with club founder Bud Selig and new GM Dalton, the candidate snapped off a line that Selig never forgot.
“Why am I here?” Bamberger said. “You guys are a bunch of losers.”
Selig laughs at the memory.
“It’s true,” Selig said. “The color drained from Harry’s face.”
Selig stayed calm and said, “That’s why you’re here, George. That’s why Harry’s here. We’re going to change all that.”
Selig had overhauled the front office that winter, but make no mistake: Dalton and Bamberger inherited a team headed in the right direction with the recent additions of Sal Bando, Cooper, Caldwell and Oglivie, the re-acquisition of Thomas and rising young stars like Yount and Molitor. The team even got a new look. That same winter of 1977-78, the Brewers adopted the iconic ball-in-glove logo, and debuted new uniforms. Then the club went out and played like a contender for the first time, posting the first winning record since the franchise moved to Milwaukee from Seattle in 1970. Larry Hisle led the way with 34 homers and 115 RBIs and finished third in AL MVP balloting. Caldwell won 22 games and posted a 2.36 ERA in 293 1/3 innings.
The rest of the best regular seasons:
1988 and 1983 (87-75)