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Brewers’ Top 5 center fielders: McCalvy's take

@AdamMcCalvy
May 5, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, feel free to let the reporter know on Twitter.

• Brewers All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

Here is Adam McCalvy’s ranking of the top 5 center fielders in Brewers history. Next week: right field.

1. Gorman Thomas, 1973-83, ‘86 Key fact: Still ranks fifth in Brewers history with 208 home runs

“Wait, not Robin Yount?” Yes, Yount is the best center fielder in Brewers history, having made more than 1,100 starts at that position including throughout 1989, when he won his second American League MVP Award. But Yount started his career at shortstop, won an MVP Award there, too, and started more than 1,400 games before a shoulder injury forced a move to the outfield in 1982. So, he is already on this team at shortstop.

That brings us to Thomas, who, if there existed a Mount Rushmore of “guys who were born to be Milwaukee Brewers,” would surely be one of the four faces. He was born and raised in South Carolina but turned out to be “Milwaukee through and through,” as Bud Selig would put it. Thomas was a notable member of the short-lived Seattle Pilots, who drafted Thomas 21st overall in 1969 and sent word to South Carolina, where Gorman and his family briefly panicked. It was the height of the Vietnam War after all, and they had never heard of the Seattle Pilots. Gorman thought he’d been drafted into military service.

He swung hard and lived hard, swilling postgame beers with fans in the parking lot after taking his four at-bats for the day. “They come to see me strike out, hit a home run, or run into a fence,” Thomas once said. “I try to accommodate them at least one way every game.”

Sports Illustrated once referred to Thomas as, “the only Brewer hitter who looks as if he chews glass.” On a roster stocked with characters, that qualified as high praise. Manager George Bamberger gave Thomas a shot to play in 1978 and Thomas capitalized, belting 32 home runs for the Brewers’ first-ever contender. A year later, Thomas led the American League with 45 homers. In ’82, he tied the Angels’ Reggie Jackson for another league crown.

“I’m a believer that everyone has a niche,” said Thomas, who still lives in the Milwaukee area. “I was lucky enough to find my niche.”

2. Carlos Gómez, 2010-15
Key fact: Won a Rawlings Glove Glove Award in 2013, the Brewers’ first such honor since Yount in ’82

“He was a wild pony, man,” said Trevor Hoffman, a teammate in 2009 and ‘10. “You weren’t going to corral him. You weren’t going to break him.”

El Potro. That’s what they called Carlos Gomez in the Dominican Republic, and while he grew to be 6-foot-3, 218 pounds, in the Brewers media guide, he retained his blazing, gliding speed on the basepaths and in center field, where he could run with the best of them. It was a perfect nickname: The Colt. Few players in Brewers history were more electrifying and more maddening -- often on the same night, and sometimes within the same at-bat.

Gomez was a .248 hitter with a .296 on-base percentage through his first three seasons with the Brewers, with a penchant for swinging himself into the ground, running into outs on the basepaths and airing throws from the outfield to home plate that made coaches, front office officials and fans alike bang their head against the nearest available wall. But Gomez blossomed after manager Ron Roenicke let him start swinging away midway through the 2012 season, turning Gomez into an All-Star in 2013 and ’14 when he topped 20 home runs each year and posted an OPS+ of 128 and 129, respectively. Gomez also typified the new, more holistic manner in which teams were valuing players beyond their counting stats. Wins Above Replacement offered a new window into the value of players with his skill set, and as the Brewers turned 50, Gomez ranked as the 11th most valuable position player in club history by the Baseball-Reference measure of WAR, and 14th according to Fangraphs.

“If I’m a fan, if I paid to watch a baseball game, I like to see myself play a game,” said Gomez. “That’s the reason I play that way. Everybody has their stats, but in the end, baseball is a game. It’s a show.”

3. Lorenzo Cain, 2010, 2018-19
Key fact: Won 2019 Rawlings Gold Glove Award, plus-40 defensive runs saved since 2018

Cain might lead this list had he not been traded in December 2010 as part of a prospect package that landed Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals. The swap had far-reaching effects for both clubs and Cain himself, who watched the Brewers reach the National League Championship Series in the first season after the trade, but then helped the Royals make it to back-to-back World Series in 2014-15, including a championship in ’15.

When he returned to Milwaukee on a five-year, $80 million contract on the same day in January 2015 that the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich, Cain represented the richest free agent in Brewers history. The investment immediately paid off, as Cain slashed .308/.395/.417 for the Brewers in ’18 and finished seventh in NL MVP Award balloting. His offensive production slipped in 2019 as Cain battled injuries but his defense remained stellar, starting with a home run-robbing grab to finish an Opening Day victory over the Cardinals at Miller Park. At year’s end, Cain finally was rewarded with his first career Gold Glove Award.

“He’s unbelievable, he really is. He’s a gamer and I love playing with him,” said Yelich.

4. Darryl Hamilton, 1988-95
Key fact: Ranks 10th in Brewers history with 109 stolen bases

Hamilton was Milwaukee’s 11th round MLB Draft pick in 1986 and was in the Majors less than two years later, beginning a somewhat unheralded tenure that spanned seven seasons and saw him play all over the outfield -- primarily in center field after Yount’s retirement following the 1993 season. Hamilton’s three best Brewers seasons were 1991-93, when he slashed .306/.361/.398, stole 78 bases and walked about as much as he struck out (123 walks, 142 strikeouts). In ’92, he was a perfect fit under new manager Phil Garner for a Brewers team that led the league in stolen bases, including 41 from Hamilton. After his playing career, Hamilton worked in broadcasting, including stints with MLB.com and MLB Network, and served as an occasional color analyst on Brewers radio broadcasts in 2014 before his untimely death in 2015.

5. Dave May, 1970-74
Key fact: Was named club co-MVP in 1973 with first baseman George Scott

An early fan-favorite who was acquired from Baltimore two months into the Brewers’ tenure in Milwaukee, May hit 25 home runs and led the American League with 295 total bases in 1973, when he made the AL All-Star team and put together a 24-game hitting streak for a club record that stood until Paul Molitor hit in 39 straight games in 1987. After the ‘74 season, the Brewers traded May to the Braves for Henry Aaron, who played his final two seasons in Milwaukee and provided a mentor for young players the likes of Yount.

Honorable mentions

Marquis Grissom ranks fourth in games played as the Brewers' center fielder behind Yount, Thomas and Gomez, and delivered a 20-homer season in 1999. … Scott Podsednik and Brady Clark were both waiver claims of former Brewers GM Doug Melvin who made significant contributions as center fielders. Podsednik became the second player in franchise history to steal 70 bases in 2004, when he led the Majors, and helped the Brewers land Carlos Lee in a trade with the White Sox that winter. Clark reached base at a .361 clip in parts of four seasons in Milwaukee … With another season or two in a Brewers uniform, Mike Cameron surely would have cracked the top five. Off the field, he played a pivotal role as a leader for the 2008 team that broke Milwaukee’s 26-year playoff drought. On the field, he hit 25 home runs in ’08 and 24 more in ’09, part of a stellar career that spanned 17 big league seasons.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.