Brewers’ Top 5 DHs: McCalvy's take

May 19th, 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 and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, feel free to let the reporter know on Twitter.

Some additional ground rules this time: Like the first eight entries in this series, a player is only eligible if he isn’t already on our all-time team at another position. So, just like Robin Yount wasn’t ranked in center field because he was already the shortstop, we’re leaving out Paul Molitor, who was far and away the greatest designated hitter in Brewers history. He already made the team at third base because he had more at-bats from that position. Ditto Cecil Cooper and Yount, who each logged more than 500 at-bats as the Brewers’ DH.

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

So, with those three out of the running, here is Adam McCalvy’s ranking of the top 5 designated hitters in Brewers history, all from the team’s American League days:

1) Greg Vaughn (1989-96)
Key fact: Spent one season as Milwaukee's primary DH in 1995

Fourteen men have played at least 100 games as the Brewers’ DH, and with Molitor out of the running it’s a close call between Vaughn and Ted Simmons. Vaughn, though he was much more dangerous as an outfielder, gets the nod because he topped Simmons in home runs as Milwaukee’s DH (37-24), on-base percentage (.337-.310), slugging percentage (.403-.390) and runs created per 27 outs, a metric that attempts to determine how many runs a whole team of that player is worth per game. Vaughn was the Brewers’ first-round Draft pick in 1986 and became a two-time All-Star before leaving Milwaukee. A banner atop the left-field bleachers at Milwaukee County Stadium marked “Vaughn’s Valley,” where he deposited many of his 169 Brewers home runs. Vaughn hit 30 homers in '93 and was already at 31 homers through the end of July '96, when the Brewers, aware they wouldn’t be able to afford him once he hit free agency, sent him to the Padres in an ill-fated trade for Bryce Florie, Marc Newfield and Ron Villone. Vaughn went on to hit 355 home runs in a 15-year career.

2) Ted Simmons (1981-85)
Key fact: His 420 total bases as Brewers DH ranks second all time to Molitor

Simmons ranked second on our list of all-time Brewers catchers, and here he’s second again by a close margin. As Milwaukee’s DH, he slashed .260/.310/.390 in 1,076 at-bats; only Molitor served as Milwaukee’s DH more often. Many of his contributions, however, were not captured by statistics. Simmons was an established and respected star when the Brewers acquired him along with Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich during the 1980 Winter Meetings, giving Milwaukee the final pieces of back-to-back postseason entrants in 1981 and ’82.

3) Dave Nilsson (1992-99)
Key fact: The versatile Aussie caught 309 games for the Brewers, played 178 in the outfield, 166 at first base and 163 at DH

Like Vaughn, Nilsson was more dangerous when he played the field, logging an .801 OPS overall with the Brewers including .787 as the DH. Partly that’s because his best season by far was 1999, when the Brewers were already in their second season as an National League team. But Nilsson was such a solid hitter that he nonetheless ranks among the Brewers’ best DHs, with an OPS that trails only Molitor and Yount among players who served in that role over the years.

4) Dave Parker (1990)
Key fact: 21 home runs in 1990 is a record for a Brewers DH, ahead of Vaughn’s 17 homers in ‘95

One of the best single seasons for a Brewers DH belonged to The Cobra, who signed a one-year deal with Milwaukee for 1990 and slashed .289/.330/.451 with 21 home runs and 92 RBIs while making the AL All-Star team.

5) Hank Aaron (1975-76)
Key fact: Hit the final 22 of his then-record 755 home runs in a Brewers uniform

Forget Aaron’s statistics in a Brewers uniform during two seasons at the end of a storied, 23-year Major League career. He’s on this list for lending legitimacy to a still-fledgling franchise when the Brewers acquired him in a trade with the Braves, and providing a career-changing mentor to a promising shortstop entering his second season, Yount.

“There was some talk about me going to Boston and some other places,” Aaron told last summer, “but I just refused to go anywhere other than Milwaukee. I didn’t have anything else to prove.”

Aaron hit 12 home runs with 60 RBIs for the Brewers in 1975, passing Babe Ruth to become baseball’s all-time RBI king on a 4-for-4, two-RBI day against the Tigers on May 1 at County Stadium in a 17-3 Brewers win with Aaron’s wife, Billye, in the stands. Aaron’s first RBI of the day, on a third-inning single, gave him 2,210 in his career to break Ruth’s long-held mark. Compared to breaking the home run record, the celebration was subdued.

Following the ‘75 season, Aaron turned down an offer to manage after the Brewers dismissed his old friend and former Braves teammate Del Crandall. Aaron returned for ‘76 and hit 10 more home runs and drove in 35 in 85 games. Along the way, some of Major League Baseball’s iconic numbers were etched into the record books, though it was impossible to know at the time. Aaron's 755th home run was nothing special, a seventh-inning solo shot off Angels reliever Dick Drago in a 6-2 Brewers win on July 20, 1976. In time, it would become baseball history, and that number -- 755 -- would roll off the tongue of every serious fan for decades to come.