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Brewers' Top 5 first basemen: McCalvy's take

March 31, 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.

Here is Adam McCalvy’s ranking of the top 5 first basemen in Brewers history.

1. Cecil Cooper, 1977-87
Key fact: 30.8 bWAR is fourth in club history behind Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Ryan Braun

In all the years he ran the Brewers, Bud Selig takes credit for only one trade. In December 1977, Milwaukee sent slugger George Scott back to the Red Sox along with Bernie Carbo for a soon-to-be 27-year-old first baseman named Cecil Cooper. “You keep making trades like this,” a rival GM called Selig to say, “and you’ll be in last place forever.” But Cooper would hit .302 over the next 11 seasons in a Milwaukee uniform, becoming a five-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glove Award Winner. Sports Illustrated credited Cooper for coining the nickname “Harvey’s Wallbangers” after Harvey Kuenn took over as manager in 1982. Cooper hit .313 with a career-high 32 home runs and delivered arguably the biggest hit in franchise history to date -- a go-ahead single in the decisive Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that sent the Brewers to their only World Series. He’s fourth in club history in runs, hits, extra-base hits and total bases, and third all time in batting average and RBIs.

“I made that trade, and I quit,” Selig said. “I knew I couldn't make another deal as good as that one. Cecil Cooper became one of my all-time favorites, and there was a seven- or eight-year period when he was as good a hitter as there was in baseball."

2. Prince Fielder, 2005-11
Key fact: In 2007 became youngest player in MLB history to hit 50 homers

The durability and toughness are what everyone remembers most about Fielder, who missed all of 13 games in his six full years with the Brewers, including only one game in his final three years -- a day he was so sick in Houston that he required intravenous fluids. Or maybe folks remember the towering home runs – 230 of them, third-most in club history. Or perhaps the way he played with a chip on his broad shoulders and channeled that onto the field. Craig Counsell, who played with a few big personalities in his day, calls Fielder, “an incredible presence, probably unlike any Brewer before or since.” Because of his frame and his booming home runs, perhaps Fielder does not get enough credit for being a good hitter, but his .282/.390/.540 slash line in a Brewers uniform is evidence of his all-around game. More than that, Fielder holds a symbolic place in franchise history, first as the leader of the core of Draft picks which lifted the Brewers back to competitiveness in the mid-2000s, then as the leader of Milwaukee’s playoff entries in 2008 and 2011.

“Toughness probably personified him,” said Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, a teammate in 2009-10. “And that toughness rubbed off on teammates.”

3. George Scott, 1972-76
Key fact: First league home run champion in Brewers history

“Boomer” had style on and off the field. He wore a tiger tooth necklace that he said was made from the teeth of second basemen. He piled up Rawlings Gold Glove Awards using a mitt he nicknamed “Black Beauty.” He wore high-heeled shoes and brightly-colored Nehru suits with flowing silk pants.

“George would come in the room and then his pants would follow him,” Bob Uecker said.

Scott, acquired in a 1971 blockbuster trade that cost the Brewers Tommy Harper, Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin, lived up to his brashness by hitting 115 home runs in five years with Milwaukee while winning the Gold Glove Award for AL first basemen each year. In 1975, Scott and the just-acquired Henry Aaron represented the host team in the All-Star Game at County Stadium, and Scott went on to lead the AL that year with 36 home runs and 109 RBIs. He also led the league that year with 318 total bases, a record for the Brewers’ first decade of existence. By wins above replacement, he was the seven-most valuable player in franchise history by the Baseball-Reference version, and ninth by Fangraphs -- ahead of Fielder in both metrics.

“He had all kinds of talent,” Aaron said. “He said a lot of funny things and people didn’t always understand it. But he was a tremendous ballplayer. Tremendous.”

4. Richie Sexson, 2000-03
Key fact: Once hit a 450-foot triple

Sexson, the 6-foot-7 slugger, hit 133 home runs with a .902 OPS in three-and-a-half seasons with the Brewers, making NL All-Star teams in 2002 (when he swung for the fences in the Home Run Derby at Miller Park) and ’03. His 45 home runs in 2001 tied Gorman Thomas’ franchise record at the time, and included Sexson’s go-ahead home run in the bottom of the eighth inning of the first regular-season game at Miller Park on April 6, 2001. Two years later, Sexson hit 45 home runs again. But then-GM Doug Melvin was rebuilding, so he sent Sexson to the D-backs for a large package of players that included the team’s future manager, Craig Counsell.

“I wanted to stay in Milwaukee forever,” said Sexson last summer, “but that’s just not the nature of the game. You could see the writing on the wall that offseason. I was happy for them [when success followed for the Brewers]. I always watched. They will always be a big part of my career. They jump-started me. It was the place I got my first contract that gave me a little stability. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

5. John Jaha, 1992-98
Key fact: Produced the 15th 30-homer season in franchise history in 1996

Jaha was a teammate of Dave Nilsson in Australia -- Nilsson landed on our list of Top 5 Brewers catchers last week -- before they were teammates with the Brewers, hitting 105 home runs apiece during the 1990s to trail only Greg Vaughn for the decade. Without an array of injuries that limited Jaha to just two seasons in Milwaukee with 100-plus games played, he might rank much higher on this list. In his best, healthiest Brewers season in 1996, when Jaha split the year between first base and designated hitter, he batted .300 with 34 home runs and 118 RBIs.

Honorable mentions
Mike Hegan
was an early fan-favorite who came to Milwaukee along with the rest of the Seattle Pilots and later finished his career with the Brewers in the late 1970s. … The Brewers traded in December 1986 for Greg Brock and installed him at first base over Cooper. Brock was put in a tough spot but made the most of it, hitting a career-best .299 in 1987 with 85 RBIs. … Lyle Overbay, acquired in the Sexson trade, was another fan-favorite who played two stints with Milwaukee. His best Brewers season was his first, 2004, when he led the Majors and established a franchise record with 53 doubles. The Brewers traded him to Toronto at the 2005 Winter Meetings to open first base for Fielder. … Eric Thames returned from a record-setting stint in the Korea Baseball Organization to play three power-packed seasons for the Brewers from 2017-19, starting with a 31-homer season in ‘17.

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