With the Milwaukee Bucks staging a championship parade down Wisconsin Ave. on Thursday, the following is adapted from "The Milwaukee Brewers at 50," by Adam McCalvy, published last year by Triumph Books, about the last time fans lined the city’s streets to celebrate a team. For more information or to order a copy, please visit triumphbooks.com/brewersat50.
The Brewers lost the World Series. So what did Milwaukeeans do?
They threw a parade.
This was true love, and it was mutual right down to the bitter end, after Gorman Thomas fanned at a Bruce Sutter splitter to end Game 7 of the so-called Suds Series between Milwaukee and St. Louis in 1982. The Brewers believed they had the better team -- they still believe it today. But the Cardinals were World Series champions.
No one took it harder than Robin Yount, who was despondent in the sterile visitor’s clubhouse at old Busch Stadium. On the way home, Bud Selig remembers Yount sitting in the back of the team plane, sobbing. He was in no mood for a parade, even though the team had gone a franchise-best 95-67 in the regular season for its first division crown, had defeated the California Angels in the American League Championship Series for its first postseason series victory, and that Yount himself was weeks from giving the Brewers back-to-back league MVPs.
“Dick Hackett comes up to me,” said Selig, referring to his longtime marketing man, “and said the Milwaukee Association of Commerce is going to have a parade tomorrow. I said, ‘A parade? Are you crazy? We lost!’”
Hackett began to make arrangements anyway, and by the time the plane landed at Milwaukee’s General Mitchell Airport, the event was a go for the following day. The landing itself was a preview of what was to come; hundreds of fans turned out at the airport to welcome the Brewers home. Still, as the team met at County Stadium at 10:30 a.m. and bused downtown on back roads, Selig’s expectations were low. Even as he prepared to get into one of the convertibles that had gathered in a garage under what was then known as the First Wisconsin Building on the east end of the avenue running west all the way to the stadium, Selig worried the event would to be an embarrassment. He apologized to players for agreeing to the whole thing.
He saw a sheriff’s deputy who he recognized from the security team at the ballpark and said something to the effect of, “How bad is this?”
“Are you serious?” the deputy responded. “Well, we just shut down downtown. We can’t get anybody else in here. They’re 10 deep along Wisconsin Avenue.”
Selig’s wife, Sue, was sitting next to her husband and heard the exchange. She laughed. It was one of the best parades downtown Milwaukee has ever seen.
“It was the greatest thing,” catcher Ted Simmons said. “I remember, I was in a car with Eddie Romero, and we’re driving down the road and people are going crazy, and I said, ‘It’s like we won, man.’ It was just like that. If we had won, they couldn’t have done it any bigger.”
“We couldn’t believe they were having a parade for us when we lost the World Series,” said Jim Gantner, the home-state second baseman. “It was incredible, really.”
“A lot of us didn’t feel we deserved a parade,” said Paul Molitor. “But Bud and some of the staff started to say these fans wanted to have a chance to recognize the season we had. Then the way it came off, the amount of people along the road, the celebration inside the stadium, Robin’s motorcycle ride, it was hard to tell whether we had won or lost.”
“This town is such a baseball town, and they loved the Brewers that year,” said mustachioed closer Rollie Fingers, who was sidelined from September on by an arm injury, but still traveled with the team. “I know I didn’t mind at all. We didn’t have to play ball that day, so we didn’t mind sticking around.”
At least 10,000 more fans were waiting inside County Stadium, where a ceremony produced one of the iconic moments of Yount’s Hall of Fame career. When his car arrived at the stadium, he jumped out and scampered into the dugout and up to the clubhouse. Minutes later, Yount re-emerged and roared around the warning track on a dirt bike.
“It turned out to be a nice event, and I guess it helped take a little of the sting off,” Yount said. “But it doesn’t make it go away. It was a wonderful recognition of what we had done, even though we didn’t pull it off all the way. It showed the class of the fans of Milwaukee.”
But still ...
“Man, that loss hurt,” Yount said. “That still hurts. That was the one goal in my career that I didn’t accomplish, and that’s the main goal.”