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Brewers’ Top 5 third basemen: McCalvy's take

@AdamMcCalvy
April 13, 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 third basemen in Brewers history.

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

1) Paul Molitor, 1978-92
Key fact: 1.003 OPS in 1987 was Brewers record for 20 years until Prince Fielder surpassed it

Molitor became known as a designated hitter late in his Hall of Fame career, but early on with the Brewers, he was the sort of versatile defender who would have fit beautifully in today’s game. In fact, he made his first five Opening Day starts at five positions -- beginning with shortstop in 1978, when Robin Yount injured his ankle in a motorcycle accident. In ’79, Molitor was the Opening Day DH, then second base in ’80, center field in ’81 and third base in ’82, where the man known as “The Ignitor” saw most of his action in a Brewers uniform (786 starts).

Whatever his position, you wanted Molitor in the lineup. The third overall pick in the 1977 MLB Draft, Molitor was optioned to the Minors at the end of Spring Training '78, only to have that transaction quickly reversed when Yount’s injury happened, and Molitor never saw the Minors again except for a couple of rehab assignments. Today, he’s still second to Yount in franchise history in games played, runs scored and hits. He’s the Brewers’ all-time leader with 412 stolen bases, second all time with a .303 average and third with a .367 on-base percentage. His five hits in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series set an all-time record for a Fall Classic, later matched by Albert Pujols but never eclipsed. Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak in '87 still ranks as the seventh longest in history.

“With Molitor,” said Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons, who has a habit of pronouncing the name in concise syllables -- MOL-I-TORRRR -- as if he’s referring to a superhero, “it was as if he was recklessly under control at all times. OK? You never knew what Molly was going to do until he was finished. Then you said, ‘Holy Christ!’”

“I played with a lot of talented players,” said Dan Plesac, the Brewers' closer-turned-MLB Network analyst. “Molitor and Yount, Ryne Sandberg, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens. Several Hall of Famers. Paul Molitor, to me, was the most talented player that I played with.”

2) Jeff Cirillo, 1994-99, 2005-06
Key fact: Owns highest career batting average in Brewers history at .307 (min. 2,500 PAs)

Cirillo went to the University of Southern California as a pitcher, turned himself into a third baseman and became one of the toughest outs in Brewers history. He hit .325 in 1996, .321 in ‘98 and .326 in ‘99 while topping 600 plate appearances each year. At the time, those were three of the top 10 batting averages in franchise history. In a season in which he hit "just" .288, Cirillo was still an American League All-Star. When he reached the brink of free agency and the Crew traded him to the Rockies as part of a three-team swap, it was a blockbuster that netted two-fifths of Milwaukee’s future starting rotation (Jamey Wright and Jimmy Haynes) and a starting catcher (Henry Blanco). Cirillo was a legitimate star for the Brewers during some tough years. He returned to Milwaukee near the end of his career in 2005-06, and he remained as tough on himself as ever.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to not play with intensity,” Cirillo said. “I know the story is, ‘Oh, Cirillo, he’d go 4-for-5 and stew about the fifth at-bat.’ But when you wind the clock back and think about being an 11th-round senior pick with no guarantees, of course every at-bat is important.”

3) Don Money, 1974-83
Key fact: Became first player in club history to start All-Star Game in 1978 at San Diego Stadium.

Money played 11 seasons in Milwaukee, made the AL All-Star team four times and was one of the surest defenders of his era. Not to mention the fact that he continued contributing to the organization as a Minor League manager when Fielder & Co. were coming up. There’s a case to be made for having him right behind Molitor on this list.

But while Money logged more wins above replacement than Cirillo (26.2 to 25.9, per Fangraphs; 28.4 to 26.2 per Baseball-Reference), Cirillo had the edge in in all three slash line categories, as well as weighted runs created plus and weighted on-base average. That takes absolutely nothing away from Money, who was the Brewers’ first All-Star Game starter, and according to Molitor, served as a solid veteran for the breakthrough Milwaukee teams of the late 1970s and early '80s.

“One of the best third basemen I ever saw play,” said Jim Gantner. “I thought he should have won some Gold Gloves, but Brooks Robinson had a history of winning them every year, so Don would get beat out. But he was a great player.”

4) Aramis Ramirez, 2012-14
Key fact: Led National League in 2012 with 50 doubles

Perhaps because he played for the Brewers during some frustrating, post-Fielder-era seasons, Ramirez gets a bit forgotten in Milwaukee history. But the former Pirate and Cub remained a solid offensive producer during parts of four years in Milwaukee, slashing .284/.342/.473 in those years starting with a 27-homer, 50-double season in 2012. In '14, he started the All-Star Game in Minneapolis in a Brewers uniform. Of the 13 players who made at least 200 starts at third base for the Brewers, only Cirillo had a better OPS than Ramirez (.815). And only Molitor had a better wRC+ than Ramirez (125-121).

5) Sal Bando, 1977-81
Key fact: Was offered managerial post when Brewers dismissed Buck Rodgers in May 1982; Bando declined, so Milwaukee promoted Harvey Kuenn instead

The Brewers’ transformation from expansion team to contender began with Bando, who signed as a free agent in the 1976 offseason after Bud Selig flew to the Bay Area to make a pitch in person. It wasn’t until later that Bando was able to place his own arrival into the larger story of the franchise. He signed on Nov. 19, 1976, two and a half weeks before the Brewers traded George Scott to the Red Sox for Cecil Cooper. And later in '77, the Crew drafted Paul Molitor, traded for Mike Caldwell and Ben Oglivie and signed another big free agent, Larry Hisle. The pieces of a winner were falling into place, even though it didn’t show up in the standings until ‘78. Bando was nearing the end of his career, but still hit 17 homers in ’77 and again in ‘78, when the Brewers, fortified by their additions, took a leap from 67-95 one year to 93-69 the next.

“In my mind, Sal was the starting point for the Brewers,” said Cooper. “The Brewers were getting legitimate. … He was the stabilizer. He set the tone for a lot of the stuff that followed.”

“That was a big moment in our history,” Selig said.

Honorable mentions
Tommy Harper was the franchise’s first great player, leading the Majors with 73 stolen bases for the 1969 Seattle Pilots before moving with the team to Milwaukee and joining the elusive 30-30 club (31 home runs, 38 steals) in '70. But his tenure was cut short when he was traded in a '71 blockbuster that landed slugging first baseman Scott.

Kevin Seitzer was a fantastic hitter for the Brewers from 1992-96 who slashed .300/.376/.422 in the uniform and garnered strong consideration for the top five. His defensive versatility worked against him in this exercise; '92 was Seitzer’s only full season at third base.

Wes Helms played three seasons for the Brewers, including a 23-homer year in 2003, but his biggest contribution came in '08 when Helms, playing for the Marlins, hit an eighth-inning home run to beat the Mets in the regular-season finale, giving Milwaukee the NL Wild Card.

Travis Shaw topped 30 home runs in back-to-back seasons in 2017-18 while mostly playing third base, before dropping off in '19.

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