See rare film of Brewers' 1987 Easter classic

April 10th, 2020

I was 9 years old on April 19, 1987, a warm and sunny Easter Sunday that matched the mood of Milwaukee’s baseball fans.

The Brewers were on their way to beginning the season 13-0, setting an American League record and tying the 1982 Atlanta Braves for the best start in Major League history. It was the kind of magical stuff that makes a kid fall in love with the game. The Brewers came back from a pair of four-run deficits for win No. 3 against Boston. There was an extra-innings epic in Texas for win No. 6. Win No. 9 in Baltimore was an especially historic one: Juan Nieves threw the first (and, to this day, the only) no-hitter in franchise history. Two days later, back at home, fabulous left-hander Teddy Higuera struck out 12 batters for win No. 10. Paul Molitor (my favorite) and Robin Yount were still in their prime. Second-year reliever Dan Plesac was a stud closer. Rob Deer slugged nine home runs in the team’s first 18 games.

The Brewers were the biggest story in baseball.

"You sit here and can't believe it's happening," first baseman Greg Brock told a Washington Post reporter named Richard Justice, who decades later would become my friend and colleague.

Back then, the McCalvys of New Berlin, Wis., did not get the Washington Post. I’m not even sure we had cable TV yet. But we did get the local papers, and I devoured the sports pages.

The apex wasn’t the AL-record-setting win No. 13, but win No. 12 the day before, Easter Sunday, when Deer hit a game-tying, three-run home run and Dale Sveum added the winner: a two-out, two-run shot in the ninth inning for a classic win over the Texas Rangers that still ranks with the 1982, 2008 and 2018 finales among the very best regular-season contests in the Brewers’ first 50 years. Sixteen-year-old Craig Counsell was one of the kids jumping up and down in the stands.

I’ve written about that Easter Sunday game at least a dozen times over the years, but until now I had never seen anything more than a few highlights. I was at my grandmother’s house that day, like every Easter Sunday, and like everyone else in her West Allis neighborhood, we were sitting outside around a radio. Bob Uecker and Pat Hughes delivered the details of that game. We would have to wait until later to see television highlights.

I learned this week that there was a reason we weren’t inside huddled around a TV.

“We didn’t televise that game,” said Jim Paschke, a longtime Milwaukee sportscaster who has been the voice of the Milwaukee Bucks since 1986. In '87, he was in his first season calling Brewers games for WVTV -- Channel 18 on the television dial.

“Back then, we televised 60 games, and I want to say they were most or all road games,” Paschke said. “That’s why we didn’t do the Easter Sunday game, but we were on the air the next night [in Chicago, when the Brewers beat the White Sox at Comiskey Park to go 13-0]. I was at the Easter Sunday game, and then they wanted me to go to Channel 18 and report on what happened.

“So I left, and I remember walking into the station on 35th St. and Capitol Dr. and hearing the neighborhood erupt. I knew something special had happened.”

Said Deer: “Everything was going right. We had all the breaks. It was one of those special, special times. It seems like it was last week, honestly.”

The Rangers did broadcast the game, and our multimedia team recently found the final three innings of that telecast and added it to the site. I cannot say this is never-before-seen footage, since there exists on YouTube video a grainy installment of “Brewers Classics” on Fox Sports Wisconsin that includes at least the end of that game. It is safe to say, however, that this footage qualifies as rare.

Now we have it for anyone to watch, any time.

Including me. I watched this week and felt like a 9-year-old again.

Turns out the 1987 Brewers were feeling the same way.

“If you could have been in our clubhouse five minutes later, it was like a Little League group of guys,” Plesac said. “I get up every Easter morning -- and I’m a Catholic so I know what Easter means -- but when I get up on Easter Sunday, I see two things: Rob Deer’s bomb, and Dale Sveum’s walk-off. A historic game for the franchise, and it happened in the month of April. Crazy.”

How loose were players at that point? The day began with an Easter egg hunt organized by athletic trainer John Adam that went right up to game time, with players searching for the egg bearing their uniform number. Molitor found his egg perched on third base. Yount’s was in the center-field grass. Catcher B.J. Surhoff didn’t find his until he reached back for a baseball from plate umpire Larry McCoy, and McCoy dropped an egg with the No. 5 into Surhoff’s open palm. The dugout exploded with laughter.

For us real kids, the story continued a few days later. Back in the 1940s, a local restaurant owner named George Webb predicted a 12-game winning streak for the old Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association and hinted he would give away free hamburgers if they pulled it off. That Brewers team didn’t do it, and neither did Henry Aaron’s Milwaukee Braves.

But the ’87 Brewers did, and I was one of the kids who somehow missed school to cash in. Another New Berliner,’s Todd Zolecki, wasn’t so lucky. He was 11 years old and found himself in school that day, but he got another chance in 2018 when the Brewers once again rattled off a 12-game winning streak and triggered free burgers. Todd was back in town that week to help with our National League Championship Series coverage.

The ’87 Brewers team had more drama in store. Incredibly, the same team that began the year with a 13-game winning streak endured a 12-game losing streak in May. In July and August, Molitor put together a 39-game hitting streak that still ranks seventh-longest in Major League history. The night it ended, Higuera started a club-record 32-inning scoreless streak.

It was Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Sentinel who gave that group its apt nickname: Team Streak.

“It was fun and horrible all at once,” said Yount. “Talk about a rollercoaster ride. That was a hard season because of that. Baseball, you want to play it steady. When you’re playing baseball up and down, up and down, that’s a hard thing.”

That Easter, it was only up, up, up.