Who are the best Brewers not in the Hall of Fame? Note that these are retired players only, so Ryan Braun doesn’t qualify yet, and we are including only players who spent multiple seasons with a team, so CC Sabathia is not on this Brewers list despite the indelible memories he left. These rankings are for fun and debates purposes only.
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1) Cecil Cooper
Key fact: 30.8 bWAR is fourth in club history behind Robin Yount, Paul Molitor and Braun
Perennially underappreciated on a Brewers team with future Hall of Famers Yount and Molitor, Cooper batted .298 for his career and made five All-Star teams, won three Silver Slugger Awards and two Gold Gloves, topped 200 hits three times, finished in the top five in American League MVP balloting three times and posted career numbers comparable to Don Mattingly -- Cooper’s No. 1 “comp” by Baseball-Reference’s similarity scores. Yet, Cooper dropped off the Hall of Fame ballot without a single vote in his one year of eligibility in 1993. Doug DeCinces got two votes that year. Cooper got none. The only player with more career hits than Cooper’s 2,192 to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot but get no votes was Juan Pierre, who was shut out in 2019 with 2,217 hits on his résumé. (Dodgers great Willie Davis had 2,561 but somehow was left off the ballot in his first year of eligibility in 1985 and never appeared.)
Is Cooper a Hall of Famer? He probably fits better in the Hall of Extremely Good, but if Plácido Polanco, David Eckstein, Jacque Jones, J.T. Snow, Eric Young, Bret Boone, David Segui, Shawon Dunston, Walt Weiss, Juan Samuel, Darren Daulton, Tim Wallach, Steve Sax, Rick Dempsey, Terry Puhl, Chet Lemon, Chris Speier and Ray Knight can all garner a vote since Cooper’s name appeared on the ballot, the sweet-swinging Cooper should have been shown some love, too.
2) Francisco Rodríguez
Key fact: Fourth in Brewers history with 95 saves, and 10th with 263 appearances
Bill James’ Hall of Fame Monitor is one useful statistical guide for determining players’ Cooperstown chances. It assigns point values to hitters and pitchers for a variety of accomplishments, and the result is that a player who scores 100 has a good possibility to gain induction, and 130 a near-cinch. It’s one of several such scales, and none is perfect, but Rodríguez -- if one considers the totality of his career, and not just his time with the Brewers -- is squarely in the conversation with his 124 points, ahead of Hall of Famers Jack Morris, Bert Blyleven, Mike Mussina and Rich Gossage.
K-Rod’s 16-year Major League career included parts of five seasons with the Brewers, for whom he made a pair of All-Star Games as Milwaukee’s closer late in his career. He is fourth all-time with 437 saves. Rodríguez last played in the Majors in 2017, so he won’t be eligible until 2023.
3) Prince Fielder
Key fact: In 2007 became youngest player in MLB history to hit 50 homers
By the Bill James measure, Fielder scores well for a career that began with some power-packed years in Milwaukee, during which he led a group of homegrown prospects that delivered Milwaukee’s first postseason berths in a generation. Fielder scores an 85 on James’ scale, squarely in the Hall of Very Good with Fred Lynn and Aramis Ramirez (both also 85 on that scale).
By other popular measures, including Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Fielder is not as close to Hall of Fame-caliber. Like some of the names that follow on this list, Fielder’s story might have been different had injuries not cut short his excellent career. As a Brewer, he missed all of 13 games in his six full seasons, including only one game in his final three years -- a day he was so sick in Houston that he required intravenous fluids. Craig Counsell, who played with a few big personalities in his day, calls Fielder, “an incredible presence, probably unlike any Brewer before or since.” Fielder will be Hall eligible in 2022.
“Toughness probably personified him,” said Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman, a teammate in 2009-10. “And that toughness rubbed off on teammates.”
4) Ben Sheets
Key fact: Was the Brewers’ all-time strikeout leader from 2008 -- when he broke Teddy Higuera’s mark -- until '14 (Yovani Gallardo)
Sheets holds the unfortunate distinction as the best player in Brewers history to be omitted from the Hall of Fame ballot. To be eligible, a player must have appeared in at least one game in 10 Major League seasons and have been retired for five years; Sheets was eligible for the 2012 ballot. A screening committee determines which players make the cut, and Sheets was left off out of an extensive field that included first-time eligibles like Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, who gained induction, and Omar Vizquel, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones, who did not.
There were nine first-time eligibles on that ballot who were pitchers, including seven who were primarily starting pitchers: Jamie Moyer, Johan Santana, Chris Carpenter, Kerry Wood, Liván Hernández, Carlos Zambrano and Kevin Millwood. All compiled a better career bWAR than Sheets’ 23.2.
Still, when healthy, Sheets was as good as any pitcher who ever wore a Brewers uniform. He made four National League All-Star teams and is the only Brewers pitcher to start an All-Star Game. He authored one of the best seasons in franchise history for a terrible Brewers team in 2004, logging a 2.70 ERA and setting franchise records with 264 strikeouts and a 0.98 WHIP while leading the Major Leagues with 8.25 strikeouts for every walk. His second-best season was ’08, when Sheets had a sub-3.00 ERA until the final week of September for a team that was closing in on the Brewers’ first postseason berth in 26 years. A 1-0 shutout against Jake Peavy and the Padres on Sept. 6 proved his last great performance; Sheets battled an injured elbow after that and missed the playoffs, then underwent surgery that fall.
5) Teddy Higuera
Key fact: 3.61 ERA is best in Brewers history for a starter who logged at least 500 innings
If you average their career WAR according to Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, then Sheets (28.75) has the slight edge over Higuera (28.5) for the title of most valuable Brewers pitcher. But at his height, before back and arm injuries derailed him, Higuera -- all 5-foot-10 of him -- was as dominant a pitcher as ever wore the uniform. Signed out of the Mexican League, he burst onto the MLB scene as a rookie in 1985, going 15-8 with a 3.90 ERA and running second to the White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen in American League Rookie of the Year balloting. The next year, Higuera became only the third 20-game winner in Brewers history, going 20-11 with a 2.79 ERA and 207 strikeouts for a second-place finish in AL Cy Young Award balloting to Roger Clemens (who was also the league’s MVP).
In 1987, Higuera won 18 more games and struck out 240 batters, a club record that stood until Sheets broke it in 2004. In 1988, Higuera’s 0.999 WHIP led the AL. Because of his relatively late start (Higuera was an MLB rookie in his age-27 season after beginning his career in Mexico), Higuera probably was not on a Hall of Fame path in spite of those brilliant early seasons with the Brewers. Still, it was a shame that injuries robbed him of a chance to make a case.
• George Scott was a bona fide star of the Brewers’ early teams and was a complete player, with eight Gold Glove Awards to go with 271 career homers.
• Don Money received one Hall of Fame vote in 1989 in his only year on the ballot. Averaging his bWAR and fWAR while with the Brewers, he is fifth in franchise history behind Braun, Cooper, Sheets and Higuera.
• Jeff Cirillo owns the highest career batting average in Brewers history at .307 (min. 2,500 PAs) and ranks as the 51st-best third baseman all-time in the JAWS system, better than Money.
• CC Sabathia was excluded from this list by rule, but the lefty warrants a mention despite pitching only 18 times for the Brewers, including in the postseason. He was so good after a 2008 trade from Cleveland to Milwaukee, logging seven complete games and a 1.65 ERA, that he got a first-place vote in NL Cy Young Award balloting. He essentially carried the Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years, and should Sabathia make it to the Hall of Fame someday, you can bet they will celebrate in Milwaukee.
• Aramis Ramirez had a better career than he gets credit for. He’s the 61st-best third baseman all-time by JAWS, and is tied with Fielder in the Hall of Fame Monitor ranking.
• Ryan Braun wasn’t eligible for this list by virtue of being an active player (at least for now), but the second he retires, he will shoot to the top of the list. His Hall of Fame Monitor score is 107, and while Braun himself has conceded that his chances of actually gaining induction to the Hall of Fame are negligible, his numbers are notable.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram and like him on Facebook.