More villains Brewers fans love to hate
Last week, MLB.com went around the league to identify every team’s nemesis, the one guy whom fans from Boston to San Diego just love to hate.
Manny Machado was our pick for Milwaukee, the former Dodgers infielder who became the most recent public enemy No. 1 during the 2018 National League Championship Series, and who was still booed mercilessly at Miller Park while playing for the Padres in 2019. But the story prompted many fans to offer their own suggestions of men who won’t soon have a complimentary cocktail slid their way at one of Milwaukee’s watering holes.
So, in rough chronological order, here are more of the “favorite” villains of Brewers lore:
Martin managed the Detroit Tigers in 1973 and wasn’t impressed with the team the fledgling Brewers were putting on the field. When Milwaukee took two of three games in Detroit in May, Martin quipped to a newspaper reporter, “If they can win with this club, then I’m a Chinese aviator.” The slight took such flight in Milwaukee that when the Tigers came to County Stadium a few weeks later, more than 41,000 fans flocked to the ballpark for a Sunday doubleheader -- the Brewers’ largest crowd all year, home or away. In August, when the Tigers returned again, the Brewers hosted one of their most politically incorrect promotions ever, “Chinese Aviator Night,” and Martin helped judge a costume contest.
Incidentally, the ’73 Brewers did win some ballgames. Led by George Scott and Dave May, the Brewers rattled off 10 consecutive victories in June and hovered right around .500 until the end of August.
One of the wildest brawls in Brewers history took place July 27, 1979, at County Stadium, the night Cecil Cooper hit three home runs including a walk-off blast off Goose Gossage with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 6-5 win over the Yankees -- who were still despised in Milwaukee even though more than two decades had passed since they denied the Milwaukee Braves back-to-back championships by winning the 1958 World Series. Now, for the first time, Milwaukee was a contender again, trying to knock off Jackson and the (at the time) two-time defending World Series champion Yankees from the top perch.
That night, Cooper dodged a brushback pitch early in the game, which Brewers starter Mike Caldwell answered with a high and tight offering to Jackson in the fourth inning. Jackson popped out on the next pitch and flipped his bat toward the mound. The benches cleared and Jackson actually got his hands around Caldwell’s throat before order was restored.
Sutter became despised in Milwaukee during his tenure as the Cardinals closer, not because of anything he said, but because of the way he pitched in the 1982 World Series. Sutter did surrender four earned runs in the Series, but he finished three of the Cardinals’ four victories and logged a pair of saves, including in the decisive Game 7 when he pitched two perfect frames and struck out Gorman Thomas to end it. What hurt most of all was that the Brewers were without their own future Hall of Fame closer, Rollie Fingers, who had injured his shoulder in August.
There’s a case to be made that Sheffield is public enemy No. 1 for the Brewers, but it depends on which parts of the story one believes. This much was certain: Sheffield was so unhappy playing for the Brewers by the spring of 1992 -- in part because Milwaukee planned to install Bill Spiers at shortstop and move Sheffield to third base -- that new GM Sal Bando had to trade him to San Diego for a package of players. One of them was infield prospect Jose Valentin, a fine player, but no Sheffield, who blossomed into one of baseball’s best power hitters.
“The Brewers brought out the hate in me. ... I was a crazy man,” Sheffield told Bob Nightengale of the Los Angeles Times that June. “I hated [former Brewers GM Harry Dalton] so much that I wanted to hurt the man. I hated everything about that place. I didn’t even want to come to the ballpark. If I missed a ball or something, so what? If the official scorer gave me an error that I didn’t think was an error, I’d say, ‘OK, here’s a real error,’ and I’d throw the next ball into the stands on purpose.”
Later, Sheffield backed off that stunning admission, saying he was speaking out of frustration. But the legend persists.
Thankfully, Molitor’s tenure in Milwaukee’s doghouse was temporary. Many Brewers fans were heartbroken when Molitor departed via free agency following the 1992 season, when baseball was undergoing a period of economic change. The Brewers said they couldn’t compete with Toronto’s three-year, $13 million offer, and frustration was amplified when Molitor, wearing No. 19 in tribute to his longtime friend Robin Yount, delivered one of the most productive seasons of his career in 1993 as Toronto won a second straight World Series.
“I don’t think the fans took it out on Paul; they were mad at me for not signing him,” Bando said last summer. “Sometimes you have to take a bullet when you don’t deserve it.”
“It was the apex of conversations about big market/small market,” Molitor said. “[Brewers founder Bud Selig] was very candid with me during those negotiations. It probably felt a little personal at the time. But anything that was cracked was patched over time.”
Fernando Viña had plenty of memorable moments in a Brewers uniform, but nothing topped the eighth inning on May 31, 1996, when Viña fielded a grounder in a game against the Indians and went to tag Belle between first and second base in hopes of starting a double play. Belle lowered his right shoulder and sent Viña sprawling to the dirt. It was a magnified version of a similar play five innings earlier, when Belle was chided by then-Indians first-base coach (and later Brewers coach, television analyst and front office official) Dave Nelson for not doing more to break up a double play. Belle was suspended and fined by the American League for the incident.
Rule No. 1 at Brewers games: Don’t mess with the Racing Sausages. Simon of the Pittsburgh Pirates was arrested by the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department and charged with misdemeanor battery after sticking out his bat during the daily race and striking a young woman running in the Italian sausage costume. No one was seriously injured in the resulting dust-up, and Simon’s charge was later reduced and settled with a fine -- though he was also suspended by Major League Baseball.
Tony La Russa and Yadier Molina
Mostly, it’s that St. Louis has given Milwaukee so much trouble over the years, and La Russa and Molina were part of so many of those Cardinals teams. But there have been some specific incidents that fueled Brewers fans’ ire, most notably the day in 2011 when La Russa alleged that Brewers officials were manipulating the lighted ribbon boards to the disadvantage of Cardinals hitters and the advantage of Brewers hitters. Major League Baseball ultimately dismissed the claim, but the distaste between the clubs persisted into that year’s meeting in the NLCS.
Freese’s regular-season numbers against the Brewers were solid but not exactly eye-popping -- a .694 OPS lifetime. But it felt like he killed them in the postseason, starting with the 2011 NLCS, when Freese won series MVP honors after hitting a whopping .545 (12-for-22) with seven runs scored, three doubles and three home runs, including a first-inning, three-run shot off Shaun Marcum in Game 6 that effectively sealed the series for St. Louis. Then he homered again against the Brewers in 2018 NLCS Game 6 while playing for the Dodgers.