MILWAUKEE -- In its best days, the Milwaukee Major League Baseball operation has been the little franchise that could. Friday was like a collection of the Milwaukee Brewers' best days.
The Brewers unveiled a Wall of Honor on Friday, as the 44-year-old franchise honored 58 of its members with plaques on the Wall, located outside Miller Park on the third-base side. Thirty-eight former players attended the ceremonies.
The honorees included Hall of Famers who had played for Milwaukee, such as Henry Aaron, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers and Don Sutton. But also honored were core players who were not the biggest stars of the game, but who were significant contributors to the history of the franchise.
The Wall also honored Commissioner Bud Selig, the former owner of the Brewers and the man who led the battle to get big league baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left in 1965. Iconic radio voice Bob Uecker, enshrined as a Hall of Fame broadcaster, also is on the Wall.
This may be the smallest media market in the Majors, but the franchise has drawn more than 3 million people in three of the last six seasons. It won a division title in 2011, advanced to the National League Championship Series, and currently leads the NL Central with the league's second best record. With Miller Park's retractable roof offering protection against a sometimes harsh Wisconsin climate, this is a long, long way from the little operation that took over from the bankrupt Seattle Pilots in 1970.
"In the '60s some people were a little cynical about Milwaukee's ability to support a team," Selig said Friday. "But, over 45 years, the people of this city proved me right. This is an incredible baseball town."
The honorees gathered at a pregame reception, followed by the unveiling of the Wall. All of the participants were later introduced at a ceremony inside Miller Park prior to the game against the Cincinnati Reds.
The Wall is the brainchild of Craig Counsell, who is cast perfectly for this role. Counsell was born in 1970, he's from Milwaukee and he played in the infield for the Brewers. He also played on two World Series championship teams, one with the Marlins, one with the Diamondbacks. Counsell is now a special assistant to Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.
"It's been my opinion since the day I walked into the big leagues that, I would go to parks, and I would think that history wasn't recognized enough," Counsell said.
"I think that baseball is the greatest sport in the world to celebrate its history. You should celebrate it. You should acknowledge it and you should keep it alive. I think this is the kind of thing that strengthens a franchise, that gives the fans a link to the past and allow generations to connect."
Counsell's concept went up the chain of command, gained the whole-hearted support of Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio and the Brewers were on their way to the Wall of Honor.
The players involved had some uniformly positive, but still unique Milwaukee baseball memories.
"Milwaukee was a very special place for me and I didn't realize how good this place was until I left," said Dan Plesac, a highly successful closer with Milwaukee for seven seasons and now a commentator on MLB Network.
"The ride started in '86 and I thought like every guy that you're going to play with the same team forever. My baseball life went from Milwaukee to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Arizona to Toronto to Philadelphia. And I never realized how good Milwaukee was until I played in the other places.
"With my work now, we have to root for all 30 teams. I root for one more than I do the other 29, but I do a pretty good job hiding it."
Plesac said that looking back, one of the highlights of his career was having the chance to play with Yount and Molitor. But he also had a recurrent memory regarding Selig.
"He made me nervous," Plesac said with a smile. "He would walk on the catwalk [on the mezzanine level at County Stadium]. I would come in and I would walk the first hitter in the ninth, and I could see Bud pacing back and forth. I'm like, 'Gee, even the owner's nervous. He's making me nervous.' "
Darryl Hamilton, also a commentator for MLB Network, occasionally fills in for Uecker on the Brewers radio network. He was an outfielder with the Brewers over seven seasons. When he landed at the Milwaukee airport with his two sons, there were people seeking his autograph.
"My kids, it's their first time coming to Milwaukee," Hamilton said. "At the airport there were a number of people waiting for autographs and my kids are like, 'Why do you want my Dad's autograph? I don't understand that.'
"So what I've been preaching all these years," Hamilton said with a smile, "they're starting to figure it out. 'Hey, my Dad did play.' "
Aaron, who came up with the Braves in 1954 and finished his career with the Brewers in 1976, referred to Milwaukee as "a great city" and said that he and the Milwaukee fans "grew up together" in baseball.
"I never, never, never in my life have been booed by these fans," Aaron said.
Yount, a Hall of Famer, has had numerous honors, but he appreciated the chance to be reunited with teammates from his 20-year Milwaukee career. "I think I was fortunate enough to play with 90 percent of these guys, maybe more," Yount said. "So it was old home week.
"If this really was your idea," Yount said to Counsell, "thank you from me. You thought about the history of the Brewers organization. Let's face it, we've been around a while now. To recognize people that have had an impact on the history of this franchise is really cool."
The former players had a genuine sense of gratitude about the Wall of Honor.
"This is a tremendous honor for me to be part of the history here," said Fernando Vina, who developed into an All-Star second baseman with the Brewers. "I'm honored and it's a tremendous blessing for me.
"I got a chance to play every day with [manager] Phil Garner here in '95. It's something you never forget. The fans, the way they support you here, they're just real good people. This place is deep in my heart."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.