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Ask the 1982 Brewers about "the future"

Mike Clemens
July 16, 2017 - 3:04 am
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Milwaukee, WI - Robin Yount didn’t want to leave.

He was standing at the shortstop position on the infield at Miller Park during the National Anthem. This came after a special pregame ceremony celebrating the 1982 World Series Brewers team. Bud Selig was there. Manager Harvey Kuenn’s widow and children were there. And so were nearly all of Yount’s teammates.

But as the anthem was performed, Yount moved to shortstop. Cecil Cooper stood on first base. Jim “Gumby” Gantner was at second. And when the vocalist sang the words “…and the home of the brave,” Yount stood his ground at shortstop, taking in the applause of the ballpark, savoring the moment for as long as he could, before being replaced by the Brewers current shortstop Orlando Arcia.

1982 would be as close as Yount ever got to being a champion. It would also be as close as the franchise ever got too, now in their 47th season in Milwaukee.  

“The Kid” didn’t want to let go.

Let me ask you this. Other than the 1969 Chicago Cubs, what major league franchise celebrates a team that DIDN’T win a World Series? Why would the Brewers spend all this time and money for this three day reunion?

Well, there’s a reason for this. Several.

The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers were special. Robin Yount. Paul “Molly” Molitor. Jim Gantner. Cecil Cooper. Gorman Thomas. Ben Oglivie. Ted Simmons.  “Iron” Mike Caldwell. Jerry “Augie” Augustine. Pete “Vuke” Vuckovich. Don Sutton. Pete Ladd. Jim Slaton. Moose Haas. Bob McClure. And Rollie Fingers. Oh, and Don Sutton. When you can name a bunch of players from a team 35 years later off the top of your head, including manager Harvey Kuhn’s coaching staff, that says something.

They were a bunch of characters, each with a unique playing style and personality. A very diverse bunch. Yet on the field they played so well together. Off the field they had so much fun together. Many stories that can’t be printed. But boy did they have f-u-n.

Overall they were a very down-to-earth bunch that was a perfect fit for Wisconsin. Guys like Gorman and “Gumby” liked to hunt and fish. Yount golfed.  “Molly” liked the nightlife. So did “Vuke” but at a corner bar. Harvey Kuenn limped around on a prosthetic leg, and always chewed a huge wad of tobacco in the dugout, and if you weren’t careful, your shoes or pant legs would get dirty with brown spit. Up in the loge level where the press would sit in front of Uecker calling the games on radio, the nervous owner Bud Selig would pace, back-n-forth, sweat over every pitch of every game. Veteran catcher Ted Simmons, acquired from the Cardinals, would smoke a pregame cigarette in the dugout as he put gear on.

After a game, Yount and Molitor would oblige nearly every night to take questions. Gorman and Caldwell could be snippy, snarky. Pete Ladd was soft - spoken, introspective. Rollie was an intelligent, mature, analytical baseball icon that if he decided to talk, it was short, sweet, and to the point.

I was a student at UW-Milwaukee studying journalism & broadcasting when I got part-time jobs in the newsroom at the Milwaukee Sentinel newspaper, and WTMJ Ch. 4.  I got hired at WVTV-TV18, the flagship station then for the Brewers and Bucks.  I had worked with sportscaster Mike Hegan, the former first baseman for the Reds and Brewers, and when Mike left Ch. 4 to become the full time color analyst for the Brewers at TV18, I think he put in a good word for me. I got assigned to be part of the production crew for Brewers baseball – in August of 1982. Sometimes timing is everything.

So I got to cover all of those games, including the thrilling ALCS, when the Brewers came back, down two games to nothing, to beat the Angels 3 games to 2, in a best of five series. Attendance at County Stadium was 54,968. I’ve never seen crowds like the Brewers fans that filled Wisconsin Avenue that night, for 8 blocks, and just went nuts in the streets of Milwaukee after their team clinched a bid to play in the World Series.

Wisconsin sports fans were hungry for a winner. The Braves had won the 1957 series, but moved to Atlanta in 1966. Lombardi left the Packers in 1968. The Bucks won the NBA title in 1971. Marquette won the national title in ’77. The Badgers had nothing going on. And so the time was ripe for beer, and brats, and peanuts, and more beer at County Stadium to watch manager George Bamberger’s boys knock the cover off the ball. “Bambi’s Bombers” eventually became “Harvey’s Wall bangers” after Bamberger had to resign due to heart problems. His successor, Buck Rodgers would be replaced in ‘82 by Harvey Kuenn.

The Brewers 1982 season ended on a night in St. Louis with a 6-3 loss to the Cardinals. The Brewers bats could not compete with the Cardinals defense, and pitchers like ace Joaquín Andújar with Hall of Fame closer Bruce Sutter during the series.  Like many young teams on the rise, confidence was high that the young ascending Brewers would be back to win it all in the next year or two.

That was 35 years ago.

Yount was asked this reunion weekend if the surprise 2017 team, currently leading in the National League Central Division, reminded him at all of the 1982 Brewers?

“Not really the ’82 team,” said Yount. “But certainly of our teams in the late 1970’s. Young, and with some real, power hitters.”

The 2017 Brewers have hit home runs in the last 8 consecutive games, and 26 of the last 28. Ryan Braun crushed a grand slam Friday night to beat the Phillies 9-6. On Saturday Travis Shaw drove a ball 404 feet over the centerfield wall to secure another win over Philadelphia, 3-2.

Hall of Famer Robin Yount played baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers for 20 years, and yet, still wanted to savor those last few moments, standing at the shortstop position, with the ballpark filled with fans, on a beautiful summer night in July, just one last time. Because it goes by so quickly, and you never know when you’ll ever have that chance again.

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