Friday, May 11, 2007

Not Even the Special Sauce...

Since I generally discuss the minutiae of the Packers, and Wisconsin football and men's basketball, you may be wondering why I haven't been rejoicing over the fact that the Milwaukee Brewers currently have the best record in baseball--their first exciting bit of success in a long, long time. Well, wonder no longer.

At some previous point, I referenced my apathy regarding major league baseball in general, and the Brewers in particular. To put it bluntly for the record--I just don't care that much about the Brewers. Some might say that this makes little sense-- Wisconsin natives who are Packer and Badger fans should naturally cheer for the Brewers and the Bucks. After all, they're the state's only representatives in professional baseball and basketball. But I'm just not interested. And it's starting to strike me as kind of weird. I mean, I went to a 1982 World Series game with my father. I still vaguely remember it. When I was in grade school, I was mystified by the old Brewers logo, and its clever intertwining of the M/b into a baseball glove. I love brats, polish sausages and the special stadium mustard. Frozen custard is one of the great culinary joys of my life. I'm even amused by socialist politics, and I love the Alice Cooper Milwaukee reference in "Wayne's World." So what went wrong?

I think I've narrowed it down to a few things-- first, when I really started paying attention to sports, that is, in high school, the Brewers were poor. Plus, they had just let their best player, Paul Molitor, walk away, and, even worse, join the division leading Toronto Blue Jays, and even more horrible, Molitor led the Canadians to a World Series Championship. Triple face. After doing quite well in 1992 with Molitor, but still finishing behind the canucks, the Brewers went on to go 187-234 the next three years (my last three full years in Wisconsin), totals that would have been even worse if the strike hadn't shortened two of those seasons.
Second, whether it's due to their status as a smaller market team, or to Bug Selig being a skinflint, the Brewers have never been big players in free agency. In fact, their biggest free agency acquisitions may have come in the last few years, by signing semi-middling players like Jeff Suppan and Johnny Estrada. So if their farm system wasn't producing stars, which it usually wasn't, the team was putting a bunch of replacement level players on the field. 1992 marked the last season of competitiveness for the Molitor, Yount, Gantner generation, and after that it was no-talent central. Only the recent, home-grown batch of Heavy-P, Weeks, Hardy, and, when healthy, Sheets, have re-upped the talent level. Basically, from 1993 until a year or two ago, the team was deathly boring to watch.
Third, County Stadium was, and Miller Park is, relatively charmless. County's best feature was a tie between Bernie the Brewer, sliding from his chalet into a mug of beer, and the food. Otherwise, the interior was unremarkable, and it was surrounded by a sea of parking lots, and hemmed in by the freeway. Good for tailgating, but not much else. Currently, Miller's redeeming features are limited to the food and the sausage race. The roof leaks (it leaked on our seats last time I was there), the Bernie's mug has been removed (dear Focus on the Family types, the team is called the Brewers, alcohol references are part and parcel), and the production staff does a terrible job (the music is deafening and the "live interviews" with the fans are annoying and contrived). And it's still surrounded by freeways and parking lots.

I could go on and on--being friends with Cub fans so going on lots of trips to Wrigley; a general discomfort with Milwaukee sports, headlined by Marquette basketball; going to camp during the summer so missing a good chunk of the baseball season; being a little weirded out by Milwaukee as a city; sucking at Little League and therefore disliking baseball generally as a kid--but I think the main ingredients for my apathy are above. (My father would go on a largely justified rant about Bud Selig, which would probably include Selig's culpability for the strike, his penny-pinching, and his moving the team to the National League in order to mooch off the Cubs' popularity and avoid paying for a DH, but that can't really explain my own feelings.)

In sum, during my formative sporting years, the Brewers fielded talentless, losing teams in a charmless venue. There was nothing to get excited about, or even feel emotionally connected to. So I grew up not caring. And the Brewers especially paled in comparison to UW football (first Rose Bowl and Camp Randall and Madison on gameday), UW men's basketball (Stu Jackson and Michael Finley and the old Field House), and the Packers (Favre/White renaissance in historic Lambeau). Now those teams weren't always great, but they were competitive. And they had the potential for greatness (like the UW Finley/Griffith/Webster team beating Michigan's Fab Five minus Webber team), which made them fun to watch and wonderful to cheer for--nothing like pulling for a talented underdog whose time may have finally come. In contrast, the Brewers were just sad.

So, I don't heart them. In fact, I don't heart any baseball team. Now, I'd like the Brewers to do well-- Brewer fans certainly deserve it, and it's neat to see teams win with young talent. But I don't live and die with them, and I don't care for them any more than I do for several other teams. Specifically, since I live in the Chiccy-G, it's fun when the Cubs and the White Sox are good, so I'd like them both to be decent. But I can't pick one or root strongly for both because their warts are too apparent. That is: Cub fans are about 60% morons (I know-- I live nearby), Wrigley's food is terrible, the GM is an embarrassment, and 40% of the stadium is bad seats; while White Sox fans are mostly urban/suburban rednecks with anger management issues (you know, the offspring of people who threw bricks at Dr. King when he marched in Marquette Park back in'68), the team is boring (especially with Thome on the DL), their manager hurts the team, and the stadium is charmless and overly loud. I lived in LA for a while, and enjoyed going to Dodger games, but then they fired DePodesta after a year and a half. Maybe I should become an A's fan. They develop prospects, their management is full of folks who are decidedly not stupid, their colors are Packer-ish, and I think I liked their logo when I was really young. And isn't that where Rollie Fingers came from?


Randy Moss said...

the paul molitor transition was painful. scarring even.
i can't disagree with you more on county stadium.
it infuriates me that bernie brewer no longer slides into a mug of beer, but rather a more family friendly gymnastics mat. is it easier for parents to explain drunkenness or lameness? i would think drunkenness is significantly less complex.
bud selig was a turd.
the allstar game was embarrassing.
this years brewers are solid. top to bottom.
they have young stars that are ready to be stars, solid pitching, starting and relief. and they have veterans who've "been there".
NLCS here we come. hopefully we stay healthy and the mets don't.

Anonymous said...

Your dad sounds like a very smart man. You should ask him what he thinks of the Brewers (he's probably happy that Selig has no involvement with the team anymore, I'll bet).

What do you have against stadiums in the middle of large parking lots? You can't seriously prefer stadiums that are hard to get to,and difficult to park hear, can you?