With the offseason just getting started and little in the way of Brewers-relevant news, today is as good as any to debut a new weekly feature. For a while I have thought it would be interesting to run down the list of players who have suited up in each uniform number for the Brewers. Though this information is increasingly available in print and online, simple lists of names are often boring. My goal is to liven up those lists with a little background and interesting tidbits about some players.
The Brewers media guide is the primary source for my posts. Uniform numbers listed on Baseball-Reference.com are used as a backup. Certainly each source is fallible, but together they should be reasonably accurate. Also, I am not including Seattle Pilots players in this list. No offense to Jim Bouton, Mike Marshall, and other Pilots alumni, but they never wore a Milwaukee uniform.
The first post looks at number 41. There are a couple reasons for this selection. First, last season was the team's forty-first in Milwaukee. Second, the number 41 runs the gamut of players. It has been worn by a top pitcher, a first round bust, a free agent bust, an all-star closer, one position player, and a number of players whose most notable major league accomplishments were lengthening the Baseball Encyclopedia.
Follow the jump for the #41 roster...
The first Brewer to don #41 was a Seattle Pilots draft pick. In the 1969 January Secondary Draft (in which teams selected players who were previously drafted but did not sign), the Pilots picked Harvard hurler Ray Peters. He flew through the team's minor league system and was called up on June 4, 1970. After recording just six outs in two starts, he was sent to the minors, never to return.
The next Brewer to wear #41 may well be the best for a long, long time. Pilots 15th round draft pick Jim Slaton debuted in 1971 at the age of 20 with six scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox. He would spend twelve of the next thirteen seasons in Milwaukee, with a side trip to Detroit for the 1978 campaign (bringing back Ben Oglivie). He made one all-star team and still holds Brewers career records in many pitching categories, most positively starts, shutouts, wins, and innings pitched.
After Slaton was traded following the 1983 season, the number 41 bounced between players. Rookie Jack Lazorko wore it for part of the 1984 season, as did lefthanded reliever Ray Searage. When Searage was traded midway through 1986, rookie Mike Birkbeck was assigned the number. Mark Knudson then took up #41 and held onto it through 1991, when veteran reliever Edwin Nunez briefly claimed it.
After a couple seasons in storage, the #41 uniform returned to the pitcher's mound in 1994. Rule 5 draftee Jose Mercedes wore it for five seasons, including his remarkably decent 1997. Mercedes later led the American League in losses, which squares with my lasting impression of him. Perhaps I should re-evaluate my opinion as shockingly Mercedes is still plying his trade in Mexico. Saltillo clinched the 2010 Mexican League title when he threw a two-run complete game (21 runs in support helped, I'm sure).
After Mercedes was released, the 13th overall pick of the 1997 draft made his debut. Kyle Peterson started 12 games in 1999 but required surgery before the 2000 season. He made it back to wear #26 for three games in 2001, but that was it for his career. While Peterson was on the shelf in 2000, lefthanded reliever Matt Williams kept #41 warm briefly before relinquishing it to Braves castoff Everett Stull.
Stull wasn't a good enough player to hold onto his number and that worked out well considering the team's big free agent signing claimed it for the 2001 season. His usual #4 having been retired by the team, Jeffrey Hammonds wore #41 for part of three disappointing seasons. Mercifully, Brewers fans didn't have to wait long for the number to be redeemed. Ex-Ranger Dan Kolb was called up two weeks after Hammonds was released and quickly took over closing duties for the Brewers. After 60 saves in two years and an all-star appearance, he was traded to Atlanta, where he struggled in 2005. He returned in 2006 for one more season though by that time he was no longer needed as closer. While Kolb was in Atlanta, lefthander Tommy Phelps took his number for three unimpressive months. After Kolb finally left for good, trade acquisition Greg Aquino fielded his position well in #41 in April and September 2007.
For the first time in fourteen years, nobody wore 41 in 2008. That changed in 2009 when former closer and ex-Cardinal Braden Looper was brought in to eat innings and provide stability for a rotation reeling from the loss of two aces. Though Looper went 14-7, his season impressed no one and he went unsigned for all of 2010.
It appeared the number 41 would also go unused for all of the 2010, but it was pressed into duty when Jeremy Jeffress was somewhat surprisingly called up from Huntsville on September 1. It remains to be seen whether the former first-round pick will translate his potential into ability, much less whether he will prefer to keep his number, but if he does, the prospects for #41 haven't looked this bright in quite some time.