The number #34 took a strange path through Brewers history. It was assigned to pitchers and position players. It was bounced from player to player, year to year, as a litany of forgettable names passed through town. It was claimed by a Hall of Fame closer in the denouement of his career and it was passed on to players who, at one point, may have visited the Hall of Fame. In time, the Brewers retired #34, one of only four numbers to be so honored.
But before we get to the retirement, we should take a look at the other players to don the #34 jersey. You will find them after the jump.
The next player to be assigned #34 was veteran righthander Jim Hannan. A nine-year veteran of the Washington Senators, Hannan was traded twice in one year, appearing for both Detroit and Milwaukee in 1971. He was acquired by the Brewers in May 1971 and appeared in 21 games, finishing his career with a 5.01 ERA in 32 1/3 innings in the Cream City.
In 1972, another ex-Met took #34, the third wearer in three years. Chuck Taylor appeared in just five games with the Brewers after being claimed from New York. Despite allowing just two runs and eight hits in 11 2/3 innings, Taylor was released by the Brewers at the end of spring training in 1973. He wound up signing with the Montreal Expos and spent three full seasons north of the border.
There was finally a semblance of stability to the number when Kevin Kobel made his major league debut on September 8, 1973. The Brewers' 10th round pick in 1971, Kobel appeared in two games as a 19-year-old in 1973, following a solid campaign in AA Shreveport. In 1974, Kobel started twenty-four games for the Brewers, going 6-14 with a 4.99 ERA. Unfortunately, like many young hurlers he developed a sore shoulder, causing the Brewers to send him to the minors in 1975. He returned to make three relief appearances for the Brewers late in 1976, but returned to the minors in 1977. He was sold to the Mets shortly after that season.
While Kobel was trying to work his way back to the majors, the Brewers took his number right out from under him. In 1976, veteran Ray Sadecki took on #34 when he came to Milwaukee, his fourth home in a calendar year. As a 23-year-old, Sadecki won twenty games for the Cardinals. In 1968, he led the league with 18 losses despite an ERA of 2.91 (a little bit under the league ERA of 2.99). By 1976, his days as a starter were over and he was in fact released by the Royals in May. The Brewers, willing to give a veteran lefty a chance, signed him and he appeared in 36 games over the rest of the season. He was rewarded with a December release.
In December 1977, the Brewers traded a former 9th round draft pick named George Frazier to St. Louis in exchange for an erstwhile Royals catcher named Buck Martinez. Martinez ultimately spent three years in Milwaukee, including a career year in 1979, when he hit .270 and also pitched in a game, allowing one run in one inning. He wore #34 for just one season, 1978. He was later traded to Toronto. He ultimately wound up managing the Blue Jays in 2001 and 2002, managed the US team in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, and now works as a Blue Jays broadcaster.
A young infielder named Ed Romero was called up to the Brewers in June 1980. He appeared in ten games as a teenager in 1977, but didn't stick. This time around, he stayed for the rest of the season, hitting .266. He ultimately spent parts of the next six seasons in Milwaukee and briefly returned once more in 1989. He only wore #34 during the 1980 season, however.
There was a good reason for Romero's number switch following the 1980 season. Things like uniform numbers tend to get shuffled with a top player joins a new team. On December 12, 1980, the Brewers made a trade that brought back three important pieces to help contend for a pennant. Mustachioed reliever Rollie Fingers, acquired by the Cardinals just days before, was traded from St. Louis to Milwaukee with a catcher named Ted Simmons and a pitcher named Pete Vuckovich. Fingers gave the Brewers the closer they lacked and perhaps not coincidentally, the Brewer made the players his first two seasons with the club. In 1981, he recorded 28 saves, good for second place in Brewers history, despite a strike-abbreviated 109-game schedule. He appeared in 47 of those 109 games, pitching 78 innings with a sparkling ERA of 1.04. His reward was the Cy Young Award and the Most Valuable Player award, the first relief pitcher to win both in the same year. In 1982, Fingers locked down 29 saves and helped lead the Crew to the playoffs. Ultimately, however, he injured his right forearm and missed the postseason. Had he been healthy, chances are the 1982 Brewers would not be the most feted runner-up in baseball history. Fingers missed the entire 1983 season but came back to record 40 more saves in 1984 and 1985. He was released after the 1985 season. He was offered a contract with the 1986 Reds but was told he had to lose his signature moustache; he replied, "Well, you tell Marge Schott to shave her Saint Bernard, and I'll shave my moustache." He did not sign with Cincinnati. Fingers finished his career the all-time leader in saves with 341 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1992. The Brewers retired his number shortly after.
Before the first thoughts about retiring Fingers' number entered anyone's mind, it had already been assigned to another reliever. John Henry Johnson was a lefthanded reliever who had spent parts of six seasons in the majors with Oakland, Texas, and Boston before the Brewers signed him as a free agent late in 1985. He appeared in 21 games in 1986, striking out 42 batters in 44 innings en route to a 2.66 ERA. He left #34 in favor of #38 going into 1987, and perhaps that is why his career took a nosedive. Johnson was hit around the park in his ten appearances, finishing the season and his career with a 9.57 ERA in 26 1/3 innings.
To be fair, if #34 was Johnson's good luck charm, it certainly did not do rookie Mark Ciardi any favors in 1987. The Brewers' 15th round pick in 1983 and a former Maryland Terrapin, Ciardi made the Brewers' rotation to start the 1987 season. He was battered in relief in his debut and was unimpressive in three subsequent starts. His second start of the season was the team's 14th game. He gave up five runs in 2 1/3 innings and the Brewers lost their first game of the season, missing out on a chance for sole possession of a record. Ciardi was demoted to the minors at the end of April and ultimately left baseball for modeling and acting. He appeared in a 1987 Chippendales calendar (which prompted some questions about his devotion to baseball) and has been a producer of a few movies.
Diminuative second baseman Billy Bates took on #34 late in the 1989 season. The Brewers drafted Bates in the fourth round of the 1985 draft out of the University of Texas. Listed at just 5'7" and 155 lbs, Bates worked his way up through the Brewers' minor league chain before debuting on August 17, 1989. He appeared in just 21 games with Milwaukee, with six hits in 43 at bats. He was traded with Glenn Braggs to the Cincinnati Reds in June 1990. He appeared in eight regular season games with the Reds and went 0 for 5 at the plate. In the field, however, he was 1 for 1 in races against cheetahs (the animal was distracted when Bates' hat fell off). Despite limited regular-season action, he was on the team's World Series roster due to injury. In the bottom of the 10th inning in Game 2, Bates was called upon to face A's closer Dennis Eckersley. Despite falling behind 0-2, Bates hit an infield single and came around to score the winning run. The Reds ultimately swept the Series.
The last Brewer to wear #34 before it was retired was lefthanded pitcher Mark Lee. He was actually the second Mark Lee to make the major leagues when he debuted with the Royals in 1988. He signed with the Brewers in May 1990 after the Royals released him and he quickly found a spot in the Milwaukee bullpen. After allowing five runs in 21 1/3 innings in August and September 1990, he made the opening day roster in 1991. He became the third Brewers lefty to appear in at least sixty games in one year, going 2-5 with one save and a 3.86 ERA. Despite spending the entire season in the majors, he was sent to AAA Denver in 1992 and was released following that season. He resurfaced in the majors with the Orioles in 1995 but that was the end of the road for his major league career.
As previously mentioned, the Brewers retired #34 after Rollie Fingers was elected to the Hall of Fame. He was honored on August 9, 1992 before a game against the Minnesota Twins. Perhaps it is a good thing #34 is out of circulation--with all the characters who wore it in two decades, the law of averages suggests the last two decades would have been filled with horrendously boring stories.