This week's forgotten Brewer learned that he would be a Brewer no more when he saw his face in a split-screen with Jaime Navarro on a TV in a workout facility in Arizona. It was the winter of 2000 and what Cal Eldred saw on that TV surprised him. Milwaukee had just traded him to the White Sox, along with Jose Valentin, to the Chicago White Sox for Navarro and John Snyder.
Until the trade with the White Sox, Eldred had spent his entire career with Milwaukee. Drafted in the first round of the 1989 draft with the 17th overall pick, Eldred quickly rose through the minor leagues. (He pitched at the University of Iowa for three years before signing with the Brewers.) Eldred started three big league games in 1991 and 14 in 1992, his rookie year. He went 11-2 in ‘92 with a 1.79 ERA, .978 WHIP and 2.81 FIP in 100.1 innings pitched. He finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind teammate Pat Listach, Kenny Lofton and Dave Fleming. (Manager Phil Garner finished second in AL Manager of the Year voting for the 92-70 Brewers.)
Following his successful rookie campaign, Eldred accomplished the unusual feat of finishing at .500 the next four seasons. He went 16-16 in ’92, 11-11 in ’93, 1-1 in ’95 and 4-4 in ’96. He led the AL in games started in both 1993 and 1994 with 36 and 25 starts, respectively. He led the league in innings pitched in ’93 with 258. According to an ESPN article, Eldred topped 130 pitches 10 times, averaged 117 pitches per start and had one stretch of 144, 149, 120, 154, 106, 130, 127. This workload was a recipe for disaster. There is no shortage of criticism for Garner and the way he used the young fireballer. The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers referred to Eldred as "another of the poster children of the arm abuse movement."
Due to numerous arm injuries and stints on the disabled list, Eldred would not find the same success in Milwaukee again. He finished his career in Milwaukee with a 64-65 record, 4.51 ERA, 1.395 WHIP and 11.9 (Baseball Reference) /11.6 (FanGraphs) WAR. He started the seventh most games in Brewers history, 169, and is also seventh all-time with 686 strikeouts.
Eldred had a brief resurgence with the White Sox in 2000, going 10-2 with a 4.58 ERA before finishing the year on the DL with a fractured elbow, the third such injury of his career. He appeared in two games for Chicago at the beginning of the 2001 season but was forced to the DL with more elbow problems. Eldred sat out the rest of the 2001 season and all of the 2002 season. He signed as a free agent with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 2003 season. Eldred pitched the next three seasons with the Cardinals, mostly as a reliever, before retiring from baseball.
Eldred currently works in the Cardinals’ front office and is a baseball announcer for the Big Ten Network. The oddest little tidbit I could find about Eldred is that Cal and his wife, Christi, donated $245,000 to have lights installed at the baseball field at the University of Iowa. A native of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Eldred is just one of ten Brewers to hail from the Hawkeye State.
Cal Eldred, you are no longer forgotten.