Last Post: #0/00
After last week's sojourn into the territory of little-used number zero, this week we return to the land of popular numbers. Number nine, to be exact. As you might expect from a single-digit number, it has been popular throughout team history. A whopping twenty-one Brewers players have worn #9 on their backs on the old ballfield. With that in mind, you may want to read this post in stages.
Follow the jump for the lengthy list!
After two seasons, Rich Rollins looked like a star. In 1962 and 1963, he hit .302 with 32 home runs at the hot corner for the new Minnesota Twins before the age of 26. Unfortunately, events would show he peaked early. A sudden decline led to four seasons of batting averages in the .240s with limited power. In 1969, he was selected in the expansion draft by the Seattle Pilots and stuck around for fourteen games with Milwaukee in 1970. He was released in May having hit .200 in 25 at bats with the Brewers.
Now known mostly as the father of manager (and former Brewers player) Terry Francona, Tito Francona had a better playing career than his son. After finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year balloting in 1956 (which sounds more impressive before you learn his lone vote was 22 behind winner Luis Aparicio), he was an All Star for the Indians in 1961. All told he had nearly 1400 hits and 125 home runs in a fifteen-year career. He finished that career as a bench player in Milwaukee, hitting .231/.296/.277 in 65 mostly pinch-hit at bats.
After Billy Conigliaro's older brother Tony became the youngest home run champion in AL history, Red Sox faithful no doubt dreamed about a future Conigliaro outfield. Unfortunately, Tony was hit in the face by a pitch, sidetracking his career and causing significant vision problems. Billy remained healthy but fell out with Red Sox management after Tony was traded to California. The Brewers picked up Billy as part of a massive Tommy Harper/George Scott/Ken Brett trade, but he was unhappy in the Midwest and retired at age 24 in June. He came back to play for the 1973 Oakland Athletics, who went on to win the World Series, but soon fell out with Oakland management (though in his defense, nobody liked A's owner Charlie O. Finley) and was out of the majors after that season.
A list of Brewers futility usually features Pedro Garcia somewhere. The Brewers' Opening Day starter at second base in 1973, Garcia led the league in doubles that season as a rookie and finished second to Al Bumbry in the Rookie of the Year balloting. That was the high point of his career, as his .245/.296/.395 batting line dropped to .199/.248/.330 in 1974. After another anemic season in 1975 and a poor start to 1976, he was traded to Detroit. His final season was as a member of the expansion Blue Jays in 1977.
When the Brewers traded Garcia to Detroit, they received futility infielder Gary Sutherland in return. Milwaukee was Sutherland's fifth stop in the majors, but his bat was just as impotent in the Cream City as it was elsewhere. In 130 at bats, he hit one home run while putting up a .217/.268/.261. On the bright side, he avoided strikeouts, whiffing just seven times. Brief stops in San Diego and St. Louis ended his career.
Before Robin Yount became the team's starting shortstop, that job belonged to Tim Johnson. If Johnson had hit just a little better, Yount's arrival may have been delayed a bit longer. Perhaps it's for the best, then, that Johnson hit .213/.259/.243 as a rookie in 1973. After switching numbers a couple times, he settled on #9 for 1977. In 33 at bats that year, he hit safely just twice, though he did walk five times. His anemic offense earned him a trade to Toronto in 1978, and he finished his career having played in 500 games and batted 1400 times without a single home run. He later managed the Blue Jays for one season but was fired in disgrace when it turned out his personal Vietnam War stories used as motivational tools were fabrications.
After one good year and one forgettable year with the Phillies, Larry Hisle found himself in AAA before being traded to Minnesota, via Los Angeles and St. Louis. He broke out in Minnesota, hitting .286 with 87 home runs, 409 RBI, and 92 steals in his five seasons in the Twin Cities. The Brewers signed him to a rich, 6-year, $3.15 million contract following the 1977 season and he rewarded the team with a great year: .290/.374/.533 with 34 home runs and 115 RBI. Unfortunately, he was struck by injury in 1979 and never recovered. Following that 1978 season, he played in just 79 games between 1979 and 1982, retiring after the Brewers' lone World Series season. He currently works in the team's front office as Manager of Youth Outreach.
Corner infielder/outfielder Jim Adduci appeared in just three games in #9, all in 1986. Acquired after the 1984 season, he spent 1985 and 1986 in AAA, getting a cup of coffee in the majors in May of the latter year. In his three games, all starts at first base, he went 1 for 11 with one walk and a sacrifice. He later made another appearance for the team, wearing #14, in 1988, when he finished with a quirky .266/.258/.383 batting line. His brief major league career was over by 1990. His son James is currently a Cubs farmhand.
Like Larry Hisle, free agent signing Greg Brock rewarded the Brewers with a career year in his first season in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, the peak wasn't as high. The power-or-nothing former Dodger hit .299 in 1987, albeit with just thirteen home runs. Unlike Hisle, Brock remained healthy over the balance of his contract, though Brewers fans grew to wish he hadn't. He returned to his low-average ways without the power that made up for it. He was released in July 1991 having provided hit just 39 home runs and slugging under .400 in 4 1/2 seasons in Milwaukee.
In 1987, the Brewers selected Clemson shortstop Bill Spiers with the 13th overall pick in the amateur draft. When not sidelined by injury, he was the team's starting shortstop in 1989, 1990, and 1991. In 1992, he switched from #6 to #9, but missed all but 12 games due to back problems. When he returned to action in 1993 and 1994, he displayed none of the limited power he had earlier in his career. He was claimed by the Mets off waivers during the player's strike in 1994 and spent one season in the Big Apple before heading to Houston. As a member of the Astros, he was attacked by Berley Visgar while playing right field at County Stadium on September 24, 1999. He was unhurt. Spiers wrapped up his career in 2001.
If a catcher has a long major league career, it's usually safe to assume one of two things: he can hit a bit but doesn't defend well or he has a good glove but can't hit. Joe Oliver had the good fortune to debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1989. In 1990, he was behind the plate for the team's World Series Championship. Oliver's redeeming characteristic at the plate was his power: he reached double digits in home runs seven times en route to a career .247/.299/.391. He spent one season in Milwaukee, 1995, and set the team record for passed balls with 16 in just 91 games. That wasn't a fluke for him; he led the NL in passed balls with 16 in 1990 and reached double digits in that category twice more.
A 28th round pick in 1992, Tim Unroe appeared in 48 games over three seasons with the Brewers, appearing everyone but shortstop, center field, and catcher. He struck out 14 times in 36 at bats, but did contribute two home runs before being released in September 1997. He is most notable in team history for being the only player with a surname beginning with the letter U.
Before the 1998 season, the Brewers acquired pitcher Jeff Juden and center fielder Marquis Grissom from the Indians in exchange for pitchers Mike Fetters, Ben McDonald, and Ron Villone. Grissom spent three years in Milwaukee, becoming a 20-20 player in 1999 before declining sharply in 2000. Perhaps reasoning he had hit a wall due to age, the Brewers promptly replaced him with an older center fielder, Devon White. Grissom had a brief resurgence with the Giants in 2003 and retired following the 2005 season.
If the Forgotten Brewers series lasts long enough, Robert Perez is a lock for Part MMMDCCCLXXXVIII. A stereotypical AAAA player, he spent part of six seasons in the majors while hitting over .300 in AAA. He finished his major league career by going 0 for 5 in two games with the Brewers in 2001.
A throw-in to a trade involving Mike DeJean and Juan Acevedo, second baseman Elvis Pena got eight September starts for the Brewers in 2001 after an anemic .240/.300/.295 batting line in AAA (is there a name for a line that is under .300 in all three categories?). He went 9 for 40 with two doubles and two steals in the majors. By 2003, he was in independent ball.
Paul Bako's given name is Gabor. That's not exactly relevant, but it's one of the more notable things about him. An itinerant backup catcher, he was acquired by the Brewers in exchange for Henry Blanco, himself an itinerant backup catcher. In twelve major league seasons, Bako played for eleven different franchises and never played in 100 games in a season.
Ask a Brewers fan about the Rule 5 draft, and he or she is likely to roll his or her eyes and bring up Enrique Cruz. In 2002, Cruz showed some offensive promise for St. Lucie in the Florida State League and the Brewers pounced on him. Since the Brewers were, ahem, not good in 2003, the 21-year-old was kept on the roster all year. Saying he struggled is putting it lightly: he hit .085 and slugged .099 in 71 at bats. Of course, it is hard to get in rhythm when you bat four times in the month of August. In 2007, he made a cameo appearance against the Brewers as a member of the Cincinnati Reds. In 2010, he finished with the fifth-highest batting average (.381) in the Golden Baseball League.
Jeff Liefer would not like to be remembered as the guy who got stuck in the bathroom, but that makes him more famous than many other marginal major leaguers. A broken door handle in a bathroom stall led to a 20-minute delay in a 2004 Indianapolis Indians game. With a story like that, it's easy to overlook Liefer's cups of coffee in seven different major league seasons. As a Brewer, he went 6 for 28 with one home run in 2004 before being released after the season.
Before he was half of a third base platoon affectionately known as "Counsellino," Tony Graffanino bounced around the majors as a utility infielder for five other teams. After Corey Koskie was hurt in 2006, the Brewers acquired Graffanino in exchange for enigmatic pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. Graffanino finished 2006 about as well as he could be expected to but struggled in 2007. Those struggles led to the callup of top prospect Ryan Braun, so it's hard to be upset, even if the Brewers did end up losing the division by two games that season.
For a couple years, the Brewers looked loaded at second base. Top draft pick Rickie Weeks led the charge, Callix Crabbe supported him with a great name and a promising bat, and Hernan Iribarren hit .400 in rookie ball. Fast forward a few years and two of those three players are out of the majors. After putting up nice batting averages but not much else throughout the minors, Iribarren made his debut wearing #26 in 2008. In 2009, he switched to #9 and went 3 for 13 in a couple brief callups. In March 2010, he was claimed by the Texas Rangers off waivers.
When you have a position to fill and prospects one year away, it makes sense to sign a veteran to mentor the kids in spring and hold down the fort. The Brewers followed that road behind the plate by signing 39-year-old backstop Gregg Zaun. Despite starting as many as 90 games just three times in his 15-year career, he was signed to be the starting catcher. Unfortunately, an injury in May ended his season and quite possibly his career.
The Brewers go into 2011 with Luis Cruz wearing #9, according to the roster posted on Brewers.com. A glove-first shortstop, it's unclear whether Cruz will make the major league club out of spring training or reprise his role as AAA shortstop next year. One thing is for certain: he won't be the last #9 in club history.