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Face of the Franchise: Excellent 80's

Each season from the early days of the relocated Seattle Pilots through to the modern Miller Park era, we apply McLeam's Formula to the roster and cook up the player who represents the Brewers as the Face of the Franchise that year.

Brewers' 1980's Face of the Franchise

Rollie Fingers

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From 1980 to 1989 the Brewers had the 11th best record in baseball, and the 11th ranked player in team WAR from 1980 to 1989 was pitcher Rollie Fingers.

On December 8, 1980, while the world was mourning the loss of John Lennon, Rollie Fingers was traded in a package from the San Diego Padres to the St. Louis Cardinals. Four days later, Fingers was part of the greatest trade in Brewer history as he, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich were traded from the Cards to the Crew for David Green, Dave LaPoint, Sixto Lezcano, and Lary Sorenson.

The Cardinals were able to turn around and give Lary Sorenson to the Indians in a 3-team trade that netted Lonnie Smith for their World Series run, but otherwise the trade was pretty one-sided. Aside from the obvious production, it was also an attitude transplant. Neither Simmons or Vuckovich were very concerned about looking pretty, they were "whatever it takes to win" players. And Rollie Fingers... he was simply the best.

Rollie had a well-established resume before arriving in Milwaukee. He grew up in the dominant Oakland A's system and established himself as the game's premier bullpen arm for a team that won three consecutive World Series (1972, 1973, 1974). After free agency tore apart the A's dynasty, Fingers landed in San Diego, where he managed to lead the National League in saves even though the Padres won only 69 games. From 1971 to 1982 he was in the top 10 in games finished, and finished 5th all-time in that category.

"I told them to trade me anywhere. Trade me to Tokyo if you want. Just get me the heck out of San Diego."

When he arrived in Milwaukee at age 34 it was apparent that his tank was not empty. He had one of the most amazing seasons a relief pitcher has ever had. In the strike season of 1981 Fingers went 6-3 with 28 saves and a miniscule 1.04 ERA. What was amazing wasn't necessarily the number of games he appeared in or the way he shut down other teams out of the bullpen - which he did, regularly - but the types of relief appearances he provided.

When Fingers came into the game in the 9th, or 8th, or even 7th inning, it was done. He didn't go away, you didn't score, and victory was inevitable: He showed up, you lost. Unlike the three-out saves that most closers provide today, Fingers just came in when the starter was tired and went the rest of the way. Of Fingers' 47 appearances in 1981, 30 of them were multi-inning. Twice he pitched more than four innings in relief, and on August 16 he pitched 3⅓ innings against Toronto, giving up only two hits and picking up both saves of a double-header. Guys just can't throw like that these days. Not even Kameron Loe has an arm rubbery enough to endure that.

"Now you've got the long reliever, the middle man, the set-up man, the short man, the stopper, whatever you want to call it, guys who just pitch one inning at a time. I came in with Gaylord Perry winning by a run and saved 14 of his 15 games. I was pitching four of five innings sometimes. There was no such thing as a set-up man. I was my own set-up man."

Voters rewarded Fingers with the American League Cy Young and MVP awards. He was following up with another dominant performance in 1982, helping push the Brewers to their first World Series appearance, when he tore a muscle in his arm. He missed the fall classic (and undoubtedly would have been a major asset in the series that the Brewers lost in 7 games), and all of 1983 with the arm injury. He returned with another strong season in 1984 (23 saves, 1.96 ERA) but suffered a herniated disk. He returned in 1985 but did not pitch well, and was released at the end of the season.

The Cincinnati Reds were very interested in signing Fingers in 1986 but they had a 'no facial hair' policy, and rather than shave his trademark handlebar mustache, he chose to retire from baseball. He may be gone, but not forgotten. Elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992, he continues to be recognized by a new generation of fans as one of the greatest relief pitchers ever to play the game, and also a guy with a little sense of humor and showmanship to soften his competitive nature.

And if you were ever wondering where that mustache came from, here's the story:

"That started in spring training of '72. Reggie came to spring training with a mustache. Everybody wanted him to cut it off, and he wouldn't. About four of us decided we'd grow mustaches. Four of us in the bullpen. Darold Knowles, Bob Locker, myself, one other guy, I don't remember who.

We figured if we started growing them, Dick Williams, who was the manager, would make us shave them off. If we shaved them off, Reggie would have to shave his off. But nobody said anything. Charlie liked the idea. He decided to have a mustache day at the ballpark. Everybody who had a mustache got $300.

I'll keep it until I get out of baseball. I might shave it then."

Nope.

1980's FotF: Rollie Fingers was a workhorse and a winner. He had confidence and shared it with his teammates and manager, and helped take a team with young talent to the playoffs and then all the way to the World Series. He was durable and competitive, and in the end only age could stop him. He optimized a team with great ambition that had a chance to dominate the division for a few years if not for injuries, but in spite of missing the mark made themselves Milwaukee legends. Rollie is one of only four Brewers ever to have their numbers retired, and is still the only pitcher.

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You can view other Faces of the Franchise from the 1980's here:

1980_zps7ebd1aed_medium 1981_zps6af14220_medium 1982_zps1cbf49eb_medium 1983_zpse8774a94_medium 1984_zpsde0bbb5d_medium
1985_zpsc95da6b4_medium 1986_zps2be5764c_medium 1987_zps20afec75_medium 1988_zpsa66cfc20_medium 1989_zps242cec51_medium

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