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.
1977 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finished 21st in winning percentage in 1977, and the 21st ranked player in WAR was infielder Jim Gantner.
James Elmore Gantner spent most of the 1977 season as the third baseman for the Spokane Indians, and didn't see action until the September call-up. In Spokane he had a great season, hitting .281 with a career-high 15 HRs. If you look at Gantner's minor league numbers you would probably think that he'd have a little power as an infielder, but that's not how things worked out. Gantner ended up with 47 HRs in a 17 year career, and between 1987 and 1991 he went 2,241 plate appearances without hitting a single home run.
Gantner was one-third of a trio of Brewers who played together as Brewers for 15 years. Although his offensive numbers paled compared to the other two future Hall of Famers, he was a solid performer with a good glove. The first of the trio to arrive was Robin Yount at shortstop, and as a rookie Gantner backed up Don Money at third base. When Sal Bando was acquired to play third base Money moved to second, and Gantner was blocked at both positions. When Paul Molitor arrived in 1978 Money became their backup and there was no place to play Gantner regularly.
The logjam in the infield continued until 1981, and to make space for Don Money at third, Molitor was tried out in center field while Gantner was given the second base job. If you're wondering why they didn't put Ganter in center field, there was a good reason:
Gorman Thomas told the story of the day in 1977, when he and Gantner were playing at Triple-A Spokane and Thomas fell ill with "a 24-hour virus." Gantner, a second baseman, quickly volunteered to play center field.
As the story goes, Thomas listened on the radio as Gantner committed five errors, two on dropped fly balls, two on grounders that he overran and one on a throwing miscue. When Thomas visited manager John Felske the next day, he was furious.
"He told me, 'If you ever pull this again, I'm going to call Mr. Selig and have you released,'" Thomas said.
He took to it naturally, and was known for playing a hard-nosed defensive game, but the way he looked running and turning double plays earned him the nickname "Gumby." His clutch hitting and great defensive play locked him in the lineup at second base for the rest of his career.
Gantner is third in franchise history in games and plate appearances, and is the only member of the trio whose uniform number isn't retired by the franchise. Gantner played his entire career in Milwaukee, a stretch that includes as teammates future Hall-of-Famer Hank Aaron in '76 and Rookie of the Year Pat Listach in '92. Gantner played big when the stakes got higher, and he hit .333 in the Brewers' only World Series appearance in '82. But his number is not retired by the Brewers and it's something that has been discussed over the years. It might be a good move for a franchise that likes to emphasize the quality of their players' character, and it's an honor that the good-natured Gantner would truly appreciate.
Gantner has stayed involved in the Brewer community in retirement, hosting camps and charitable events. In fact, he's always been as good a face for this franchise as they've ever had. He played hard but with humility and never backed down from a challenge. He was born in Fond du Lac, grew up in Eden, went to school at UW-Oshkosh, lived in the Milwaukee suburbs, played his entire career for the Brewers, ran businesses in the Milwaukee area after his retirement, and in 2007 was the manager of Wausau's Wisconsin Woodchucks in the Northern league.
1977 FotF: Jim Gantner was the face of this franchise moving forward. He worked his way into the lineup with solid if not spectacular play, was a tough out and a strong pivot at second. He is the all-time Brewer leader with 1,024 double plays turned, and is 24th on the all-time list for second basemen. Gantner is in the Brewer Walk of Fame, and if there was a Mount Rushmore of Brewers his face would be on it. Unfortunately, because he was never exceptional offensively his contribution may have been a bit under-appreciated. If you feel that he needs a little more recognition, you can contact the Brewers and suggest they retire his number, or at least suggest to B-Ref that they include his well-known nickname.