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.
1981 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finished 5th in winning percentage in 1981, and the 5th ranked player in WAR was pitcher Pete Vuckovich.
Pete Vuckovich was the ace of the Brewers staff from the moment he arrived from the Cardinals in 1981. Vuckovich wasn't the best pitcher out there, but he had a decent arm and was a stubborn competitor. It probably took a grizzled veteran like Ted Simmons to control him on the mound, Vuck had a glare that would kill the normal bullpen catcher. He would pitch through trouble and pain, and give the team his best stuff for as many innings as he could, as often as they let him. He probably would have finished with a lot more complete games if the Brewers didn't also have the best relief pitcher in baseball, Rollie Fingers. Vuckovich, Simmons, and Fingers all arrived at the same time in a trade with the Cardinals, and their impact was immediate and immense. Vuckovich especially was focused completely on winning.
"There's nothing like playing in front of a full crowd, especially when they're cheering for you. It might mean a one or two run advantage. But by the time I initiate my mechanics toward the dish I don't hear anything."
Things really grooved in the second-half of 1981. From May onward Vuckovich was 14-2, and even pitched in relief between his starts. The season was cut in half by a strike, and the league decided that the best team in each half of the season would play in a best-of-five series to start the playoffs. The Brewers played well in the first half but at the time of the strike the Yankees were in first place, so they were given a spot in the playoffs - the Brewers stormed to the best record in the second half, setting up a 5-game showdown. Vuckovich did his part by throwing 5 scoreless innings and picking up the win in game 4, and then pitching in relief the next day to kill a Yankee rally. Unfortunately the Brewers lost the final game and were eliminated.
But the Brewers had finally tasted the playoffs now and for guys like Vuckovich it only fed their fire. Early in the '82 season Vuck missed 20 games with an arm injury, but he stubbornly pitched through the pain for the entire season and won 18 games, and was rewarded with the 1982 Cy Young award.
"They pay me to win," says Vuckovich, "so I do everything I can do to win, period."
Floyd Bannister and Jim Palmer had better seasons than Vuck, but his 3.34 ERA and 18 wins impressed the voters, and he won in spite of his 1.502 WHIP and walking almost as many batters (102) as he struck out (105). It was the
injury that caused his loss of control, and he fought it all the way through the pennant run.
Sadly, he never recovered from the injury. He missed most of 1993, all of 1994, and only 31 games the rest of his career after his Cy Young season. He retired in 1986, his competitve fire pulled him back for one more attempt, and he retired again for good in the spring of 1987.
After he retired from playing, Vuckovich was a color commentator for the Brewers TV broadcast team until 1992, and from '92 until 2011 he held several jobs in the Pirates organization, including pitching coach from 1997-2000. Aside from his Cy Young season Vuck will probably always be best remembered by baseball and movie fans for his role as the trash-talking, tobacco-spitting, home-run-crushing Yankee villain Klu Heywood in the movie Major League. It's much better than being remembered for having your fly open on TV during the world series. Much to the worry of Seattle fans, Vuckovich has joined his old battery mate Ted Simmons in the Mariners front office as a special assistant to Jack Z.
1981 FotF: Pete Vuckovich was a workhorse with pretty good stuff on the mound, and a colorful personality off of it. He was mean-looking but likeable, and extremely competitive. He's a Brewer legend and a Cy Young winner, and had one of the best seasons of his interrupted career during a season interrupted by the baseball strike. He represented a team on the rise that might not be pretty enough for a cereal box, but was too stubborn to lose.