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.
1992 Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers finished 5th in winning percentage in 1992, and the 5th ranked player in WAR was pitcher Cal Eldred.
Injuries caused the Brewers' ace Teddy Higuera to miss all of April in 1989, and the club may have been wondering how much they really relied on their pitching. That June they spent their 1st round draft pick on a tall hurler from Iowa, Cal Eldred. He ended up being a pretty successful selection, with the 6th highest career WAR of all the 1st round picks that season.
Eldred had solid stuff and 1st round pedigree, and progressed steadily through the minor leagues, but wasn't a ranked prospect until he was on the cusp of the major leagues. When he arrived, he immediately made an impact.
In 1992 the Brewers had a core of aging veterans in the lineup. It was the last season of the trio of Gantner, Molitor, and Yount would play together. The lineup also had young sluggers Greg Vaughn and Dante Bichette, Rookie of the Year Pat Listach, and everywhere man B.J. Surhoff.
The rotation was very solid but not spectacular, with Chris Bosio, Bill Wegman, and Jamie Navarro, and Doug Henry and Dan Plesac anchored the bullpen. Unfortunately the 4th and 5th spots in the rotation were holding the team back, and in mid-July the brewers were three games over .500 but 8.5 games out of first behind the Blue Jays.
Then Cal Eldred arrived. He had pitched well in three starts in '91, but didn't make rookie manager Phil Garner's club out of spring training because of consistency issues.
"I guess I learned quite a lot by not making it. You've got to work on the things you need to get back here, just being consistent, not walking people and getting ahead in the count."
"My favorite pitch? Strike one."
After a pair of extra-inning games at Chicago (White Sox) the Brewers' tired bullpen and shorthanded rotation needed a boost. An energized Eldred was just what the team needed. Starting with that game in Chicago, Eldred made 14 starts over the second half of the season, allowing a total of 21 runs. He finished the season with an 11-2 record and a 1.79 ERA, and was the winning pitcher in a 22-2 shellacking of the future world champion Jays.
Listach ran away with the Rookie vote that year, topping Kenny Lofton, but Eldred's impressive run earned him 4th place in the voting and one 1st place vote. The main storyline of the Brewers that August was Yount's run to 3,000 hits, but Eldred's strong run of starts was the reason the Brewers stayed in contention until the last few days of the season.
After the season Jim Gantner retired, Paul Molitor signed up with the Blue Jays, and Yount prepared to return for his final season. Cal Eldred returned with high expectations, but the franchise was falling on hard times. He wouldn't see another winning season again until he joined the White Sox in 2000. He pitched with them for two years, lost a season to injury, then returned to pitch for the Cardinals in the bullpen, making it all the way to the World Series in 2005. He pitched for one more season, and retired.
I'm not sure what Cal's employment status is these days, but he may or may not be both a baseball analyst for the Big Ten Network, and a Special Assistant to the GM for the St. Louis Cardinals. Which ever one it is, I'm sure he's still Cal, working his guts out to make their team better.
1992 FotF: This season was the last hurrah for the old guys, and the last winning season the Brewers would ever see at old County Stadium. Eldred was a sign that it would be the young talent that would guide the franchise back to the promised land, a sign that ownership blew past like a missed exit on a long desert highway.