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Brewers Numerical History: #8

Last Post: #2

It is easy to assume that single-digit numbers are handed out the most in a given team's history.  In Brewers history, however, that proves not to be the case.  Last week, I wrote about the eleven Brewers to wear #2.  That isn't very many compared to double-digits numbers that have seen up to 25 occupants.  Numbers 5 and 6 also have been assigned to fewer players (ten each).  However, #8 bucks the trend and has been assigned to eighteen different players in team history.

In 1961, the Yankees signed first baseman Mike Hegan as an amateur free agent.  He had cups of coffee in 1964 and 1966 before struggling in a longer look during the 1967 season.  Before 1969, he was sold to the expansion Seattle Pilots.  He played well in Seattle, being named to the All Star squad before missing the better part of six weeks with a hamstring injury.  He started at first base on Opening Day 1970 and ultimately hit .244 with 11 home runs but 116 strikeouts that season.  After hitting just .221 through mid-June, he was sold to Oakland.  He would ultimately rejoin the Crew in 1974, wearing #6 and #4 over four more years in Milwaukee.

In the early days of the MLB amateur draft, players who had previously been drafted but not signed were eligible for a so-called "secondary" draft.  In 1971, the Brewers selected Michigan State outfielder Rob Ellis, who hit .431 with 14 home runs that college season, with the third overall pick in the June secondary draft.  The Brewers signed him to a major league deal, like other contemporary teams did with high draftees, and ten days later, he made his major league debut.  Ultimately, he appeared in 36 major league games, hitting just .198 with 24 strikeouts and zero home runs before being sent to the minors.  He made a couple brief appearances in 1974 and 1975 before his major league career ended.  After Ellis was sent down in May 1975, he was replaced in #8 by light-hitting Jack Lind, who went 1 for 20 over the final two months of the season.

In 1970, 20-year-old Jack Heidemann started at short for the Cleveland Indians.  Unfortunately, he never could get his bat going and he quickly fell to "quad-A" utility player status.  He bounced from Cleveland to Oakland, back to Cleveland, and on to St. Louis and New York before winding up in Milwaukee.  By the time he joined the Crew in 1976, he had started to put up solid offensive numbers in AAA.  However, his bat didn't translate to the majors and his big league career was over after he posted a .218/.256/.265 line in 74 games for Milwaukee.

Only fourteen more to go after the jump!

Centerfielder Jim Wynn spent a decade in the Houston outfield, making hitting no fewer than 223 home runs for the Astros (nee Colt .45s).  He then spent two years in Los Angeles and one in Atlanta before the 1977 season.  He was an All-Star three times, hit 30 home runs three times, and led the league in walks twice (he walked 100 times in six seasons).  He also stole 221 bases over that span. The Yankees purchased him to DH and play some right field in 1977, but he was released after hitting just .143 (11 for 77) in 30 games.  The Brewers signed him for the rest of the season but he didn't fare much better in County Stadium: a .197/.294/.239 line finished his career.

On Opening Day 1978, longtime Baltimore catcher Andy Etchebarren donned the tools of ignorance for the Milwaukee Brewers.  He went 1 for 3 with two RBI and a walk.  Eight days later, he was 1 for 2 as the starting catcher in Baltimore.  He caught five more innings over the next few days but did not appear in another major league game after April 20.  He was ultimately placed on the disabled list with bone chips in his left elbow.  In the 1980s, he was a coach in the organization and he currently manages the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League.

After seven seasons with the Phillies culminated in a 2 for 19 September callup in 1979, John Poff was claimed off waivers by the Brewers in September 1980.  He started 17 games during the final month of the year, hitting .250 with one home run and seven RBI.  That earned him a trade to the White Sox after spring training 1981.

Rob Picciolo spent four seasons playing for the Charlie Finley A's, which ought to qualify him for a medal.  The light-hitting, rarely-walking utility infielder actually spent five seasons in Oakland before being traded to the Brewers in May 1982.  Maybe the only 1982 Brewer yet to be honored in Milwaukee, he went 6 for 21 at the plate while being used mostly as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement in 1982.  He appeared in 14 more games during the 1983 season, going 6 for 27.  He returned to California for two more seasons in the majors before moving on to a coaching career.  In November 2010, he replaced new Brewers manager Ron Roenicke as Mike Scioscia's bench coach in Anaheim.

In December 1983, the Brewers traded backup catcher Ned Yost and minor leaguer Dan Scarpetta to the Texas Rangers in exchange for ten-year veteran and six-time Gold Glove catcher Jim Sundberg.  Sundberg had a down year in 1983, hitting an awful .201/.272/.254 but he bounced back to be named to the 1984 All Star team as a Brewer, his third time in the Midsummer Classic.  He hit .261 with 7 home runs in exactly 100 starts for Milwaukee.  After the season however, he was shipped to the Kansas City Royals in a complicated four-team deal that brought Danny Darwin, Tim Leary, and Bill Hance to the Brewers.  He won a ring with the 1985 Royals and finished his career back in Texas in 1989.

In Colorado, Dante Bichette took advantage of the thin Denver air to hit 201 home runs and drive in 826 runs over seven seasons while hitting a cool .316/.352/.540.  He made four All-Star appearances and went an eye-popping 10 for 17 in the Rockies' first ever playoff series (which they lost in four games).  He also swiped 105 bags for the expansion franchise.  Before that, however, he was a Brewer.  After hitting 15 home runs for the Angels in 1990, the Brewers acquired Bichette in exchange for veteran DH Dave Parker.  In 1991, Bichette became just the fourth Brewer, to that point, to strike out 100 or more times and finish with more strikeouts than hits (the others: Danny Walton, Gorman Thomas, Rob Deer, and Dale Sveum).  He did finish with 15 home runs, however.  His batting average improved in 1992, though his home runs turned into doubles.  As mentioned, his career really took off after he was traded to Colorado after the season and those doubles turned back into home runs.

In 1983, Astros shortstop Dickie Thon had a breakout season and looked destined for greatness.  Unfortunately, fate intervened.  In the fifth game of the 1984 campaign, a pitch from Mets righty Mike Torrez hit Thon in the eye, costing him the rest of that season and giving him depth perception problems that relegated him to a bench role for much of the next four years.  He ultimately regained a starting role with the Phillies in 1989, and after three years he moved to Texas.  In 1993, the Brewers signed the 35 year old as a backup infielder.  He hit .269/.324/.331 while making 63 starts for Milwaukee at second, third, short, and DH.  He became a free agent following the season but could find no takers for 1994.

Jody Reed broke into the majors as a shortstop and second baseman with the Boston Red Sox in the late 1980s.  He finished third in the rookie of the year voting in 1988 and led the league in doubles in 1990 despite not having home run power.  In fact, in 1989 he and Wade Boggs became only the second set of teammates since World War II to each hit 40 or more doubles with 5 or fewer home runs.  (The other pair was Dave Cash and Warren Cromartie of the 1977 Expos.)  After a down 1992 season, he was left unprotected in the expansion draft and was selected by the Colorado Rockies, who promptly shipped him to the Dodgers.  After one season in Chavez Ravine, he signed with the Brewers as a free agent and put up a typical Reed batting line: .271/.362/.341.  Unfortunately, the fact County Stadium (and Dodger Stadium, for that matter) lacked a Green Monster limited his doubles total and restricted his offensive value.  He moved on to San Diego and Detroit after his time with the Brewers.

I have a personal story about Mark Loretta.  Back when I was young, Loretta was just breaking into the major leagues.  I recall waiting for my father (who works for STATS, LLC in the press box) under County Stadium, near the team clubhouse.  An attendant came out and asked who my favorite player was.  I shocked everyone by naming Loretta.  As you might expect, I've always been partial to him.  He was picked in the 7th round of the 1993 draft out of Northwestern.  He debuted with the Brewers in 1995 and stayed with the team until 2002, when he was traded to Houston.  He started at every infield position during his time with the Crew and ultimately finished with a .289/.355/.385 batting line in Milwaukee.  After being traded, he made two All-Star teams in San Diego and Boston.  He retired after 2009, finishing his career with 1713 hits and a career .295 batting average.

Matt Erickson spent a total of ten days with the Brewers in July 2004, but his Wisconsin connection goes much deeper than that.  He grew up in Appleton, graduating from West High School, before playing college ball for the University of Arkansas.  The Marlins drafted him in 1997 and he spent seven years in their system, hitting over .300 five times, but never earning a call to the show.  He signed a minor league deal with the Brewers for 2004 and was called up after Junior Spivey was hurt.  During his ten days in the majors, he started one game and finished his career 1 for 6.  He spent three more years in the minors (finishing with over 1000 minor league hits) before transitioning to coaching.  He was recently named 2011 manager of the Class A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

If you can catch, you can stick around baseball pretty much forever.  Drafted in the first round in 1994, Mark Johnson spent part of five major league seasons with the White Sox before being traded to Oakland.  After thirteen games with the A's in 2003, he signed a minor league deal with the Brewers for 2004.  The Brewers rewarded his work at AAA Nashville with a September call up and he went 1 for 11 in seven games.  He was traded in spring 2005 but rejoined the club on a minor league deal for the 2006 season.  He last appeared in the majors in 2008 but caught in two games at AAA Iowa in 2010.

These days Nelson Cruz is an All-Star outfielder for the Texas Rangers.  Back in spring 2008, however, he was offered to every major league team for the price of a waiver claim, a victim of great AAA numbers but limited major league success.  Three years earlier, he was a prospect traded from Oakland to Milwaukee for infielder Keith Ginter.  After tearing up AA Huntsville and flashing power at AAA Nashville, he was rewarded with a September call-up in which he spent most of his time as a defensive replacement, going 1 for 5 at the plate.  In 2006 he again performed well in AAA, hitting 20 home runs by the end of July.  He was traded to Texas as part of the 2006 Carlos Lee trade and struggled there before finding success in recent years.

Vinny Rottino combined the qualities of two former #8s: Matt Erickson and Mark Johnson.  He could catch a bit, like Johnson, and he is a Wisconsin native like Erickson.  After graduating from St. Catherine's in Racine, he went on to play baseball at UW-La Crosse before being signed by the Brewers in 2003 as an amateur free agent.  He worked his way up the chain and earned a September callup in 2006, going 3 for 14 at the plate while appearing behind the plate, at third base, and in left field.  In 2007, he was the last player cut during spring training when the team opted to keep Tony Gwynn, Jr. and he was 2 for 9 while wearing #10 in another September call-up.  He batted just once in the majors in 2008, flying out as a pinch hitter in a blowout on September 19.  In 2009, he was traded to Los Angeles for former Brewer Claudio Vargas.  He spent 2010 with the Marlins, hitting .308, primarily at AA Jacksonville.

May 25, 2007, is remembered in Brew Crew Ball history as Braunsmas, the day top prospect Ryan Braun made his major league debut.  He hit the ground running, hitting .324 with 34 home runs and 15 steals, setting a rookie record for slugging percentage, and winning Rookie of the Year honors in a close vote over Troy Tulowitzki.  Unfortunately, his bungling defense at third base made him one of the rare modern players to finish with a fielding percentage under .900.  In 2008, he moved to left field, signed a long-term extension mid-year, and made his first All-Star appearance en route to winning his first Silver Slugger award.  He led the league in hits in 2009 while rapping 32 homers and stealing 20 bases.  A down season in 2010 still saw him hit over .300 with 25 homers, but fans are hoping to see an excellent bounce back year this season.  Braun is signed through 2015, so there's a possibility this list may not grow longer.