Ed. Note: This deserves to be on the front page. If you've got big thoughts on Gomez or anything Brewers related, please feel free to write your own fanpost and share your words with the community.
In the spring of 1970, a car dealer who loved baseball bought an American League franchise that never should have existed, and moved it to his hometown of Milwaukee. It was such a seat-of-the-pants transaction that the new club couldn't use its desired color scheme; there wasn't enough time to do anything but sew new names onto the old club's uniforms. From the start, these new Brewers were a little off.
Forty years later, the Brewers had one pennant and two other postseason appearances. Their car dealer took over Major League Baseball and moved the club to the National League. Their two homegrown Hall of Famers had led them to two more near-misses, sprinkled into decades of futility. But with things looking positive and a solid shortstop prospect ready for 2010, the incumbent was expendable. He went out, and in came Carlos Gomez, a toolsy phenom with a great glove and a Nerf bat. The Mets developed him, some would say rushed him to the show, and couldn't figure out what to do with him. The Twins traded for him as a project, and decided to use balsa where they should've used maple. If the Mets rushed him up, the Twins messed him up. Everything he brought to the game -- so often described with stereotypical labels for Latin players, like "raw talent" or "high motor" -- was reduced to speed. Bunt for hits. Slap it through the hole. Steal bases. It didn't work. Carlos Gomez was a misfit.
Even under new ownership, the Brewers have never had a choice but to be thrifty and creative. Misfits aren't just a choice for this club; they're the Brewers' lifeblood. Gomez's greatest moment as a Brewer came with the help of his platoon partner in center field, a slap-hitter that no one else wanted having a career year. Perhaps his second greatest moment came when the closer that no one else wanted served up a meatball that only Gomez could bring down. Even Gomez's star teammates have been flawed and odd, many of them in the tradition of the 3TO legends of the 1980s Brewers.
Gomez didn't hit for power and he didn't walk when he got to the Brewers; he was content without form. Where the Twins had tried to tell him what his form was, the Brewers let him find it. Letting Carlos be Carlos -- letting him be a misfit until he figured out how he fit -- let him emerge as one of the game's top players. Since the start of 2010, Gomez has the second-most total Brewers fWAR, and the highest fWAR per 600 PA. And that second one isn't particularly close -- his 4.77 is further ahead of second place Ryan Braun (4.11) than Braun is ahead of third place Jonathan Lucroy (3.61).
Part of letting Carlos be Carlos was also letting his personality come out, and understanding who he is. For the national media that meant a bunch of tut-tutting about respecting the game. For Brewers fans that meant rich people conversations, feeling sexy in the clean-up spot, hugs for young fans, dancing in a Ninja Turtle costume, a broad smile, and yes, swinging out of his helmet a lot. For the front office it meant a pre-emptive extension that let him relax and turned out to be one of the best values in baseball over the last two years. It meant: "It's a game. Just enjoy it."
The Brewers have been horrible in 2015, and call baseball's smallest market their home. Nonetheless, attendance at Miller Park is in the middle of the National League pack. The Brewers have a forgiving fanbase, perhaps in part because of the team's years of struggle. They are not the Packers, expected to win division titles and compete for a championship year in and year out. Brewers fandom requires more than love of the Brewers; it requires love of the fun of baseball on-field and off. Of course Brewers fans would love their team to win games, divisions, pennants, World Series. But Miller Park (and environs) is a more fun place to be during a Brewers loss than some stadiums are when the home team wins. It's fun because of the fans, and it's fun because the atmosphere and the tenor of the organization lets the players have fun. Winning isn't "the only thing" with this club or its fans. Unlike some clubs, the Brewers have never won or lost with stoic crankiness. By that measure, Carlos Gomez may have been the perfect Brewer.
The Houston Astros franchise has existed since 1962, but it has the same number of pennants and championships as the Brewers. They've been in baseball's basement for several years and don't have a history of success that might lead fans to take this year's results for granted. As a baseball lover and a fan of Carlos Gomez, I hope that makes for a great environment for him to do what he does. A great player doing awesome stuff -- a player that met his potential in the second-chance fix-it shop that the Brewers have always needed to run -- is one way to mitigate the predictable but sudden heartbreak of having to watch that player leave. I am not quite the kind of fan that Bart Giamatti wrote was, "born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts...the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion." I have the wisdom, but I also have the illusion. For better or worse, it's players like Gomez that provide the latter.