Sporting News recently released a list ranking the most miserable fanbases in baseball over the last 30 seasons. As Brewers' fans we were ranked 28th overall, or the third most miserable group ahead of only the Rockies and Padres. We've had to endure 19 losing seasons in 1985, including twelve straight from 1993-2004. With just two postseason appearances since 1985 and no championships, it's not hard to see why we've had to get used to disappointment.
Since taking a trip down memory lane is always fun, we're going to take a closer look at some of the worst teams that the Brewers have run out on to the field over the last 30 years. The teams are ranked by games back of first place, to give us an ever better sense of just how futile each club's efforts was. We've already looked at the 1985 club, and today we'll examine the 1998 Brewers.
1998 was a notable season for the Brewers. Realignment was going on that year with two new expansion teams, the Diamondbacks and the Devil Rays, giving each league 15 teams. But in order to keep the schedule balanced each league needed to have a number of teams divisible by two, so one club would have to switch leagues. The Kansas City Royals were offered the first chance but decided to stay put in the AL, so the decision fell to Milwaukee. After 28 years in the American League, the Brewers decided to jump ship and were moved to the National League Central Division.
On the field, the Brewers were not very good at all. Lead by manager Phil Garner, the club finished 74-88 and fifth of six teams in the division. They were 28.0 games behind the Houston Astros. Milwaukee's pitching staff was the fourth worst in the league that year with a 4.63 ERA and they were outscored by 105 runs on the season. The Brewers managed to beat their Pythagorean W-L by three games, at least.
Perhaps the most memorable game of the season came on September 23rd against the Cubs, who at that time were in a tie for the Wild Card lead. Chicago was leading 7-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth at County Stadium, but the Brewers managed to load the bases for Geoff Jenkins, who strolled to the plate with two outs. Geoff hit a long fly ball to Brant Brown in left field that looked like an easy out, but Brown dropped the ball and allowed three runs to score. Milwaukee won the game 8-7 and the Cubs eventually had to face the Giants in a one-game playoff for the chance to go to the postseason.
Top Hitter - 3B Jeff Cirillo
One of the most popular players in franchise history, Cirillo was in the prime of his career as the Brewers slogged through the 1998 season. In 694 plate appearances in '98, Jeff hit .321/.402/.445 with 14 home runs for an OPS+ of 123. He finished ninth in the league in hits (194), eighth in batting average, and was the league's best defensive third baseman as measured by total zone runs above average (16). He lead the Brewers with 5.9 WAR.
Worst Hitter - 1B Bob Hamelin
Hamelin signed with the Brewers as a free agent prior to the 1998 season, and it would prove to be the last big league contract he would ever sign. The 1994 AL Rookie of the Year with Kansas City, Hamelin was out of gas by age 30 in 1998 and posted only a .219/.295/.404 slash with 7 home runs in 167 plate appearances. His offense was bad but his defense was even worse, as he worth -5 runs in just 247.2 innings at first base. Hamelin's -0.8 WAR was the worst mark on the team that year and he was released after the season, never to appear in the big leagues again.
Top Pitcher - RHP Steve Woodard
A fifth round pick by Milwaukee in 1995, Woodard made his debut in '97 but became a regular in the rotation for the 1998 season at the age of 23. He pitched in 34 games and made 26 starts, posting a 4.18 ERA and 3.76 FIP in 165.2 innings pitched. Woodard demonstrated terrific control that season, posting a 135:33 strikeout to walk ratio and allowed just 4.7% of hitters to reach via free pass. He finished with a 10-12 record and joined Scott Karl as the only pitchers to post double-digit win totals for the Brewers in 1998. Woodard lead Brewers' pitchers with 1.6 WAR.
Worst Pitcher - RHP Paul Wagner
A Milwaukee native, Wagner spent parts of two seasons pitching for the Brewers in 1997-98 near the end of his eight year major league career. 1998 was by far his worst season. He pitched in 13 games and made nine starts, posting a 1-5 record with a 7.11 ERA and 5.87 FIP. In 55.2 innings pitched he walked nearly as many batters (31) as he struck out (37), and he allowed a whopping 10 home runs. His -1.3 WAR was the by far poorest mark among the pitching staff and the kicker is that he only pitched half the season in Milwaukee and was released on July 26th. Wagner failed to make it back to the big leagues in 1998 and appeared in three big league games for Cleveland in 1999 before hanging up his cleats.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference