It’s 2005. The outlook for the Milwaukee Brewers has been bleak for a long time - the franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992 and hasn’t been to the playoffs since another 10 years before that. Even after the opening of a new stadium in 2001 (and the addition of the five-county stadium tax that’s still being paid by taxpayers to this day), patrons were rewarded with a 106 loss team in the season immediately after. It’s no wonder that with the Brewers’ drought and the Packers’ successes during those years that many say that the state of Wisconsin essentially lost a whole generation of potential baseball fans.
On June 25th, 2005 however, things seemed to change all at once. The Brewers defeated the Twins that day by a score of 7-6, improving their record to 35-39. More important were the two players that powered Milwaukee to that win, and the changing of the guard that it helped signal.
Rickie Weeks' and Prince Fielder's first career homers
6/25/05 off Johan Santana (!) and Jesse Crain, respectively. The headline in the J-S the next day was "Young guns find range". Daron Sutton semi-famously intoned of Fielder's, "Career home run number one for the man who is Prince but will soon be king."Posted by Brew Crew Ball on Mittwoch, 16. Juli 2008
“Welcome to the future,” a young Adam McCalvy penned after the game.
Rookies Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks, the club’s first round picks in 2002 and 2003, had loudly announced their arrivals in the major leagues by clubbing their first career home runs in the same game. 2001 second-rounder JJ Hardy smashed a double that day as well as Milwaukee scored six runs off reigning AL Cy Young award winner Johan Santana.
Ryan Braun, the club’s first-round selection (fifth overall) in that month’s amateur draft, happened to be at Miller Park that day as well to be introduced as a Brewer after signing his first professional contract.
The Brewers would go on to win 81 games in 2005, ending their streak of losing seasons at 12. Over the next couple of seasons, Braun, Corey Hart, and Yovani Gallardo would join Fielder, Weeks, and Hardy and long-time ace Ben Sheets at the big league level to cement the core of drafted and developed talent that would push the Brewers back to relevancy.
Milwaukee’s first winning season under their youth movement came in 2007 and the club made the playoffs for the first time in 26 years in 2008 as a Wild Card. In 2011, after subtracting Hardy to bring in Carlos Gomez and adding homegrown catcher Jonathan Lucroy behind the dish, our local nine won a franchise-record 96 games en route to capturing the NL Central crown. Ryan Braun was named as the league’s most valuable player that season with Fielder finishing third in the voting. The club would win the NLDS over Arizona in dramatic fashion before falling to the division-rival and eventual World Series-winning Cardinals in the Championship Series.
Prince’s reserve control expired following that glorious 2011 run, and the small-market Brewers couldn’t compete with the 9 year, $214 mil contract he scored from the Tigers in free agency. His departure was the beginning of the end for the Brewers’ run of success with those core players.
The Brewers struggled mightily to replace Fielder’s presence at first base in the following seasons. Weeks, Hart, and Sheets dealt with injuries and diminished contributions before leaving via free agency. Ryan Braun, who signed a $105 mil extension to stay in Milwaukee until 2020, failed a PED test and was eventually suspended for 65 games in 2013. He is the last player to remain in Milwaukee from those vaunted Brewers lineups and is still a highly productive contributor, though the 32 year old has and continues to deal with a few nagging injuries.
"Go for it” trades for CC Sabathia in 2008 and Zack Greinke in 2010, along with underwhelming drafts at the end of Jack Zduriencik’s tenure as scouting director and the beginning of Bruce Seid’s took a toll on the farm system and the club was not able to produce star-caliber talent to adequately replace the key players that had departed.
Milwaukee managed winning seasons in 2012 and 2014, but the wheels came off during a 68 win season in 2015 that saw the firing of the manager and a transition from Doug Melvin to young Slingin’ David Stearns in the General Manager chair.
The Brewers have been open for the past year-plus about the fact that they are in rebuild mode, with the goal obviously being to accumulate a group of talented players reminiscent of the core that won the second-most games in the NL Central (821) over a ten-year period from 2005 though 2014.
I’m sure that both fans and those within organization are hoping for more than two playoff berths and one NLCS appearance from the Brewers’ next young core of talent. With the number one rated farm system in the game according to MLB Pipeline, expectations will surely be high for the baby Brewers that will filter up to Milwaukee over the next few seasons.
We can only hope that they’ll match the excitement that fans had for the future of their favorite team on June 25, 2005.