Just one day after the Milwaukee Brewers’ 2017 season ended, so too did the life of iconic rock legend Tom Petty. Professional music and baseball have an incredible amount of similarities and parallels. Both require natural talent, insane work ethic, drive for improvement and learning, longevity, and adaptability.
Petty didn’t have any connection to the Brewers like Eddie Vedder’s love for the Chicago Cubs or the playing of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. But he did have a connection to the city of Milwaukee - no musician headlined the amphitheater at Summerfest more than Petty’s 15 times, including twice during this year’s festival. He also does have the line, “I’m the king of Milwaukee!” in his song “Honey Bee.”
Everyone can relate to at least one Petty classic. No matter age, geography, musical taste, or lyrical knowledge, you can find a song - a story - to connect with, in part because he was so successful for nearly half a century.
I’m one of the many who share an absolute passion about both the Milwaukee Brewers and Tom Petty. Sometimes it’s hard to explain the feeling (neither really care or love you back), but there’s a pure, innocent, childlike appreciation and awe of the talented performance art each delves in.
Recognizing that the end of a team’s season pales in comparison to the end of a man’s life, it’s the metaphor that bring them together - much like in a song. So with that small connection, and the sad fates of each this past week, I realized there truly is a Petty song for just about everyone and every situation - even the 2017 Milwaukee Brewers.
“Only a Broken Heart” - Brewers lose 7-6, eliminating them from playoff eligibility
This one is pretty self explanatory. It hurt when they coughed up a 6-0 lead as they clung to that remaining glimmer of hope to reach the postseason. It took a little time to get over it - and the end of another season - but in the end, we’ll all be back, despite the heartbreak.
“Runnin’ Down a Dream” - Manny Pina
The 30-year-old Pina nearly gave up baseball in 2014, but kept pushing toward his dream. He made the Opening Day roster for the first time, called his mom and she started crying. Pina persevered, then played a vital role in the Brewers’ push. His game-winning Mother’s Day homer was dreamlike and unforgettable.
“Free Fallin’” - Wily Peralta
He started as a hot prospect with “great stuff,” promise in 2014 and an Opening Day start in 2016. This year, he moved to the bullpen, was DFA’d to Triple-A , and now he’s no longer with the franchise. Quite the free fall for Peralta.
“American Girl” - Travis Shaw
Shaw clearly is the female here, but his infant daughter Ryann represents this one. Her fight through multiple heart surgeries, coupled with Shaw’s incredible poise and focus through it all (31 HR, 101 RBI, .862 OPS), both speak to the idea of American spirit, dreaming for more, and fighting for what you want.
“Learning to Fly” - Chase Anderson
Talk about a guy who took off, seemingly out of nowhere. Anderson became the Brewers best, most consistent starter in 2017 in a 2.74 ERA and 1.09 WHIP. This learning curve, however, began at the end of last July. Since then, Anderson has a 2.69 ERA in 37 starts. That is an ace-like number, and remember, he eked his way into the rotation.
“Don’t Come Around Here No More” - Matt Garza
He had some solid stretches, but 98% of Brewers fans don’t ever want to see Garza representing Milwaukee again. With a 6.59 ERA and opponents owning an .890 OPS in the second half, Garza’s name created anger. Even he sees the writing on the wall. He’ll be a free agent this winter, but has stated that retirement may be the way to go.
“I Need to Know” - Jonathan Villar
Among the multitude of things the Brewers need to know this offseason, figuring out Villar’s actual value is a sizable task. Is he closer to the 2016 version (.369 OBP, .826 OPS, 62 stolen bases) or the 2017 hot mess (.293 OBP, .665 OPS)? If he’s somewhere in-between, the Brewers certainly would still look at other options.
“Yer So Bad” - Neftali Feliz
Simple enough. Feliz was a huge part of the Brewers’ bullpen woes early in the year. He was just so bad. Brought in to close games, he had an even 6.00 ERA and five losses by June 2nd. In his final 13 appearances with the Brewers, Feliz owned a 7.30 ERA while allowing a ridiculous .973 OPS to the opposition. Thank goodness for Corey Knebel.
“It’s Good to Be King” - Corey Knebel
Speaking of Knebel, he took over the 9th-inning throne and ruled with an iron fist. He tied Craig Kimbrel for the most strikeouts by a reliever with 126 by whiffing 14.92 batters per nine innings. Knebel also finished 4th in fWAR for relievers, and in the words of Petty in this song, fans would “get a feeling of peace at the end of the day.”
“Refugee” - Eric Thames
Thames fits in a couple ways. For one, he came over from a foreign country looking for a home. He found it, contributing quite well overall (31 HR, .877 OPS). Thames also was persecuted like a refugee, given constant “random” drug tests during his amazing April (1.276 OPS) as he set club records for the opening month with 11 HR and 28 runs.
“You Wreck Me” - Domingo Santana
The 25-year-old had an incredible season (.371 OBP, .875 OPS, 30 HR). He looks like everything you could want in a right fielder (great arm included). Except, he frustrates you terribly with his poor fielding, aloof running, and ugly at-bats in key spots (e.g. bases loaded, 1 out vs. Cubs). It can just wreck you, but with Santana, “tonight we ride, right or wrong.”
“I Won’t Back Down” - Josh Hader
Doubters got a tall glass of Haderade from the electric lefty. Thrown into a new role in the bullpen during a postseason push, Hader was a lights out weapon (2.08 ERA, 12.8 K/9). Not only was he dominant, he didn’t back down from MLB’s best, whiffing Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, Ginacarlo Stanton, and Joey Votto in big situations.
“Don’t Do Me Like That” - Jimmy Nelson
It may have been Nelson’s inability to slide that sank the Brewers. Though they would sweep the Cubs that weekend, Nelson’s season-ending injury put the rotation in chaos mode. The worst part of it all, is that he got hurt running the bases. Petty said, “you better watch your step, or you’re gonna get hurt yourself.” Ugh, don’t do me like that.
“You Don’t Know How It Feels” - Hernan Perez
Perez is a unique, versatile player who truly loves the game. He also doesn’t have a home when it comes to a position on the diamond. Perez is a mostly rare bird who players can’t relate to. He has played every position - except catcher. It’s not for lack of effort, but Craig Counsell wouldn’t pull the trigger even after Perez and Eric Sogard committed “mutiny” on the final day of the season.
“Crawling Back to You” - Keon Broxton
He’s been one of the streakiest players on the club, creating a love-hate perspective on him. Over the last two seasons, he has been in and out of lineup for sizable stretches and sent down multiple times to just be brought up again. Brewers’ staff and fans keep coming back, though, because the tools are always worth another try.
“Hard on Me” - Jacob Barnes
With a 10.0 K/9 rate, an upper-90s fastball, and an often-nasty slider/cutter, Barnes sure makes it difficult on himself and the fans. You’d think a guy with his electric stuff would be lights out, challenging hitters without worry. Walking 4.1 batters per nine innings makes the late innings hard on me - er, him.
“Even the Losers” - Chicago Cubs win four-game series and NL Central
The “Lovable Losers” broke the curse last season, and the Brewers had them sweating throughout 2017. In that huge series in Milwaukee, the Cubs enjoyed plenty of luck on batted balls and strange plays. What can you say other than, “Baby even the losers get lucky sometimes. Even the losers have a little bit of pride.”
“Last Dance With Mary Jane” - Bob Uecker
There have been some rumors swirling that Mr. Baseball could be calling it a career. If so, the Brewers did their best to give him one last dance, “one more time to kill the pain” of all the losing. Ueck tried to follow the mantra of “you never slow down, you never get old,” but he has already scaled back and you can’t stop the clock.
“Time to Move On” - Neil Walker
GM David Stearns made a shrewd move bringing in Walker for the stretch run. He was as advertised as a solid hitter, giving the lineup a much-needed boost the final six weeks. His grand slam against the Miami Marlins was one of the best moments of the season. With all that said, it appears he has eyes elsewhere and it’s time to move on.
“You Got Lucky” - Brett Phillips
It’s not entirely fair to call Phillips’ late-season success “luck,” but he was the fortunate beneficiary of two things: 1) Lewis Brinson’s poor MLB production and injury; and 2) the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) on the team. With the typical high end of BABIP at .320, Phillips’ .408 BABIP in 2017 was quite magical.
“Into the Great Wide Open” - Orlando Arcia
Like Eddie in Petty’s song, Arcia “always played from the heart,” which sometimes pushes him to great heights, while other times sabotages his work. He had an encouraging year with a .731 OPS and a 1.8 fWAR (18th among MLB shortstops). You can see the talent, but has to keep developing, as “the sky was (is) the limit.”
“Breakdown” - Zach Davies
This is quite literal for Davis as you could look at a breakdown of his year in two halves - one awful, one terrific. In Davies’ first 15 starts, he had a 5.40 ERA with batters posting an .882 OPS. Over the final 18 starts of 2017, Davies was fantastic with a 2.87 ERA and a .657 OPS against. He even had the 6th-best ERA- (66) in the second half.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” - Milwaukee Brewers franchise
With only four postseason appearances in 48 seasons and just 16 winning seasons in that span, Brewers fans have been loyal to a fault. This hasn’t been a franchise full of positive finishes. Even when the Crew has better years, it seems like their hearts still get dragged in dirt. As one of those fans, “I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
“A Face in the Crowd” - Eric Sogard
Embracing the “Nerd Power” mantra as he wears glasses on the diamond, you probably wouldn’t recognize Sogard if he was just “out in the street walking around.” At 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, Sogard truly would appear as just a face in the crowd. Many tend to latch on to a player like him, seeing a “regular-sized person” like them in the big leagues.
“Don’t Fade on Me” - Ryan Braun
One could look at this from a 2017 perspective or his career. Over his final 10 games of the season, when the Brewers needed him most, Braun hit .186 with a .501 OPS. He was struggling with a wrist injury, which certainly played a role. But with the Brewers potentially on the verge of competing again, one hopes he doesn’t continue to fade.
“The Waiting” - Another long offseason...
With the close of the 2017 campaign, it means another slow, cold wait through the Wisconsin fall and winter without Brewers’ baseball. It’s amazing how quickly a 162-game season appears to go when it suddenly ends...and it’s the worst, because:
“The waiting is the hardest part.”
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference