Monday’s division championship-clinching victory over the hated Chicago Cubs at Wrigley is more than a win. It marks the turning of the page to a new chapter in Brewers history.
Seven years since the last trip to the postseason. Seven years since the last division title. 36 years since the last pennant and World Series. That stretch of 26 years between postseason appearances.
This franchise officially begins a new era today, one of relevance, of competitive baseball, of endearing itself to a city and state the way prior championship-caliber clubs have before. This state loves the 1982 team. Older generations still speak in reverential tones of the ’57 and ’58 Braves clubs. Of course, there’s Lombardi’s Packers, the 1971 Bucks, the 2015 Final Four ‘Make ’em Believe’ Badgers.
This team has the potential to, if they have not already, attach themselves to Wisconsin’s collective conscience. They also have the potential to go on and win the whole damn thing. At that point, winning and attaching are part and parcel.
The route they took to get to this point is improbable: eight straight victories, a Cardinals pinch runner eaten up by the Busch Stadium dirt, a baseball that Humpty Dumpty’d its way into Miller Park’s right field patio, Orlando Arcia heating up and erupting in the season’s ultimate game. Indeed, it is the kind of mojo a pennant winner needs in addition to simply being amongst the best baseball clubs in the world with two MVPs on its roster.
20 years ago, that was outright lunacy for Brewers fans. 10 years ago, that was a pipe dream as the club backed into October ball.
In vanquishing the Cubs and claiming the division–something predicted by a certain writer for a certain website–the Brewers have opened up the NL Central. It is no longer the North Siders and the punching bags. It is two elite clubs, plus two good clubs not that far away (and the Reds.) Moreover, where the Cubs have invested significant resources and depleted their farm system. Their window of contention may not be as open than it has been the past three seasons, unless ownership wants to go full old-school, buy everything elder Steinbrenner-style and run the risk of entering luxury tax hell. Based on the blueprint of upstart franchises–the Astros, Brewers, even the Yankees’ renaissance–they may want to think twice before giving Theo Epstein carte blanche. The successful roster is a both/and proposition: both developing the farm and making smart acquisitions, not either farm or free agency.
Let’s not get too far away from the lede, though: the Milwaukee Brewers are the top-seeded team in the National League. The path to the World Series necessarily goes through Milwaukee. And Milwaukee is now on Baseball’s radar, no mere outpost of small-market feel-good feels, but a club and city ready to take on all comers. The revival of the Brewers is in part the revival of southeastern Wisconsin.
Moreover, where the 2011 club was mismanaged and reached levels of success through unsustainable measures vis-à-vis mortgaging the farm and mostly inauspicious drafting, David Stearns and Mark Attanasio have built an organization both well-stocked and well-equipped to remain relevant and competitive for now and the near future.
Sal Bando cursed this club when he let Paul Molitor go, relegating him as merely a designated hitter and letting him walk. That designated hitter went on to attain milestones and championships elsewhere and that messy divorce kept players at arm’s length from the organization. Molitor was jettisoned after 1992; Yount retired after the ’93 season. In the intervening period, the big free agent signing was Jeffrey Hammonds.
Those were not the good old days.
Brewers fans going apoplectic over Stearns trading for Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain is a sign of rehabilitation. This division title is the sign of full recovery.
Whatever happens next, the slate has been wiped clean. The Milwaukee Brewers are now able to write a new story on a blank page.
Brent Sirvio is a co-founder of Bronx to Bushville.
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