A little story. In what was supposed to be the final year of County Stadium, Rob Neyer and I went to Milwaukee to report on the old ballpark. As it turned out, the Milwaukee Brewers would play another year there due to construction delays, but what we found was a park in tatters and an organization that was a joke.
Behind home plate, there were box seats, but behind the box seats were a few rows of wooden bleachers that hadn't been painted in years. If you sat down wrong, you were likely to get a nice sliver of wood in your butt cheek. I talked to Brewers outfielder Jeromy Burnitz in front of a bat rack in the clubhouse that looked like an unfinished grade school art project.
These were Bud Selig's Brewers: too cheap to buy some paint. Burnitz mentioned how the players couldn't wait to get out of Dodge. The Brewers were a complete mess. Selig had blamed everything on small-market inequities, but this was a third-rate organization in deep debt trying to compete with teams that knew what they were doing. Rob and I found an old usher in the bowels of the stadium. The room where he handed out the day's usher uniforms was still crammed with stuff from the Milwaukee Braves, which was kind of cool but also meant the park hadn't been cleaned out in over 30 years. Bud's Brewers.
This is what Doug Melvin stepped into when he became the general manager in September 2002. The team had lost 106 games that season, its 10th consecutive losing campaign. The Brewers hadn't made the postseason since 1982. The farm system was thin but did have a kid named Prince Fielder who had just hit .326 in his first year as a pro, plus Corey Hart and J.J. Hardy.
Melvin slowly built up the talent base. He tabbed Rickie Weeks in his first draft and selected Yovani Gallardo in the second round in 2004 (plus outfielder Lorenzo Cain in the 17th round). In 2005, he selected Ryan Braun and Michael Brantley; Brantley would become part of the CC Sabathia trade in 2008. The big lefty was dominant down the stretch as the Brewers won the wild card, although the Philadelphia Phillies knocked them off in the National League Division Series. In 2011, Melvin made a similar trade, acquiring Zack Greinke before the season for prospects, including Cain. The Brewers won a franchise-record 96 games before losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS.
The drafts hadn't been as successful in recent years, however, and last season's late collapse seemed to carry over into 2015. At the deadline, Melvin parted with Carlos Gomez, admitting that a rebuilding job was necessary. At 63, Melvin has decided to let somebody else do it, as he'll move into an advisory role. This is probably a good idea, as it will be several years before the Brewers can compete with the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs.
"I've been doing this for 20 years. My gut feeling tells me it's time to give [owner] Mark [Attanasio] the opportunity to look over the next generation of general managers," Melvin said.
Melvin didn't bring a World Series back to Milwaukee, but he did help reignite the baseball fever that had been tempered by the team's losing and Selig's opining about needing a new park. In the final year of County Stadium in 2000, the Brewers ranked 14th in the NL in attendance, averaging 19,437 per game. In 2008, 2009 and 2011, the club drew over 3 million fans each year, over 37,000 per game. Even this year, despite a 48-65 record, the Brewers rank fifth in the NL in attendance, averaging 32,008 per game.
That should be Melvin's legacy. It's a good one.
For more Brewers coverage, check out the Disciples of Uecker blog.