Rollie Fingers Talks About His Career in MLB and His Time as a Milwaukee Brewer

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Rollie Fingers had a fabulous career in Major League Baseball as a relief pitcher, as he was 114-118, with 341 saves and an ERA of 2.90. No. 34 was also a three-time World Series champion,  a World Series MVP, an American League MVP, an American League Cy Young Award winner, a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year. That all led to Fingers being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

I had a chance to talk with Fingers recently and we chatted about his career in MLB, as well as his time with the Milwaukee Brewers.

But it all started when Fingers was drafted by the Kansas City Athletics in December of 1964. The team moved to Oakland in 1968, which was the first year Fingers was in the majors, although he only pitched in one game. In 1969, Fingers was 6-7 with an ERA of 3.71, plus started eight games. Plus, Fingers also had 12 saves. 1969 was also the season when the baseball world started to notice the talent on the A’s, as the team won 88 games. In 1970, the A’s won 89 games and Fingers was 7-9 with an ERA of 3.65, plus started 19 games and had two saves.

It was during the 1971 season when Fingers went from being a starting pitcher to strictly a relief pitcher. Fingers talked about  how that all came together.

“I made the four-man rotation in ’71,” Fingers said. “About halfway through the season, I was put into the bullpen and long relief. As a starter, I had thrown a couple of shutouts, but I could never get in a rhythm where I could pitch more than five innings. Finally Dick Williams took me out of the starting rotation because I wasn’t getting anybody out.

“He started using me in mop-up games. I remember we were playing a game in New York and we were getting beat 11-3 and all of a sudden it’s the eighth inning and we were winning 13-11. And I was the only guy left in the bullpen. I pitched a couple of shutout innings and struck out a couple of guys. The next night I did the same thing. A day or two later, he brought me in the seventh inning and I got another save. Then he called me into his office and told me that from now on I would be his closer from the sixth inning on and to be ready.”

Fingers had 17 saves in 1971 and lowered his ERA to 2.99. But it was in 1972 when the Athletics became the rage in MLB with Fingers as their closer. It was the start of three straight World Series championships by the A’s, with Fingers being the World Series MVP in 1974.

Fingers talked about why the team meshed together so well.

“A lot of the guys came up through the minor leagues together,” Fingers said. “Myself, Joe Rudi, Dave Duncan, Vida Blue and Gene Tenace. We all played together in the minors and we all hit the majors at the same time. Plus the team already had some really good pitchers with Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odom and Kenny Holtzman. And Vida Blue had the great year in 1971 when he won the Cy Young and was also AL MVP.

“We just had a great pitching staff through those years. From 1969 though 1976, our team ERA was usually very good.”

Fingers was definitely correct. Here are the team ERA’s for the A’s from 1969 through 1976.

  • 1969- 3.71 ERA
  • 1970- 3.31 ERA
  • 1971- 3.05 ERA
  • 1972- 2.58 ERA
  • 1973- 3.29 ERA
  • 1974- 3.24 ERA
  • 1975- 3.27 ERA
  • 1976- 3.26 ERA

From 1971 through 1975, the A’s made it to the postseason five straight years and won three straight World Series titles. One of the big reasons why the A’s were so successful in the Fall Classic was because of the way Fingers performed. In the three World Series that Fingers participated in, he was 2-2 with and ERA of 1.35 in 16 appearances. In 33.1 innings, Fingers only allowed 25 hits, plus struck out 25 and had six saves. It was capped off in 1974 when No. 34 was named World Series MVP.

Rollie as an A

Fingers talked about why he was so successful in the World Series.

“It was because I learned how to pitch,” Fingers said. “When I first came into the majors I was just a thrower. But I studied guys like Catfish Hunter and Mudcat Grant who had pinpoint control. Catfish wasn’t overpowering, but he could hit a gnat in the ass with his control.

“By the time we started getting into the postseason in 1971, I had a pretty good idea as to how to pitch. I learned how to have good control, but I didn’t have a changeup then. I just threw hard at that time. But it was by watching Catfish and Mudcat pitch that really helped me develop as a pitcher.”

Although the A’s made the postseason again in 1975, things were changing. Hunter had moved on via free agency to play with the New York Yankees. And more moves were coming, as owner Charlie Finley just didn’t want to pay his talented players their fair market value. In 1976, Reggie Jackson and Ken Holtzman were traded to the Baltimore Orioles.

It was also during the 1976 season, when Blue was sold by Finley to the Yankees, while Fingers and Rudi were sold to the Boston Red Sox.

Fingers explained this surreal situation.

“We were playing Boston, as they had just come in for a three-game series,” Fingers said. “So I walked into the clubhouse and Frank Ciensczyk, our clubhouse guy, told me to grab my stuff out of my locker and he told me that Joe Rudi and I had been traded to the Red Sox. He said, ‘Yeah, Charlie sold you and Joe to the Red Sox.’ So I cleaned out my locker and said good bye to a few guys in the clubhouse and then went to the Red Sox clubhouse where I’m lockering next to [Carl] Yastrzemski. It was kind of crazy.

“Joe took it worse than I did, as I didn’t get along with Charlie that well anyhow. Anyway, going to Boston was great. Both of us were in uniform for three days, although neither of us played. I think Joe was hurt with a hand injury and although I got up a couple of times in the bullpen, I didn’t make an appearance.  It was in the third game of that series against Boston when [Commissioner] Bowie Kuhn nixed the deal and told Charlie that he couldn’t sell his players like cattle. Charlie went nuts. So Joe and I took out all of our shit in our lockers in the Boston clubhouse and went back to the Oakland clubhouse.

“The thing that was really crazy about the whole thing is that we didn’t play for two weeks. Charlie wouldn’t allow us in uniform. Neither Joe and I, plus Vida, who had to come back too, didn’t play for two weeks. So our team played two weeks with 22 guys. We got beat by Kansas City that year by 2.5 games and we lost six games in that period of time that we weren’t playing.”

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It was at that point when the team came as close to one can have in terms of a mutiny, as Fingers explains.

“We decided to have a team meeting,” Fingers said. “Minnesota had just come into town and we had this team meeting. We all voted and it was unanimous that we would not play that night. So Sal Bando goes into Chuck Tanner’s office and tells Chuck that he better call Charlie because we weren’t playing that night and we were going to forfeit the game because he wasn’t allowing the whole team to play. Which means that Charlie would have lost the gate for the game.

“So Chuck tells Charlie that he better play Rudi and put everyone back on the roster or the guys won’t play. Charlie said to Chuck that we couldn’t do that. And Chuck told him that we were doing it. He told Charlie that we were in the clubhouse with our street clothes on and were getting ready to walk out to the parking lot and get into our cars. That’s about 20 minutes before the game.

“After he finishes with Charlie, Chuck comes back in the clubhouse and read the lineup. He said, ‘Leading off, Bert Campaneris. Hitting second, Billy North. Batting third, Joe Rudi.’ We knew then that it was over with and we were back on the roster.”

After the 1976 season, Fingers left Oakland to play for the San Diego Padres via free agency. Fingers explained why he went elsewhere to play after spending so many years with the Athletics. In nine years with the Athletics in the regular season, Fingers was 67-61 with an ERA of 2.91 and 136 saves. In the postseason, Fingers was just lights-out for the A’s, especially during the World Series.

“I didn’t really want to leave,” Fingers said. “I don’t think anyone on our ballclub wanted to leave. We all wanted to stay together. But Charlie wouldn’t pay us. Free agency was getting started in baseball and basically Charlie let a championship team leave because of his stubbornness.

“San Diego was offering me the best contract. I wanted to stay in California, as I grew up in southern California. The Padres had a decent club, although they weren’t a first-division team. So I flew down and met with Ray Kroc and Buzzie Bavasi. At the time, I was making like $63,000 in Oakland. Ray and Buzzie said some nice things and that they wanted me on their club to be their closer.

“So I asked Buzzie what he was talking about in terms of a salary. And Buzzie says, ‘I’ll give you $250,000 a year for five years and a $500,000 signing bonus.’ I said, ‘Give me the pen!’ So I went from making $63,000 a year to $250,000 a year for five years, plus get a half a million for a signing bonus.  That’s what free agency did for the game of baseball.”

In four years with the Padres, Fingers was 34-40 with an ERA of 3.12 with 108 saves. It was also in his time with the Padres that Fingers added another important pitch to his repertoire.

Fingers explained.

“I didn’t even throw a changeup in my first nine years in the big leagues,” Fingers said. “I was slider, hard slider, sinking fastball and cut fastball.  I just rared back and let it go. But I had good control. But when I got to San Diego, I saw Randy Jones getting guys out with a ball going 78 mph and with his changeup going even slower. So we started talking and he told me that I should try picking up some sort of a changeup.

“The only thing I could come up with was the forkball. My hands weren’t real big, so I stuck a ball between index and middle finger and I spread them real far apart. I taped the baseball between my fingers to keep them apart. I did that everyday to stretch out those ligaments between those two fingers.

“It finally worked and I started throwing it. I would throw it hard and it would go about 10 mph slower than my fastball, but I still kept the same arm speed. It still looked to the hitter that it was a fastball coming in, which is what you wanted. Plus, the ball started sinking because of a lack of velocity and I got a lot more ground balls due to the pitch. So I used it a lot when I needed a double play ball.”

But at the end of his tenure in San Diego, Fingers couldn’t wait to go somewhere else. I was on December 8, 1980 when No. 34 was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Rollie as a Padre

Fingers remembers that moment.

“The winter meetings were in St. Louis that year,” Fingers said. “Whitey Herzog had me fly to St. Louis to meet with him. I only spent one day there. But at the same time, Whitey had acquired Bruce Sutter for the Cubs. So he had me and Bruce in the same bullpen. I knew that would be a bit crazy and I didn’t think it would work, as both of us needed a lot of work.

“So I get home after the winter meetings and I read in the newspaper that I had been traded by the Cardinals to the Milwaukee Brewers [on December 12]. That’s how I found out about it. No one called me. Bruce told me the same thing, as no one called him either. That’s how we found out.

“But it was a great deal for Milwaukee, as they needed three positions. They needed a closer, they needed a catcher [Ted Simmons] and they needed a starting pitcher [Pete Vuckovich] and they got all three in one deal. Plus, Vuckovich ended up winning the Cy Young the year after I did, so it really was a great deal for the Brewers.”

Plus, Fingers would now be playing with some normalcy, with general manager Harry Dalton running the front office and Bud Selig owning the team. It was a far cry from when Fingers played under Finley in Oakland.

Fingers compared Finley to Selig to me.

“Finley was definitely hands-on,” Fingers said. “He wanted to be involved in everything. He was always calling the manager up. He wanted to make changes in the lineup. He did all this from Chicago. He was constantly calling the dugout to talk to the manager. In fact, one time I went to get a drink of water at the water fountain which was near the phone and it rings. So I pick up the phone and go, ‘Hello Charlie?’ And a voice goes, ‘Who is this?’ And I go, ‘This is Fingers.’ And Charlie goes, ‘Don’t you ever answer the phone like that again!’ But that is why Dick Williams left. He couldn’t put up with Charlie, even after winning two straight World Series titles.”

I then mentioned how Selig would act during games when I would be in the mezzanine in front of the press box. I would see Selig pacing back and forth. Fingers recalled that as well.

“I would be standing on the mound and I would see Bud up there pacing,” Fingers said. “He would be pacing back and forth smoking a tiparillo cigar. He just couldn’t sit still, especially if the game was on the line.

“Bud very seldom came down to the dugout or the clubhouse. Every once in a while Bud would come down on the field and want to jump in the batting cage. But we really didn’t see a whole lot of him after ballgames. Bud was just a big baseball fan. He would have liked to have sat right behind the dugout with the fans. I enjoyed being around Bud. He’s a great guy. I’m glad he traded for me.”

The 1981 season was a magical one for both Fingers and the Brewers. The season was split into two parts due to a strike. The Brewers won the AL East in the second half of the season. It would mean that the Brewers would taste the postseason for the first time. It was also a great time for me personally, because that was the period in which I was covering the team.

Fingers was just magnificent. No. 34 was 6-3 with 28 saves and had a miniscule ERA of just 1.04. In 78 innings, Fingers gave up just 55 hits, while striking out 61. It’s no wonder that Fingers won the AL Cy Young Award that season, as well as being named AL MVP. Just like his old teammate Vida Blue had done 10 years earlier.

Fingers remembered that special season.

“That season my control was there and I got ahead of hitters,” Fingers said. “I also had great defense behind me. Robin Yount and Jim Gantner were a great double play combination. Paul Molitor was at 3rd and he could pick it. Cecil Cooper was very good. We just had a solid infield. Those four guys played like there were five guys out there. We also had pretty good speed in the outfield with Ben Oglivie in left, Gorman Thomas in center and Charlie Moore in right.

“I just felt comfortable, because I knew if I made a mistake, that offense of ours was going to come back and score some runs. So I didn’t have a lot of tension out there. It was just easier to pitch. I just had one of those years where everything went right. Nothing went wrong. I could come in with the bases loaded and give up three line drives and they would be hit right at guys. If I needed a double play ball, I got it. If I needed a strikeout, I got it. It was just one of those years where nothing went wrong.”

I was covering the October 3 game at County Stadium versus the Detroit Tigers when the Brewers clinched the AL East for the second half. I’ll never forget Ted Simmons running out to the mound and jumping up and hugging Fingers after the final out.

Fingers recalled that moment as well.

“Oh yeah. I didn’t realize how heavy Simba was,” Fingers said. “I was going to jump on him, but then I saw he was coming at me. He took a big leap and hugged me, but because there were four of five guys right there, that was the only reason I didn’t go down to the ground.”

Rollie and Simba

The Brewers took the Yankees to five games in the 1981 AL Division Series and Fingers won Game 3 and saved Game 4.

It was a great feeling for most of the players on the Brewers to finally play in the postseason. It was old hat to Fingers and Bando, plus Cooper was a member of the 1975 Red Sox who were in the World Series. Pitcher Randy Lerch was also on the Philadelphia Phillies in 1978 when they made it to the postseason. But for the rest of the squad, it was a new and great adventure.

Fingers concurred.

“Yes, it was great because most of the guys were kind of young,” Fingers said. “It’s always nice when you get in there for the first time. The next year the team made to the World Series. I remember Simmons coming up to me before Game 1 in St. Louis and he asked me how I felt playing in the World Series. I told him that it was just a game. I told him to pretend it was just a spring training game. Just relax.”

Simmons took the lesson well, as he hit two homers in the 1982 World Series.

Fingers also talked about Simmons as a catcher. No. 23 was known mostly for his hitting, but he did catch two back-to-back Cy Young Award winners in Milwaukee.

“Simba could stick down the right fingers,” Fingers said. “He was smart back there. There were times when I would shake him off and he would come back with the same signal. And I thought maybe he sees something with the hitter, maybe moving around the box, so he would call a certain pitch. Most of the time he was right.”

1982 was the year when the Brewers did make it all the way to the World Series. Milwaukee was floundering a bit early in the season and were just 23-24 when general manager Harry Dalton fired manager Buck Rodgers and hired Harvey Kuenn. The Brewers just took off under the leadership of Kuenn and went 72-43 under No. 32.

I recall that there was some discontent among some of the players regarding Rodgers and I asked Fingers about that situation.

“Everybody loved Harvey,” Fingers said. “Buck Rodgers never bothered me at all because I was sitting in the bullpen. The phone would ring and I would get up. I would come in and pitch. I didn’t have a lot of contact with Buck other than that. Harvey just kicked back and chewed tobacco and spit on the floor. He would just fill up the lineup card and tell the boys to go get ’em. The players were much more relaxed with him. I don’t know how the everyday players got along with Buck, as I was never in the dugout, but with Harvey, who had been around a while and all players liked him, it was just a matter of filling out the lineup card, chew some tobacco and watch the game.”

As the Brewers were heading down the stretch in the 1982 regular season, Dalton acquired pitcher Don Sutton in a trade on August 30. It was September 2, when Sutton would make his Milwaukee debut in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cleveland Indians at County Stadium. The first game was started by Moose Haas. The Brewers were nursing a 2-1 lead when Haas was first relieved by Dwight Bernard and then later Fingers. No. 34 pitched 1.1 innings and struck out three when he felt a pain in his elbow.

“I threw a pitch and it felt like a bee sting on my elbow,” Fingers said. “It was a real sharp pain. I kind of shook my arm a little bit because I didn’t know what it was. The next pitch really hurt. That’s when I called timeout and I asked Harvey to come out of the dugout. I told Harvey that something is wrong with my arm. Something with the elbow. So he took me out of the game. The team doctor looked at it and he thought it was just a strained muscle, but it was torn.”

Up to that point, Fingers was having another very solid year, as he was 5-6 with 29 saves and an ERA of 2.60. Unfortunately, that would be the last appearance for Fingers until 1984.

The Brewers could have certainly used him in the World Series, as the team lost two games with leads late in the contest. That occurred in both Game 2 and Game 7. The Cardinals had Bruce Sutter, while the Brewers had to rely on young Pete Ladd, who up to that point had done a nice job as the new closer for the Brewers. But Ladd was not Fingers and it showed in that Fall Classic.

Fingers would have liked an opportunity to pitch in the ’82 World Series, that’s for sure.

“Yes, there were a couple of games where I could have made a difference in had I been healthy,” Fingers said. “You never know, but I sure would have liked to have had a chance.”

Fingers missed all of the 1983 season due to his elbow injury and then came back in 1984 for the Brewers and was one of the bright spots on a team which went 67-94 under manager Rene Lachemann. Fingers was 1-2 with 23 saves and an ERA of 1.96. However, it was late in the year when Fingers injured his back.

“Yes, I hurt my back right around the first of September and had to have a back operation,” Fingers said. “That’s why I didn’t have as many innings pitched that year.”

In 1985, Fingers still had 17 saves, but his record was 1-6 and his ERA was 5.06. Fingers explained to me what the problem for him was in his final year with the Brewers and in the majors.

“I didn’t think [George] Bamberger was using me right,” Fingers said. “He would sit me down for sometimes two weeks before I would get in a game. You can’t go that long without pitching when you are a closer. Plus, there was an issue with my salary. They didn’t think I would make the club because of my back and my base salary was $200,000. But I also had a performance clause in the contract which meant every game I got in I would get an additional $20,000 for an appearance.

“Once we got to August and September and we weren’t in the pennant race, Bamberger just stopped pitching me. I didn’t pitch the last month of the season. They weren’t go to run me out there to get a save when it didn’t mean anything, plus they saved the $20,000. At the end of the season, I let Bamberger know how I felt about the way he managed me. They ended up releasing me.”

The ironic situation with that story is what I told Rollie about a conversation I had with Bambi in 1980. The Brewers were going through a stretch of games when the pitching staff had a number of complete games. In fact, the team had 48 complete games that year, which was second in the AL. Anyway, I asked Bambi why he didn’t utilize his bullpen that often in tight games.

Bambi told me, ‘Well, we don’t have f’ing Rollie Fingers. We have f’ing Reggie Cleveland.’ My guess is that Bamberger would have used Fingers early and often when the Brewers were pennant contenders while he was managing the team back then.

In his four years with the Brew Crew, Fingers was 13-17 with 97 saves and an ERA of 2.54.

The bottom line is that Fingers had a great time playing in Milwaukee with the Brewers. One of the reasons was because of the guy who called games in the radio booth, Bob Uecker.

“Ueck was great,” Fingers said. “Ueck had been on the field. He knows baseball because he’s been a player. So when you listen to Bob Uecker calling a ballgame, he could call it like a ballplayer.

“Plus, Ueck is a comedian. You can be listening to a 10-0 game and you would still be listening to him in the ninth inning because he is so entertaining. Ueck is a great announcer and have been friends with him for years, ever since I first met him. Plus, he’s still at it!”

Uecker is now in the National Baseball Hall of Fame (as a broadcaster). As is Selig. Plus there are four players who played with Fingers in Milwaukee who have also been inducted at Cooperstown. I’m talking about Sutton, Yount, Molitor and now Simmons.

And so is obviously Fingers. No. 34 has had his uniform number retired by both the Athletics and Brewers. Fingers is also in the Athletics Hall of Fame and the Miller Park Walk of Fame. Fingers was just the second relief pitcher ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The first was Hoyt Wilhelm.

341 saves will get you to Cooperstown, not to mention winning an AL Cy Young Award and being an AL MVP. Plus, Fingers was on three World Series champion teams, in which he was the World Series MVP in 1974. A World Series ERA of 1.35 in 16 appearances doesn’t hurt either.

When Fingers was playing, he was known as a “money pitcher” when he was on the mound. Not so much because of his salary, but because he seemed to have ice in his veins in clutch situations like the World Series.

That’s why him not being able to play in the 1982 World Series will always be a sad memory for Brewer Nation.


Wisconsin is Currently Going Through a Great Era in Pro Sports


2019 was a pretty good year for the state of Wisconsin in terms of professional sports.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who had a 60-22 record, made it all the way to the Eastern Conference finals before they were beaten by the eventual NBA champions, the Toronto Raptors.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who were 89-73, made it to the MLB postseason for the second consecutive year, before they were beaten by the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals in the National League Wild Card round.

The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North with a 13-3 record in 2019, plus made it all the way to the 2019 NFC Championship Game before they were beaten by the San Francisco 49ers, who then lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

All in all, I would say that pro sports in Wisconsin was pretty, pretty good in 2019.

In fact, only once before in the history of professional sports in Wisconsin, have the Bucks, Brewers and Packers all played in the postseason at the same time. That was in 1982.

Sidney Moncrief

In the 1981-82 season, the Bucks won the NBA Central Division under head coach Don Nelson with a 55-27 record. The Bucks later lost to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The Bucks were a very balanced team that had seven players average double digits in points per game. They were Sidney Moncrief (19.8 ppg), Marques Johnson (16.5 ppg), Brian Winters (15.9 ppg), Bob Lanier (13.5 ppg), Mickey Johnson (12.9 ppg), Quinn Buckner (12.9 ppg) and Junior Bridgeman (12.5 ppg).

The Brewers made it to the postseason for the second year in a row after narrowly winning the AL East with a 95-67 record behind the leadership of manager Harvey Kuenn. Not to mention the play of MVP shortstop Robin Yount and Cy Young award winner Pete Vuckovich.

Seeing as I was covering the Brewers back in those days, really made this is fantastic experience for me personally.

In the final series of the 1982 season, Milwaukee went into Baltimore with a three-game lead with four games to play.

Milwaukee made Brewer Nation very nervous, as the Brewers lost the first three games of the series. That meant the winner on Sunday would win the AL East. That game pitted Jim Palmer versus Don Sutton, who the Brewers had traded for late in the 1982 season.

Once again it was No. 19 who led the way. Yount was three for four, scored four runs and had two homers, as the Brew Crew won 10-2.

Robin Yount in 1982 postseason

That meant the Brewers would be facing the California Angels in the ALCS. Just to be even more dramatic, the Brewers lost the first two games of a best-of-five series in Anaheim. But the Brewers stormed back to win the next three in Milwaukee to earn a trip to their first World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Brewers dominated Game 1 in St. Louis, as they blew away the Cards 10-0. Paul Molitor had five hits, while Yount had four. Mike Caldwell pitched a complete game, three-hit shutout.

The season-ending arm injury that Rollie Fingers suffered in September hurt the Brewers in the rest of the series. If the Brewers had the services of No. 34, the Brewers probably win the series. Milwaukee lost late leads in both Game 2 and Game 7. Bottom line, the Cardinals won it all, with ex-Brewer Darrell Porter winning the series MVP.

The Packers made it to the postseason in 1982 for the first time since 1972, when the team finished 5-3-1 in a strike-shortened season behind head coach Bart Starr.

Green Bay was ranked sixth in the NFL in total offense. Quarterback Lynn Dickey had a dynamic wide receiver tandem to work with in James Lofton and John Jefferson, plus had a very productive tight end to pass to as well in Paul Coffman.

The Packers also had two talented running backs in Eddie Lee Ivory and Gerry Ellis.

On the other side of the ball, the Packers were ranked 11th in total defense. Linebacker John Anderson led the Packers in interceptions with three, while Ezra Johnson led the team in sacks (5.5).

James Lofton and John Jefferson

In the 1982 NFC playoffs, the Packers won their first postseason game at Lambeau Field since the “Ice Bowl” game in 1967 by beating the St. Louis Cardinals 41-16, as Jefferson caught two touchdown passes, while Lofton had one.

The following week the Packers lost to the Dallas Cowboys 37-26 at Texas Stadium.

In 2020, things look promising again for the Bucks, Brewers and Packers.

The Bucks are having a record-setting year and now have a 47-8 record. Milwaukee has a chance to better the record of the 1970-71 team which had a 66-16 record and won the NBA title.

The current Bucks team is led by 2018-19 NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who looks like he will win his second straight MVP. The “Greek Freak” is averaging 30 points per game and has had 40 double-doubles (points and rebounds) this year. In addition to that, No. 34 has also had four triple-doubles (points, rebounds and assists).

The Bucks have a very balanced team under head coach Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks lead the NBA in scoring by averaging 119.7 points per game, plus lead the NBA in rebounding as well, as Milwaukee averages 51.8 rebounds per game.

There is plenty of talent on the Bucks even when Antetokounmpo is on the bench or doesn’t play. I’m talking about players such as Kris Middleton (20.9 ppg), Eric Bledsoe (15.7 ppg), Brook Lopez (10.8 ppg), George Hill (9.6 ppg), Donte DiVincenzo (9.2), Wesley Matthews (7.5 ppg) and Ersan IIyasova (7.3 ppg).

The Bucks also have a very deep bench and can play the matchup game with players like Kyle Korver (6.4 ppg), Robin Lopez (5.3 ppg), Sterling Brown (5.2 ppg), Pat Connaughton (4.8 ppg) and have recently added Marvin Williams (4.5 ppg) to their roster.

Giannis II

I like the chances of the Bucks to bring back their second NBA title to Milwaukee in 49 years.

The Brewers have had a number of roster changes going into the 2020 season, but the team still will be led by Christian Yelich, who narrowly missed winning his second straight NL MVP award in 2019. No. 22 probably would have won it if not for a knee injury which ended his season in early September.

The Brewers also have one of the best managers in the game in Craig Counsell, plus have a general manager in David Stearns who has one of the sharpest eyes in searching for talent in MLB.

While the Brewers saw players like Mike Moustaskas, Yasmani Grandal, Zach Davies, Gio Gonzalez, Drew Pomeranz. Jordan Lyles, Eric Thames, Jimmy Nelson, Junior Guerra and Travis Shaw all leave the team via trade or free agency, the Brew Crew has added some very intriguing talent to the team the same way.

The starting rotation of the Brewers has three new additions going into the 2020 season, as LHP Brett Anderson (free agency), LHP Eric Lauer (trade) and RHP Josh Lindblom (free agency) will get every opportunity to hold down a starting role for the pitching staff.

RHP Brandon Woodruff is the No. 1 starter on the staff, while RHP Adrian Hauser or RHP Freddie Peralta look to be the fifth starter.

In terms of the relief pitching, LHP Josh Hader will welcome the addition of RHP Corey Knebel, who missed all of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. When he is right, Knebel is sometimes unhittable and he and Hader would be a great one-two combination late in the game.

The rest of the bullpen will have LHP Brent Suter, LHP Alex Claudio, RHP Ray Black, RHP David Phelps, RHP Devin Williams and RHP Corbin Burnes, who is hoping for a season like he had in 2018 and not the nightmare year he had in 2019.

The catching corp lost Grandal, but the Brewers did sign slugger Omar Narvaez (22 homers in 2019 for Seattle) to team with Manny Piña.

The infield in 2020 will have unbelievable depth and very versatile players manning down the positions. The only everyday starter looks to be 2B Keston Hiura.

At 1B, Ryan Braun looks to get some time playing there along with Justin Smoak, who is a switch-hitter.

At the SS position, Counsell has a number of options. Orlando Arcia will have to beat off the competition if he wants to remain a starter, as the Brewers traded for a young talented player in Luis Urias, plus have veterans like Eric Sogard and Brock Holt who they signed in free agency to play there as well.

At 3B, Holt, Sogard and Urias can all play the hot corner, plus the Brewers also have Jedd Gyorko and Ryan Healy to get some opportunity there as well.

In terms of playing the matchup game, both Holt and Sogard hit from the left side of the plate.

Christian Yelich II

The outfield situation will change up somewhat in 2020, as Braun will not get as much playing time out there, as the Brewers signed Avisail Garcia in free agency to get the majority of time in the outfield, along with Yelich and CF Lorenzo Cain.

Ben Gamel will come off the bench like he did in 2019, plus Holt can also play the corner outfield positions. Corey Ray will get an opportunity to make the roster, plus the Brewers brought back Keon Broxton, who can play any outfield position with defensive prowess, plus has some nice pop in his bat.

The NL Central looks to be the best division in the National league this year, as the Cincinnati Reds look much improved, plus the St. Louis Cardinals are always tough. One can’t sleep on the Chicago Cubs either, even without manager Joe Madden.

Time will tell what the Brewers will do in 2020 with all their new additions, but I wouldn’t put it past Counsell and Stearns to go to the postseason for a third consecutive year.

The Packers have some holes to fill, even with the 13-3 record they had in 2019. We will find out what moves the team will make this offseason, as free agency begins in March, plus the NFL draft will take place starting on April 23.

Speaking of the NFL draft, I’ll be doing my first mock draft after the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine is over.

Currently, the Packers have almost $24 million in cap space going into free agency. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have a number of options available to him, but he wants to hold off on any decisions until the combine is over and the CBA situation is settled.

On offense, the Packers need to add another bookend to Davante Adams at wide receiver, plus need to shore up the situation at right tackle. Both Bryan Bulaga and Jared Veldheer are free agents. The Packers would be very happy to re-sign both of them if at all possible, plus add another RT in the draft.

Even with the great season running back Aaron Jones had in 2019 (1,558 total yards and 19 touchdowns), both he and Jamaal Williams will be free agents after the 2020 season. The Packers are aware of that heading into the draft, which is why they will most likely select another RB, perhaps early in the draft.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

And even with Aaron Rodgers having another nice season in 2019 (26 TD passes, four interceptions and 4,002 passing yards), the Packers are aware of No. 12’s injury history, plus they know he is 36 and not getting any younger.

The Packers like backup QB Tim Boyle, but if the right QB is there for the taking in the draft, I could see Gutekunst selecting that player early in the draft. Plus, I would not be shocked if the Packers took at look at free agent QB Marcus Mariota, who played under head coach Matt LaFleur in Tennessee when LaFleur was the offensive coordinator there in 2018.

On defense, the Packers have to get the Front 7 of their defense better in playing the run, plus the linebacker speed has to improve in pass coverage. Which is why I would not be surprised if the Packers do not re-sign Blake Martinez. No. 50 has been a tackling machine, there is no doubt about that, but his lack of speed has hurt him, both in stopping the run and covering receivers.

I could see Gutekunst adding a faster free agent linebacker to play on the inside to replace Martinez, plus add another linebacker or two in the draft.

The addition of the “Smith Brothers” was huge for the defense of the Packers in 2019, as both La’Darius and Preston had big years. Gutekunst will try and add some more talent like that to the D via free agency, although it depends on the player and his price tag.

The Packers also know the cornerback Kevin King will also be a free agent after the 2020 season, plus are aware of his shoulder issues since he came into the NFL, so I would expect the Packers to draft a CB in the draft for sure.

One never knows what will occur for a NFL team in terms of injuries, but if the Packers stay as injury-free as they were for most of the 2019 season, I like LaFleur’s team to get to the postseason again in 2020.

Bottom line, no matter what, 2020 will be an exciting year for professional sports teams in Wisconsin and if it’s anywhere near what happened in 2019 and 1982, fans from the Badger state will be quite pleased.

Plus, in addition to that, the professional teams in Wisconsin all have fabulous venues to play in front of their fans. The Bucks have Fiserv Forum, the Brewers have Miller Park (American Family Field in 2021) and the Packers have Lambeau Field.

All the better for viewing sports in the postseason.

Milwaukee Brewers: Another Wallbanger (Ted Simmons) in the Hall of Fame

Ted Simmons

The Milwaukee Brewers did something in 2019 that only one other Milwaukee team did in their history, which began in 1970. That is, going to the postseason for two years in a row.

Yes, the 2018 and 2019 Brewers accomplished what the 1981 and 1982 Brewers did, except the ’82 Milwaukee club made it all the way to the World Series.

I was fortunate to cover the Brewers in the early ’80s and they were a fun group to interact with. Not only that, but the team had five very talented players on the club who would later make it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

They were relief pitcher Rollie Fingers (inducted in 1992), starting pitcher Don Sutton (inducted in 1998), shortstop Robin Yount (inducted in 1999), third baseman Paul Molitor (inducted in 2004) and as of yesterday, catcher Ted Simmons (will be inducted in 2020).

In addition to all that, the owner of the team, Bud Selig, would later become a member of the Hall of Fame (inducted in 2017), while broadcaster Bob Uecker also won the Ford C. Frick Award from the Hall of Fame in 2003.

I was able to interview Fingers, Sutton, Yount, Molitor and Simmons on a number of occasions, while I also interviewed “Mr. Baseball” (Uecker), plus actually had a job interview with Selig for close to an hour, as I was looking to broaden my work in the media.

It was an exciting time in my life.

I covered the Brewers for four seasons and probably interviewed Yount and Molitor more than any other players. But I also was able to talk with Fingers, Simmons and Sutton after they became Brewers.

There were shock waves sent across the MLB world on December 12, 1980, when general manager Harry Dalton and GM/manager Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals consummated a huge trade.

The Brewers sent the Cardinals pitcher Lary Sorenson, picther Dave LaPoint, outfielder Sixto Lezcano and outfielder David Green, while the Cards sent back Fingers, Simmons and Pete Vuckovich.

To say the least, that trade netted the Brewers a lot in terms of what they they were able to do over the next two years, as they made it to the postseason in both 1981 and 1982.

In 1981, Fingers was magnificent, as he was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA, which led the Brewers to the second-half AL East title in the strike-shortened season. That performance garnered Fingers the AL MVP award, as well as the Cy Young honor in the AL.

When the Brewers beat the Detroit Tigers to clinch the second-half title, I’ll never forget the embrace by Fingers and Simmons after the final pitch.

Rollie and Ted

Vuckovich was 14-4 (3.55 ERA) in ’81, while Simmons was productive at the plate, hitting 14 homers and 61 RBIs, while only hitting .216, which was a far cry from his usual batting average over the course of his career with the Cardinals.

The second-half crown in the AL East meant that the Brewers would play the New York Yankees in the postseason, as New York had won the AL East in the first-half of the season.

The Brewers lost the first two games at home to the Yanks, but proceeded to win the next two at the old Yankee Stadium. The Brewers ended up losing Game 5 to the Yanks, but at least the team got an opportunity to taste the postseason.

In 1982, it was Vuckovich’s time to win the Cy Young, as he was 18-6 (3.34 ERA). Simmons had a much better batting average (.269), while hitting 23 homers and driving in 97 runs.

Fingers was great once again in ’82, as he had five wins and 29 saves. But an arm injury ended his season in early September. To me, that injury is why the Brewers didn’t win the 1982 World Series against the Cards, as the Brewers blew two late leads in Game 2 and Game 7.

In ’82, the Brew Crew was truly led by Yount, who was American League MVP, as No. 19 hit .331, with 29 homers and 114 RBIs.

In 1983, Fingers missed the entire season due to his arm injury suffered the year before, while Vuckovich missed almost the entire season due to a rotator cuff tear.

Simmons, meanwhile, had the best season he ever had in Milwaukee, as he hit 13 homers, drove in 108 runs and hit .308.

Even with all the injuries that the Brewers had in 1983, the team was still in first place in late August before a 10-game losing streak sunk their season.

1981 and 1982 were the only postseasons that Simmons ever participated in his MLB career. “Simba”, as he was nicknamed, was up with the Cardinals in 1968 for a cup of coffee, but did not make their postseason roster.

In 13 years with the Cards, Simmons hit 172 homers, drove in 929 runs and hit .298. Simmons was never in the class of Johnny Bench as a defensive catcher when he was with the Cardinals, but he did lead the NL twice in throwing out runners attempting to steal.

In five years with the Brew Crew, Simmons hit 66 homers, drove in 394 runs and hit .262. No. 23 also hit three postseason homers for the Brewers, including two in the 1982 World Series against his old team.

Ted Simmons World Series

Defensively with the Brewers, Simmons led all AL catchers in fielding percentage (.995) in 1982.

After the 1985 season, Simmons was traded to the Atlanta Braves, where he spent the last three years of his career.

Overall in his MLB career, Simmons hit 248 homers, drove in 1,389 runs and hit .285. Simba was also an All-Star eight times, including twice as a Brewer. I recall interviewing Simmons at the All-Star game at old Comiskey Park in Chicago in 1983. Simmons loved being there, but he was more pleased to be joined by his teammates Yount, Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie, plus to have his manager, Harvey Kuenn, there as well.

The AL won that All-Star game 13-3, which was the first time the AL had won the game since 1971.

When interviewing Simmons, the one thing I distinctly remember was how cerebral he was in talking about catching a ball game. Obviously, his rapport with the pitching staff led to two straight postseasons and two straight Cy Young Award winners.

I also remember interviewing rookie catcher Bill Schroeder (currently the color commentator for the Brewers on TV) in 1983 and one of things he mentioned was all the knowledge he was soaking in because of the insight Simmons was giving him.

Yes, there is no doubt that Simmons was a leader on those very successful Brewer teams of the early ’80s.

Simmons was also a hell of a ballplayer as well, and that has been cemented for all time, as Simba is now a Hall of Famer, just like Fingers, Sutton, Yount and Molitor.

Milwaukee Brewers: Deja Vu, Just Like in ’82?

Brewers Celebrate Winning the 1982 ALCS

It’s been 36 years, but the Milwaukee Brewers are hoping it will be a case of deja vu when they take on the Los Angeles Dodgers at Miller Park to close out the 2018 NLCS. The Brew Crew lost two of three games at Dodger Stadium to go down three games to two in their seven-game series.

The Brewers of 1982, better known as Harvey’s Wallbangers, lost the first two games of a five-game series in Anaheim to the California Angels in the ALCS before returning home to Milwaukee County Stadium and winning three straight and punching a ticket to the World Series.

The 2018 Brewers have the same task as the ’82 Brewers. Just win, baby!

Otherwise it’s lose and pack up the cars and go home.

Unlike the ’82 Brewers who had to win three straight games to advance to their first ever Fall Classic, this year’s Milwaukee team needs to win just two.

Call it a California closeout.

In 1982, when the Brewers traveled to Anaheim to take on the Angels after winning the AL East on the last game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles, things did not go well for Milwaukee in SoCal.

The Brew Crew lost Game 1 by a score of 8-3 and then lost Game 2 by a score of 4-2. That meant that the Brewers could not lose at County Stadium. They had to win all three games at home to get to the World Series.

In Game 3, on a Friday afternoon, behind a great pitching effort by veteran Don Sutton, the Brewers beat the Angels 5-3, as Pete Ladd closed out the game to get a save.

In Game 4, the Brewers beat the Angels 9-5, as the star of the game was Mark Brouhard, as he had three hits (including a homer), scored four runs and had three RBIs. Moose Haas got the win and Jim Slaton got the save in another afternoon contest.

That set up Game 5 on Sunday.

But before I get to that game, I want to point out an encounter I had with Rod Carew earlier in the year when I was in the Angel clubhouse. I saw Carew and I went up to him and introduced myself politely and asked him for a quick interview.

At that point, Carew did not utter a word and just stared at me. The stare probably lasted about a half of a minute, although it seemed a hell of a lot longer to me. Then Carew just walked away. I was shocked and I’m sure it showed.

Thankfully Bobby Grich of the Angels quickly came up to me and told me that Carew never talks to the media and that it wasn’t personal. When Grich told me that, he put his arm around my shoulder and was just as nice as he could be. Not only that, but he also did an interview with me. Anyway, I never forgot that great gesture by Grich.

Which takes me to Peter Ladd. I formed a pretty nice relationship with Ladd after he was brought up late in the season to help the bullpen. Pete always had time for me. He also became the closer for the Brewers after Rollie Fingers suffered a season-ending arm injury in September.

Ladd saved three games down the stretch for the Brewers in 1982. He would go on to save 25 games in 1983, as Fingers missed the entire ’83 season due to his arm injury (Tommy John surgery).

I wanted to bring up those circumstances before I set up the ending to Game 5. The Brewers started Pete Vuckovich (1982 Cy Young award winner), but he scuffled like he did towards the end of the season and into the postseason. Vuckovich was pitching through a shoulder injury we would find out later.

The Brewers fell behind 3-2 in the game before they scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh, as Cecil Cooper singled home Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner. The Brewers had a precarious 4-3 lead.

Which brings up the drama in the ninth inning between Ladd and Carew. The Angels were able to get the tying run on second base, when Ladd needed to get two outs. No. 27 first got Brian Downing to ground out to 3B Paul Molitor and then enticed Carew to hit a one-hopper to SS Robin Yount to end the game.

I thought the ending was very apropos based on my interactions with both Carew and Ladd.

It should also be noted that Yount only hit .250 in the series against the Angels. No. 19 would later win the AL MVP honor, as he hit .331 with 29 homers and 114 RBIs.

Yount played up to his MVP status in the World Series however, as he hit .414, with one homer and six RBIs.

Dodgers vs. Brewers in 2018 NLCS

Which brings me to the NLCS, where now the 2018 Brewers can not lose another game in this series. They need to win both Game 6 and Game 7 to get to their second ever World Series.

Milwaukee needs another SoCal shutdown, just like the 1982 Brewers accomplished.

I believe it can happen as well.

It’s going to come down to good pitching and clutch hitting. The pitching has been very good for the Brewers for the most part in their matchup against the Dodgers. But the clutch hitting failed the team in both Game 4 and Game 5.

That has to change in Game 6 and Game 7.

The Brewers, who are about $90 million dollars below the payroll of the Dodgers, need to hit better at the top and middle of the lineup.

Clean up hitter Jesús Aguilar has been really struggling this postseason, although he got a hit in the ninth inning of Game 5. All in all, Aguilar is hitting just .172 this postseason, which includes 10 strikeouts. The big guy does have two homers though.

You might see manager Craig Counsell move Aguilar to the fifth spot in the order and hit Travis Shaw at clean up. Shaw is hitting .307 this postseason, with one homer and two RBIs. Shaw at least is seeing the ball better, even against lefthanders, as his home run came against Alex Wood.

The soon to be NL MVP, Christian Yelich, is hitting just .200 in the postseason, but I believe that will change. Still, No. 22 has been able to get 10 walks, which has allowed him to score five runs this postseason.

The guy who sets the table in the Milwaukee order, Lorenzo Cain, is starting to get into a groove. Cain hit only .083 in the Colorado series, but is hitting .250 in the series with the Dodgers. I see him continuing to hit the ball hard.

So if Cain (10-38-.308) and Yelich (36-110-.326) can basically do what they did in the regular season and get on base and be difference makers, that sets things up quite well.

The No. 3 hitter, Ryan Braun, is continuing to do what he did in the last week or two of the regular season, as he’s hitting .312 in the postseason.

If the top of the lineup can start making noise like it did did in the regular season, the Brewers will be in great shape in Game 6 and Game 7.

The middle of the order has had it’s issues, specifically Aguilar. 3B Mike Moustakas had a great series against the Rockies (.364), but is only hitting .095 against the Dodgers. That has to change. I believe it will.

The bottom of the order has been fabulous. Both catchers are hitting the ball well. Manny Piña is hitting .429 this postseason with five walks, while Erik Kratz is hitting .316 this postseason, but has struggled a bit in the series against LA, after hitting .625 versus the Rockies.

SS Orlando Arcia has had a stellar postseason, as he has three homers and is hitting .296.

The pitchers are getting their share of knocks as well. Brandon Woodruff hit a monster homer off of Clayton Kershaw, while Wade Miley had two hits in Game 2.

The Brew Crew just needs to get more consistent at the plate and drive in runs when the situation arises. I see that happening.

The Brewers are also in good shape pitching in Game 6 and Game 7. Miley gets the start in Game 6 and he has really pitched well against Los Angeles in 2018, both in the regular season and postseason (see Game 2).

If the Brewers can win Game 6, then they can put out staff ace Jhoulys Chacin, who is 2-0 this postseason, with an ERA of 0.00. No. 45 pitched 5.1 innings against the Dodgers in Game 3 at Dodger Stadium, as the Brewers won 4-0.

Things are also setting up well for the bullpen, as both Josh Hader and Corey Knebel will be well rested going into Game 6. Jeremy Jeffress is struggling a bit, but Counsell will not hesitate to use him if it is warranted.

The best case scenario is for the Brewers to get a relatively easy win against lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu in Game 6 and rest the main guys in the bullpen.

That way, Hader and and Knebel can finish out Game 7 when the Brewers will be most likely facing rookie Walker Buehler.

Josh Hader

Hader has been absolutely fabulous this postseason, as he has pitched seven innings and given up just four hits and struck out 12. Did I mention his ERA is 0.00?

Knebel has been almost as good, as he has pitched 7.2 innings this postseason, allowed only two hits, has 11 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.17.

Bottom line, I can see the Brewers of 2018 duplicating what the Brewers of 1982 did. That would be recovering from a tough trip to the west coast and coming home and taking care of business.

It would be really apropos if Manny Machado made the final out. If not him, David Freese would be appropriate as well.