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.


Why Bret Saberhagen Deserves Consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame

Bret Saberhagen II

Anybody who has read my work over the years, know that I have promoted a number of former NFL players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Most notably among that group of players was Jerry Kramer, and he indeed was enshrined in Canton in 2018. I first started writing about Kramer’s omission from his rightful place in the Hall of Fame over 30 years ago.

And it was through my association with Kramer over the years which led me to new friendships with people like his former teammate with the Green Bay Packers, Don Horn. One of the reasons I got to know Horn was because of his background in stem cell therapy and it was Kramer who first got Horn interested in that subject matter.

It was through Horn that I got to know Kandace Saberhagen, who was the president of Premier Stem Cell Institute, where Horn was a liaison to former NFL players who could utilize stem cell therapy to help them recover from shoulder, knee and hip injuries that they had suffered in the past.

I wrote a four-part series about stem cell therapy back in August of 2016 and have remained friends with Kandace ever since. Which takes me back full circle, as like with Kramer and other NFL players who I promoted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame (like Class of 2020 member Bobby Dillon), I also believe Kandace’s husband Bret Saberhagen deserves consideration for the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

There are just 21 multiple winners of the Cy Young Award in MLB history, and Saberhagen is one of them, as Bret won his first in 1985 and his second in 1989 as a member of the Kansas City Royals.

Saberhagen was also named World Series MVP in 1985, as his Royals defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in seven games. Saberhagen was 2-0 (including a shutout) in that World Series and had a sparkling 0.50 ERA, plus gave up just 11 hits in 18 innings. No. 31 also had 10 strikeouts and gave up only one walk.

If one looks at Saberhagen’s career stats, his numbers are quite good. He was 167-117 with a career ERA of 3.34, which adds up to a .588 winning percentage, which is better than a lot of pitchers in the Hall of Fame. There are 80 pitchers in the Hall of Fame and Saberhagen has a better winning percentage than 38 of those pitchers.

The career ERA of 3.34 is also good, as he pitched in the American League for 11 of the 16 seasons he played in baseball. The American League has the DH, unlike the National League.

A number of the years when Saberhagen pitched were marred by injuries, which will be addressed later in the story. In fact, Saberhagen was actually in MLB for 18 years, but two full years were lost because of injury.

Saberhagen was also a three-time All-Star, plus won a Gold Glove and also won the ERA title in 1989 when he won his second Cy Young Award.

From 1985 through 1989, there wasn’t a better pitcher in the American League, as Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards, won 82 games and lost 50 and had an overall ERA of 3.27.

When one looks at the 167 wins that Saberhagen had in his career, there are three other starting pitchers in the Hall of Fame that have similar win totals. I’m talking about Sandy Koufax, Dizzy Dean and Lefty Gomez.

Sandy Koufax

Koufax was 165-87 in his career with the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers with a career ERA 0f 2.76. No. 32 also won three Cy Young Awards, won a National League MVP , was a World Series MVP twice, a seven-time All-Star, a three-time triple crown (wins, ERA and strikeouts) winner and was a five-time ERA leader.

Dean was 150-83 in his career with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs and had a career ERA 0f 3.04. Dean was a National League MVP in 1934 when he won 30 games. There was no Cy Young Award then. Dean was also a four-time All-Star.

Gomez was 189-102 with the New York Yankees and Washington Senators with a career era of 3.34. Gomez was a seven-time All-Star, won two triple crowns and was a two-time ERA leader.

When I was promoting Kramer for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of the things I put out there were the many endorsements from Hall of Fame players that Kramer received in his career before he was inducted. None were bigger than the three he received from Merlin Olsen, Alex Karras and Bart Starr.

Likewise, I wanted to talk with three Hall of Fame baseball players about Saberhagen. The three I talked to were Larry Walker, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers. I never had talked with Walker before, but I did interview Yount and Fingers a few times when I covered the Milwaukee Brewers from 1980 through 1983.

Larry Walker

Walker briefly played against Saberhagen when he was a member of the Montreal Expos and Saberhagen was pitching for the New York Mets. Walker talked about what it was like facing Saberhagen.

“When you look at Bret on the mound, he sort of reminded me of Pedro Martinez,” Walker said. “Not very intimidating. He’s not a mean looking guy. Not big or strong looking. But with both of those guys, once the ball leaves their hands, they definitely become intimidating.

“The life on Bret’s fastball is something I’ll always remember. Similar to Dwight Gooden and David Cone, as his fastball could buckle your knees at times and make you shake your head. I remember the first time I faced him and it was almost like his ball was rising as it came to the plate. Plus he had a sharp curveball and they were just nasty pitches. You were hoping that he wasn’t on that day, so maybe you could scrape out a hit.”

Very humble words from Walker, who once hit over .360 for three consecutive years when he was with the Colorado Rockies, plus won three batting titles and was a five-time All-Star. A superb fielder as well, as he also won seven Gold Glove honors. That all led to Walker being named to the Class of 2020 for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons.

Walker also loved being teammates with Saberhagen when both played for the Rockies.

“Bret was as solid as one could be. A guy you love in the clubhouse,” Walker said. “He was always talking and communicating. And that’s a good thing, because it’s rare too, but pitchers normally don’t jell that well with position players, but Bret did.”

Although Walker just recently was named to be a member of the Hall of Fame, he talked about why Saberhagen also should be considered.

“You know, Bret won two Cy Young’s and a was a World Series MVP. He has that definitely going for him,” Walker said. “It’s a fine line. I think he only had a few people vote for him the last time he was on the ballot, which is ridiculous. There are a bunch of players who I think belong, but you kind of shake your head in disbelief that they don’t get more respect from the voters. I know his win total isn’t as high as some of the voters would like, but injuries put a little damper on his career.

“I’m glad that you are promoting Bret. Hopefully you can help open some eyes. You never know. If it (the Hall of Fame) could happen for me, it can happen for anyone.”

Robin in 1982 World Series

When Yount played, he and Saberhagen were considered two of the best players in the American League and in all of baseball. Yount was the AL MVP in both 1982 and 1989. Saberhagen won the Cy Young Award in 1985 and 1989. Saberhagen was also World Series MVP in 1985 and Yount probably would have been in 1982, had the Brewers defeated the Cardinals in that World Series. Yount hit .414 in that World Series and if Fingers (out with an elbow injury) had been available to pitch, the odds were pretty good that the Brewers would have won that Fall Classic.

Yount faced Saberhagen many times in his career.

“I certainly remember his high, hard fastball and his sharp curve,” Yount said. “Those two pitches were outstanding and they turned out to be good enough to win him two Cy Young’s and a World Series MVP. To me back at that time, Bret was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.

“I also remember that we played high school baseball in the same area of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley area. We sort of grew up in the same type of baseball atmosphere.

“Doing what you are doing in promoting Bret is what it takes. I’ve been part of the Modern Baseball Committee for the Hall of Fame a couple of times and we get to discuss and vote on ten nominees who have been presented to our committee. That is how Ted [Simmons] got in.

“Being a two-time Cy Young winner and being a World Series MVP like Bret was, it’s hard to believe he was taken off the Hall of Fame ballot after one year due to lack of votes. Hopefully he can be a nominee on one of the Hall of Fame’s committees so his accomplishments in baseball can be discussed by the members of that particular committee.”

The Hall of Fame has four Era Committees which vote on 10 candidates in each committee for selection into getting a plaque in Cooperstown. The four Era Committees are Early Baseball (Prior To 1950), Golden Days (1950-1969), Modern Baseball (1970-1987) and Today’s Game (1988 To Present).

Saberhagen is characterized as to belonging to the Today’s Game Committee, as the bulk of his career was played from 1988 to present. The Today’s Game Committee has 16 members, which will be a mixture of Hall of Fame players, MLB executives and writers. The list of 10 candidates for each committee is put together by the Historical Overview Committee.

The Historical Overview Committee is comprised of 11 veteran historians: Bob Elliott (Canadian Baseball Network), Jim Henneman (formerly Baltimore Sun), Steve Hirdt (Elias Sports Bureau), Rick Hummel (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Bill Madden (formerly New York Daily News), Jack O’Connell (BBWAA), Jim Reeves (formerly Fort Worth Star-Telegram), Tracy Ringolsby (, Glenn Schwarz (formerly San Francisco Chronicle), Dave Van Dyck (formerly Chicago Tribune) and Mark Whicker (Southern California News Group).

The Today’s Game Committee will meet again in December of 2021 to discuss who might get inclusion in the Class of 2022.

Rollie in 1981

I also had the opportunity to talk with Fingers about Saberhagen. They both have a couple things in common. Both have been World Series MVP’s and both have won at least one Cy Young Award.

Although Fingers started out his career as a starter like Saberhagen, he eventually became one of the best closers in the history of the game, as he ended up with 341 saves. Fingers retired after the 1985 season, which also happened to be the year that Saberhagen won his first Cy Young and was the World Series MVP as well.

“I remember Bret, as I was with with the Brewers in ’84 and ’85 when he first got started in baseball,” Fingers said. “I remember that he threw really hard. I’m glad I never had to face him because we had the DH, but I know that in his first five or six years he was with the Royals, he was the cat’s meow in the American League, winning a couple of Cy Young Awards and also being the MVP of the ’85 series.

“Bret had some great years. Now he only won 167 games, but he had a pretty good winning percentage at .588. Plus he had 76 complete games, which is not bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Nowadays in baseball, if you had 76 complete games in total for pitchers over two years, that’s considered good.

“Looking at Bret, obviously winning two Cy Young’s and being a World Series MVP is very good. He was also a three-time All-Star. Two more All-Star appearances might have helped his cause.”

Ironically, in 1985 and 1989, the two years he won the Cy Young Award, Saberhagen was not named an All-Star, which is unbelievable.

Fingers continued talking about the stats of Saberhagen.

“A lifetime ERA of 3.34 is pretty good. So is over 2,500 innings pitched. Having only 167 wins will go against him a bit.  But Sandy Koufax is in the Hall of Fame with less wins (165) than that, but he also won three Cy Young’s and struck out the world when he played. But all in all, Bret had a great career in baseball.”

Fingers was on the top of his game in 1982 when he suffered an elbow injury in early September which cost him the rest of the season and all of the 1983 season. At the time of his injury, Fingers was the defending Cy Young Award winner, as well as the defending AL MVP.

Likewise, injuries have hurt Saberhagen throughout his career in baseball, which definitely curtailed some of the stats he might have put up in the big leagues. Saberhagen and I talked about that and much more when we recently talked about his baseball career.

It was at a fairly young age when Saberhagen thought he had a chance to maybe get to the big show.

“I think I was pitching in high school when scouts were coming around,” Saberhagen said. “I never imagined that I would have the career I ended up having though. I was pretty much throwing just fastballs and curveballs back then.”

But it was when Saberhagen developed a great changeup which really set his career in baseball upward.

“In high school, I was trying to come up with an offspeed pitch. I was trying the knuckleball, but nothing really clicked. But in the minors when I was in AA ball, Tony Ferreira showed me how to hold the baseball to basically throw a screwball. I held my fingers down on each one of the seams and pulled down with my index finger and I was able to control that with a different velocity. That’s what really made a huge difference with my repertoire. Without that pitch, I probably wouldn’t have had the career I did.”

Saberhagen got off to a quick start in the majors, as he made the Royals out of AA ball in 1984 and won 10 games as a rookie with a 3.48 ERA. Things really took off in 1985, when he won the Cy Young Award with a 20-6 record and an ERA of 2.87. Plus he led his team to the World Series title, as he was the MVP of that series.

Saberhagen didn’t do it alone though and he wanted to make sure that the guys who were catching him got a lot of credit.

“The guys who caught me were very knowledgeable and had been around. In 1985, Jim Sundberg caught me and we are talking about a guy who caught a number of no-hitters from Nolan Ryan. With a guy like Jim, he knows what pitches to throw depending on the situation in the game.  I very seldom shook him off.

“I had four guys who I really enjoyed throwing to. There was Jim, Bob Boone, Charlie O’Brien and Jason Varitek. With all four of those guys, if I shook off those guys five times in a game, that would probably be the max. And if you are not shaking off, you get into a nice rhythm and groove.”

Saberhagen was definitely in a groove in 1985 when he won his first Cy Young Award and then really made a name for himself in the 1985 World Series.

“It was funny in the 1985 postseason, as I had struggled against the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS, who I always seemed to struggle against,” Saberhagen said. “My mindset in the World Series was to get my shit together.”

And indeed, Saberhagen sure as hell did. With the Royal down two games to zero in the series, Saberhagen was faced with a must-win start in Game 3 at Busch Stadium. And No. 31 delivered big time, as the Royals beat the Cardinals 6-1, as he pitched a complete game and allowed just six hits, while he struck out eight and walked just one.

The Royals extended the series to Game 7, when Saberhagen got his second start of the series. This time the game was played at home at Royals Stadium. Saberhagen was again magnificent, as he pitched another complete game, but this time it was a shutout, as the Royals won 11-0 and had their first World Series title. Saberhagen allowed just five hits, as he struck out two and walked nobody.

Because of his performance in the series, Saberhagen was named the MVP.

When I was a kid, I always dreamed about playing in a Game 7 in the World Series and being the hero. I know that is the same dream with many kids who grow up loving baseball. Saberhagen accomplished that goal and it had to be just a fantastic feeling.

“Winning Game 7 of the World Series was my biggest thrill for sure.” Saberhagen said. “Second would be pitching a no-hitter and third would be starting an All-Star game.”

Bret Saberhagen in 1989

Saberhagen remained one of the very top pitchers in the American League for the next four years, which culminated when he won his second Cy Young Award in 1989. That season Saberhagen was just nasty on the mound, as he was 23-6 with an ERA of just 2.16. He also had 12 complete games and four shutouts. In addition, Saberhagen allowed just 209 hits in 262.1 innings.

No wonder he won another Cy Young!

Some shoulder woes affected Saberhagen in 1990, as he was just 5-9 with an ERA of 3.27, but he was named to the All-Star team and got the win in that game. In 1991, Saberhagen bounced back and was 13-8 with an ERA of 3.07.

In 1992, Saberhagen was traded to the New York Mets. In three and a half seasons with the Mets, Saberhagen was 29-21 with an ERA of 3.16. His best year was in 1994, when he went 14-4 with an ERA of 2.74 and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. The most amazing aspect of that season for Saberhagen was his 11-1 strikeout to walk ratio.

At the trade deadline in 1995, Saberhagen was traded to the Colorado Rockies and went 2-1 in three starts.

“Unfortunately, I only pitched three healthy games with the Rockies,” Saberhagen said. “After my third start, the next day we traveled to Pittsburgh and we did our stretching and I went out to warm up and the first throw I made felt like a bomb blew up in my shoulder. The team did a MRI which said the shoulder was fine and just needed some clean up after the season was over.

“Needless to say, it would take me over a half hour to get loose before a ball game and my curveball was not there anymore either. It was tough to throw the changeup and my fastball was all over the place. I ended up getting two more shots of cortisone and I was living on anti-inflammatories throughout that season. I finally had surgery that offseason and the surgery was performed by Dr. Altchek by the Mets. I was put under, but I wasn’t completely out because he wanted to talk with me during the procedure.

“So when he went in, he asked me what happened and I explained. And then he told me that everything in my shoulder was gone. He said that my supraspinatus, infraspinatus and other muscles were all torn. He told me that he wasn’t going to do reconstructive surgery at that point, but that it would probably have to be done later. He just fixed it as best as possible so I could pitch the next year. But by May next year in 1996, my shoulder was still killing me and I did have reconstructive surgery and I missed all of the ’96 season.

“One of the things that I think about is the fact that I was injured quite a bit and if there was one thing in my career that I would like to change, it would be being healthy a lot more. I had a big league uniform on for 18 seasons and I missed two of those seasons completely due to injury, plus had a number of other seasons cut short due to injury.”

In 1997, Saberhagen signed with the Boston Red Sox as a free agent. In five years with the Red Sox, Saberhagen’s point about being injured often is illustrated quite clearly. In 1996, Saberhagen only pitched in six games and in 2001, only pitched in three games due to shoulder woes. Plus, he missed all of the 2000 season.

But in the two years that Saberhagen was able to pitch, he looked a lot like the old Saberhagen, as he was 25-14 in 1998 and 1999 combined with a cumulative ERA of 3.46 for the Sox. He also struck out 181 hitters and walked just 41 (one intentional).

Looking back on his injury woes, Saberhagen reflected.

“Sometimes when you have a MRI, it misses things that are issues,”Saberhagen said. “But back then, that’s what we were working with. And you did what you had to do to get back on the mound. You got your shots of cortisone and lived on anti-inflammatories. That was just the way we were programed. You just had to what you could to get back out there.”

National Baseball Hall of Fame

The bottom line is that when healthy, Saberhagen was one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and his two Cy Young Awards and his World Series MVP bear that out. Saberhagen certainly deserves to be nominated to be one of the 10 players discussed by the Today’s Game Committee in the fall of 2021 to debate if he warrants a plaque in Cooperstown.

The 16 people on that committee can make that determination, but at the very least, Saberhagen deserves the opportunity have his name put back into the discussion about being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Milwaukee Brewers: Some Memorable Interviews From Back in the Day

Simba, Rollie and Robin

We are currently living in a very difficult time, as we seem to be living out an episode of the Twilight Zone in the COVID-19 environment. The loss of life has been unimaginable and the arduous process still continues, although there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel.

Obviously our lives have been altered over the past couple of months. For those of of us who love sports, it’s been unfathomable to not see the NBA and NHL postseason in full bloom, especially when one supports the Milwaukee Bucks and the Tampa Bay Lightning like I do. Both teams are among the favorites, especially the Bucks, to win their respective league titles.

Had things been normal, we would be in the heart of the playoffs for both of those leagues right now. In addition to that, two other things that I really look forward to this year have also been missed. I’m talking about March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) and the Masters in golf.

By the way, ESPN in a simulation, had the Wisconsin Badgers winning the NCAA title this year.

We also would be in the second month of the MLB season right now. This is the time of the year when my baseball juices really get going. By June and July, I’m going full-throttle towards baseball.

Come August, the postseason picture is starting to take shape and it gets really exciting. So does the fact that training camp to the NFL gets going around that time and I always get excited around that time, as I love going to watch the Green Bay Packers practice at Ray Nitschke Field. Because of the recent NFL draft, some in the media are building up a soap opera, as Aaron Rodgers had a déjà vu moment when the Packers selected Jordan Love late in the first round. Personally, I don’t see that situation being near as flammable as some in the media believe it is.

But back to baseball now. I’ve been reflecting on the great time I had covering the Milwaukee Brewers from 1980 through 1983. It was a fantastic time for me, as I was basically the same age as many of the players and it was easy to have access to them and the managers.

In those four years covering the Brew Crew, I interviewed just about everyone associated with the team. People like George Bamberger, Buck Rodgers, Harvey Kuenn, Harry Dalton, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Sal Bando, Don Sutton, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie, Jim Gantner and Cecil Cooper. I also interviewed “Mr. Baseball”, Bob Uecker.

Speaking of Robin, I recently chatted with him about an upcoming story I’m doing on Bret Saberhagen. I also will be doing another piece on the 50th anniversary of the Brewers in Milwaukee and Yount will be adding some commentary.

I never interviewed owner Bud Selig, but I did have a one hour job interview with him once inside his office in the bowels of County Stadium as I was looking to broaden my future in the media.

In those four years, I had a number of very memorable incidents in the course of interviewing people which were unforgettable, at least for me. I’m going to write about four of them here.

Reggie Jackson

One occurred when Reggie Jackson of the New York Yankees hit the game-winning homer for the Yanks versus the Brewers at County Stadium. I was an intern at WTMJ (Channel 4) at the time and was working with Mike Hegan that night. I called the studio from the press box after the game and Mike wanted to make sure that I interviewed Reggie so we could get it on the 10:00 sports show.

So I go into the clubhouse of the Yankees and I see Reggie talking to a New York sportswriter. I waited until they finished their conversation when I went up to Jackson and introduced myself and asked for a quick interview. Reggie just looked at me and says, “Get the F out of here kid!” I was totally shocked. That had never happened to me before. I mean sometimes some players on the Brewers didn’t want to do an interview on a particular day, but they were always very cordial.

Anyway, I scurried away from Reggie and called Mike from the clubhouse and told him what happened. Mike told me that I should tell Reggie that I’m working him, as they used to be teammates on the Oakland A’s. So like a good little soldier, I approached Reggie again and I told him that I was working with his old teammate Hegan and that he would really appreciate an interview. Reggie agreed.

So when the camera lights came on and I conducted the interview, Reggie acted like he and I were buddies, as he smiled and laughed and gave me a fantastic interview. When the interview was over, I thanked Reggie and he looked at me and then said with a grin, “Now get the F out of here!”

But I was happy and so was Mike, as we were able to run that interview on the sports on Channel 4 later that night.

Another time the Brewers were playing the California Angels and after the game I went into the Angel clubhouse to do a few interviews. One of the first people I saw was Rod Carew. I once again introduced myself and asked Rod for an interview. Carew didn’t say a thing and just glared at me for about a minute and then just walked away. Needless to say, I was shocked once again. I just stood there for a moment in total disbelief.

But Bobby Grich of the Angels came to my rescue. He came up to me and put his arm around me and said that Rod doesn’t do interviews and he treats just about everyone in the media like that. To help out even further, Grich agreed to do an interview with me, as I talked to him and Brian Downing.

Talking and interviewing players was an awesome experience for me. So was doing that with managers. Two of my favorite interviews were with Ralph Houk of the Boston Red Sox and Sparky Anderson of the Detroit Tigers. Two of the all-time greats.

In terms of the managers of the Brewers, I loved interviewing Bamberger who always had time for me. Just before we would do the interview, Bambi would be cussing like a sailor talking about this or that, but once the interview started, he was on his best behavior.

Whitey and Harvey II

Rodgers always gave me time as well, as did Kuenn. But there was one incident with Harvey that I’ll never forget. One time our cameraman was late getting to County Stadium and so I wasn’t able to do some of the pre-game interviews that I liked to do. Finally he shows up with about a half hour before game time. I see Harvey and asked him for a quick interview. Kuenn read me the riot act about asking him for an interview so close to game time.

Harvey had to see the pained look on my face as I walked away. I was just about ready to head to the press box for the game when there was a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Harvey with a chaw of tobacco in his cheek. He said to me as he smiled, “Let’s do that interview kid, but make it quick!”

Speaking of managers, I was covering the 1983 MLB All-Star game at old Comiskey Park in Chicago. Talk about a great time. The Brewers were represented by Yount, Cooper, Oglive and Simmons in the game, plus Kuenn was the manager for the American League team.

The opposing manager was Whitey Herzog of the St. Louis Cardinals. So I see Whitey talking with one of his coaches in the game, Tommy Lasorda of the Los Angeles Dodgers. So I approach them and introduce myself and ask for an interview. They said sure.

But the interview quickly became a Joe Pesci parody, as F bombs were flying from every direction as Herzog and Lasorda answered my questions. When they were finished, Lasorda asked me what I thought of the interview. I told him that it was great. It would never get on the air, but the folks at the studio will love it! Herzog then looks at Lasorda while smiling and says, “Let’s give the kid a real interview.” And they did!

Those are just some of the interview stories that I will never forget covering baseball back in the day.

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: Josh Hader is a Throwback to Rollie Fingers

Josh Hader II

In terms of throwing the baseball, Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers is quite different from former Brewers great Rollie Fingers as a relief pitcher.

Hader is a lefty and he throws primarily fastballs in the mid-to-high 90s. The right handed Fingers used an assortment of pitches, but the slider was his number one pitch, as his fastball topped off in the low 90s.

Fingers also threw the change up effectively, plus later in his career utilized the forkball as a very useful pitch, especially when I was covering the Brewers during his time in Milwaukee.

Hader, on the other hand, relies almost exclusively on bringing the gas. His pitching motion to the plate also hides the ball really well to hitters. In one of his five saves thus far in 2019, Hader pitched a perfect inning, when he threw nine pitches and recorded three strikeouts. Only one of those nine pitches hit a bat, while the other eight were swing and misses.

But there is definitely one area in which Hader does resemble how Fingers used to finish ball games when he was considered one of the top closers in MLB. That is going multiple innings in getting a save. Like going two-plus innings to record one.

Just to illustrate at how good Fingers was at getting saves over multiple innings, just check out how many times No. 34 did that in his career. Fingers had 114 wins and 341 saves over his career with the Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers on his way to Cooperstown. Fingers also posted a career ERA of 2.90.

But of those 341 saves, Fingers posted 74 of them by getting at least seven outs. That mark is second all-time in MLB history, only behind Hoyt Wilhelm, who recorded that feat 76 times.

Rollie Fingers

Hader has done that a number of times already over his short time in the big leagues. This past Sunday, Hader went 2.2 innings to get his fifth save of the season against the Chicago Cubs, as the Brewers upped their season record to 8-2, which is tops in the NL Central.

Besides going multiple innings at times to record saves, Hader and Fingers have a couple of other similarities. Both were acquired by the Brewers in trades and both were originally starting pitchers.

Fingers was acquired in a blockbuster 1980 offseason trade with the St. Louis Cardinals which also brought catcher Ted Simmons and starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich to Milwaukee. GM Harry Dalton had to give up starting pitcher Lary Sorenson, outfielder Sixto Lezcano, pitcher Dave LaPoint and outfielder David Green to get the talented trio.

The trade was well worth it, as the Brewers made to to the postseason for two consecutive years, plus Fingers was named the MVP of the American League in 1981, plus won the Cy Young Award that year.

Vuckovich won that same award in 1982 when Harvey’s Wallbangers went to the World Series. Unfortunately, Fingers was not able to pitch in the 1982 postseason. More on that later.

Fingers was also an All-Star in 1981 and 1982, while Simmons had the honor in 1981 and 1983.

Hader was also brought to Milwaukee in a blockbuster trade. Midway through the 2015 season, the Brewers sent outfielder Carlos Gómez and pitcher Mike Fiers to the Houston Astros for Hader, outfielder Domingo Santana, pitcher Adrian Houser and outfielder Brett Phillips.

In terms of being starting pitchers early in their careers, Fingers actually made 37 starts for the A’s before becoming a full-time relief pitcher. Hader was also a starter in the minors, including his time in the Milwaukee system, before he got the call up to the big club. At that point, manager Craig Counsell decided it was best to utilize Hader in the pen.

And that is where he has excelled, although this season is the first time that Hader is considered the closer.

In 2017, Hader did not have any saves, but had a sparkling ERA of 2.08, while compiling a 2-3 record. No. 71 also had 68 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

But it was in 2018 when Hader really broke out on the MLB scene. Hader was 6-1 with an ERA of 2.43, plus struck out an amazing 143 hitters in just 81.1 innings. Hader also had 12 saves, as he split closer duties with Jeremy Jeffress and Corey Knebel.

Besides that, Hader was named as an All-Star, plus won the 2018 National League Trevor Hoffman Reliever award.

This year, with Knebel out for the season due to Tommy John surgery and with Jeffress currently out with shoulder woes, Hader has been almost unhittable. In five appearances in which he has five saves, Hader has given up just one hit in 7.2 innings. No. 71 also has 13 strikeouts and has just one walk, plus has a perfect ERA of 0.00.

Hader has also shown a similarity to Fingers in terms of being clutch in leading up to the playoffs, as well as the postseason itself, although he has just been in the big spotlight just one year.

No one will ever forget Fingers pitching the Brewers into the 1981 postseason by beating the Detroit Tigers at County Stadium in early October, nor will anyone ever forget Hader saving Game No. 163 for the Brewers at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs and winning the NL Central last season.

Josh Hader vs. the Cubs in Game No. 163

Besides being a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Rolaids Reliever of the Year, Fingers was also a World Series MVP, plus was a three-time World Series champion. In my opinion, he would have made that four times in 1982 when the Brewers played the Cardinals had he been able to pitch.

Fingers suffered an elbow injury in September of 1982 which caused him to miss the rest of the regular season and postseason. The Brewers lost the World Series to the Cards by a 4-3 margin, but had Fingers been available, they probably don’t blow late leads like they did in both Game 2 and Game 7 of that series.

But when he was healthy, Fingers was about as good as it gets in the postseason. From 1971 through 1975, Fingers was 4-4 with an ERA of 2.35, plus had nine saves. In the three World Series matchups that he pitched in, Fingers had a combined ERA of 1.35.

Hader was incredible last postseason for the Brewers, as he posted a perfect 0.00 ERA in 10 innings, plus had 16 strikeouts compared to just one walk.

That bodes well for the future.

The thing that separates Hader from other closers in today’s MLB, is his ability to go multiple innings. Yes, sometimes a closer will be put in the game in the eighth inning once in a while, but it almost never happens that a manager will put a closer in during the seventh inning like Counsell does with Hader.

Fingers knew how to close games out that way too.