Losing is Hard, Winning is Harder, I Blame Vinny Rottino
By Bill Berg
By the end of the 1992 baseball season, I was 11 years old. The Brewers finished that season 92-70. They missed the playoffs, and I’m sure I was briefly sad.
To tell the truth, 1992 was the last season where I watched baseball as a mindless youth, blindly following my team, not particularly caring if they won or lost. I loved to watch (or more often, listen to) baseball, and I loved to watch Milwaukee Brewers baseball.
In that 1992 season, the Brewers finished four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East. The Oakland A’s took the West with a 96-66 record. Milwaukee’s 92-70 was the third-best record in the American League. Today that would have made them a playoff team.
Then, just as I was actually starting to be old enough to care, the wheels came off the Brewer train. From 1993-1995 they failed to crack even 70 wins. They tried in 1996 and finished 80-82.
The Brewers didn’t flirt with a winning season again until 2005, when they finished exactly 81-81. By 2005, I was 24 years old. For more than half of my life, the Milwaukee Brewers had been losers.
I no longer had expectations for the Brewers. I still watched baseball nearly nightly and the Brewers were my preference; but if there was a better game happening, especially later in the season, that is what I watched.
My baseball life had fallen into a kind of comfortable malaise. That comfort was destroyed on September 29th, 2007, on the second to last day of the baseball season. The Brewers beat the San Diego Padres in 11 innings to win their 82nd game of the season and lock down their first winning season since 1992.
The Padres were in a dead heat with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies for both the National League West, and the National League Wild Card.
There, in that 11th inning Ryan Braun led off with a double to left and the Padres intentionally walked Prince Fielder. Corey Hart moved Braun over to third with a fly out deep to center, and he came in to score on a Vinny Rottino single to left. Vinny Rottino!
The Brewers won the next day too, to make it 83 on the season. The Padres finished 1.5 games out of the division lead, and ½ a game out of the Wild Card.
From that day on, most Brewers games has been absolute hell. Suddenly after not caring because I was a kid, and then not caring because I had no reason to care, I had to care again. Whereas before I could just watch the game, not worry about the outcome and cheer for my team, now I had constantly watch the standings and agonize over every inning.
If the Brewers could finally finish over .500, that means they could go to the playoffs. If they could go to the playoffs maybe they could win the World Series.
Now every game I watched stopped being that thing I did at night to relax. It became an actively stressful activity.
In 2008 the stress was okay. The Brewers traded for C.C. Sabathia mid-season and he pitched like a god, as did the Brewers in-house ace, Ben Sheets. But Sheets broke for good (at least as far as Milwaukee was concerned) as the season wound down, and the Phillies knocked the Brewers out in the National League Divisional Series.
The Phillies went on to win the World Series, but who cares? The Brewers made the playoffs! That hadn’t happened since 1982, when I was a sparkling new one-year-old baby. I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t remember the 1982 playoffs.
Sure, 2008 wasn’t without its flaws. The team had to fire Ned Yost with a couple weeks left and hand the reigns to Dale Sveum. Sure, we banked what looked like our future on C.C. Sabathia and he was just a rental. But once again, who cares? We made the playoffs!
2009 and 2010 were hard. I instituted a new rule in my house. If the Brewers lost three games in a row, I wouldn’t watch again until they won. If I wasn’t writing on Reviewing the Brew right now that rule would still be in place, and I would have had the pleasure of not watching the current collapse.
It was pretty hard to complain about 2011. The rotation fell apart in the National League Championship Series against the Cardinals, but we had advanced a step. In 2008 it was the LDS; in 2011 it was the LCS.
In 2012 an otherwise good Brewers team was cratered by one of the worst bullpens I’ve ever seen. And I missed most of the 2013 season, as my son was born in April of that year. Babies are difficult.
Other than a brief blip at the start of July, 2014 felt like 2011. The Brewers were rolling along. By the beginning of July they had a six-game division lead, but they gave most of that away in their pre-All Star break slump.
They came out of the All Star break and played better, and had a good August. On August 25th the Brewers beat the Padres and were 13-9 on the month, which is about as good as you could ask for.
They lost their last five games in August to finish the month 13-14, and so far they are 1-8 in September. The season turned on a dime. They went from winners to losers in no time flat.
I realize that Milwaukee is still in the race for the second wild card spot, just 1 ½ games behind the Pirates, but that feels like such a let down at this point, even if they take it. Even though once you get in, anything can happen.
I think most of us felt it this season. The Brewers were defying expectations all year long and we knew in the back of our minds that eventually the expectations would catch up with them.
I really didn’t think it would happen in the span of 14 games.
So, here we are. There are 17 games left to play. The Brewers could take one of the wild cards. Hell, it is conceivable that they could still win the division, however unlikely. But I’m going to try and tamp down my expectations and just enjoy watching baseball, regardless of the outcome.
Being a fan was easier when the Brewers were terrible, but I don’t want 1993-2006 back. I don’t want to watch a perennial loser any more than Pittsburgh’s fans did for basically the same stretch.
So, I’m going to cheer for the team when they do well, and when they don’t do so well I’ll do my best to enjoy watching a game of baseball like I used to, sans expectations.