Forty-Five Years of Brewers Baseball: the 1980s

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Jul 26, 2014; Cooperstown, NY, USA; Hall of Famer Paul Molitor arrives at National Baseball Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Note: Part 2 in a five-part series on the history of the Milwaukee Brewers.

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The Brewers entered Spring Training 1980 with high hopes.

They had won 93 and 95 games, respectively, in 1978 and 1979 in the battle-tested American League East. The Yankees won the East with 100 wins in 1978, but Baltimore bettered that the next year, winning 102 games.

Milwaukee had a decent season in ’80, winning 86 games but finishing 17 games behind New York.

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Ben Oglivie (41 HR, 118 RBI, .304 BA) had a great year, and Cecil Cooper (25 HR, 122 RBI, .352 BA) would have won a batting title except for a guy named George Brett, who hit .390 that year.

The strike year of 1981 saw the Brewers make their first playoff appearance, battling the New York Yankees as the two ‘half-season’ winners faced each other. The Crew dropped the series in five games but made it known better things were to come.

Pete Vuckovich won 14 games in the strike-shortened season, but reliever Rollie Fingers had a superb season, saving 28 games while winning the Cy Young and the Most Valuable Player awards.

The magical season of 1982 marked Milwaukee’s only World Series appearance. The early June hiring of Harvey Kuenn gave birth to the nickname ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers’ and the Brewers came back from a 2-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series by winning three straight games in Milwaukee to defeat California and advance to play St. Louis in the World Series.

The year ended with the wrong team celebrating, as the Cardinals won the last two games in St. Louis to take the Series in seven games after Milwaukee held a 3-2 lead heading on the road.

Robin Yount (29 HR, 114 RBI, .331 BA) won the MVP Award and Vuckovich won 18 games and grabbed the Cy Young.

The Brewers won 87 games in 1983 but dropped to fifth in the ultra-competitive East. Cooper led the league in RBIs with 126 and three batters surpassed the .300 level.

The bottom dropped out in 1984, as Milwaukee won only 67 games. The high point of the season was Fingers’ comeback to save 23 games after sitting out 1983 due to an arm injury suffered late in the 1982 season.

1985 saw the emergence of a young left-handed pitcher from Mexico.

Teddy Higuera finished second in the running for American League Rookie of the Year with his 15-win season. Manager George Bamberger returned for a second tour, but the team could not repeat the success of the 1978-79 ‘Bambi’s Bombers’ that had won 188 games in those two magical years.

The 1985 team won just 71 games and won six more than that the following year.

Fan favorite Rob Deer provided ‘all-or-nothing’ excitement with his 33 home runs and 179 whiffs in 1986 while Higuera won 20 games for Milwaukee, finishing second in the Cy Young race.

Milwaukee won 91 games in 1987, finishing third in the A.L. East but would not reach the 90-win level again for five years. That was the year of ‘Team Streak,’ the squad that had a 13-game winning streak and a 12-game losing streak in their first 35 games.

Yount—who had moved to center field in 1985 due to an arm injury—had a nice season with 21 homers, 103 runs batted in, and a .312 batting average. Higuera had his third straight solid year with 18 wins. Paul Molitor put his mark on the season, banging out hits in thirty-nine straight games to set a Brewers’ record.

Milwaukee won 87 games in 1988 as Higuera had another ace season with 16 wins. It would be Higuera’s final injury-free season.

The Brewers ended the decade with a .500 season (81-81), with Yount earning his second MVP with a 21 homer, 103 RBI, .318 season.

The 80s ended on a downturn and would prove to be an accurate indicator of things to come.

NEXT: the 1990s

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