Earlier this summer I began a weekly series looking back at some of the top farm squads in the history of Brewers baseball, dating back to 1970 when the Seattle Pilots headed northeast from spring training in Arizona and became the Milwaukee Brewers. I have not included short-season Class A or Rookie ball teams, as their seasons are generally too short to compare to full-season squads in A, AA, and AAA levels.
With the final edition of Beating the Bushes, I present the #1 team on my list:
#1 Stockton Ports, 1987
From 1985 through 1992, the Stockton Ports played in the California League championship every year–except 1987, when they won 94 games (second most in franchise history) and lost to Reno in the semi-final round. The Ports won three titles in that eight-year span (1986, 1990, 1992).
In 1987, Stockton finished with the best record in the CL with their 94-48 mark. Manager Dave Machemer had the Ports rolling, but surprisingly they only drew 61,000 fans, an average of less than 900 per home contest. That seems odd for a team that won 66% of its games.
As a team, the pitchers and hitters performed well, ranking in the top half of the league in most categories. The pitchers led the league in ERA (2.98) and WHIP (1.326). They allowed the second-fewest homers (47) and finished fourth in strikeouts with 1,010.
The hitters finished second in runs scored (762), stolen bases (183), and batting average (.259). They finished fifth in home runs (73) and tied for first in team fielding with a .969 mark.
Outfielder Darryl Hamilton had a nice year, ranking second in the league in hits (162) and batting average (.328). He also placed third with 102 runs scored and fifth with 43 steals.
1986 first-round pick Gary Sheffield was in his second pro season and while he struggled at shortstop (39 errors), he killed at the dish, placing fourth in Cal League homers with 17 and knocking in a league-leading 103 runs.
On the pitching side, southpaw starter Ed Puig went 11-8 and tied for league-most shutouts with three, while closer Keith Fleming finished tied for fourth with 16 saves.
Forty-two players appeared for the Ports in ’87, with seven of them going on to play in the bigs.
Thirty-six-year-old pitcher Ray Burris made two rehab starts in Stockton and would finish with a record of 108-134 in 480 big league appearances spanning fifteen years.
Hamilton would go on to play in the majors for 13 years with five different teams (seven years with Milwaukee), banging out 1,333 hits for a slash line of 291/360/385, along with 163 steals.
Sheffield had the best big-league career of all of them, playing for 22 years with eight teams, including four years in Milwaukee. He was named to nine All-Star teams, won five Silver Slugger awards, and placed in the Top Three in league MVP voting on three occasions. ‘Sheff’ managed to smack 509 homers, steal 253 bases, and slash 292/393/514 in nearly 11,000 plate appearances.
HR: Gary Sheffield (17)
RBI: Gary Sheffield (103)
BA: Darryl Hamilton (.328)
SB: Darryl Hamilton (43)
W: Jeff Peterek/Ed Puig (11)
ERA: John Ludy (1.60)
K: Ed Puig (123)
SV: Keith Fleming (16)
WHIP: John Ludy (0.967)
C: Charles McGrew/Tim Torricelli
1B: George Canale
2B: Fred Williams
3B: Isaiah Clark
SS: Gary Sheffield
OF: Darryl Hamilton
OF: Mario Monico
OF: Ruben Escalera
DH: Robert Simonson
SP: Ed Puig
SP: Michael Frew
SP: Carl Moraw
SP: Jeff Peterek
SP: Sam Moore
CL: Keith Fleming
WILL THE HALL CALL IN 2015?
As mentioned earlier in this blog, Gary Sheffield had an outstanding major league career on the field. Off the field, he was a magnet for controversy, even though none of the events were major ones. He also was named on the 2007 Mitchell Report as one of the players in MLB that was was found to have used steroids.
He had admitted to the commissioner’s office that he had ‘unknowingly’ used steroids in the form of a cream supplied by BALCO that he used on his right knee after surgery. He was not penalized because the admission took place outside a one-year period prior to the findings per Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice-president of labor relations in October 2004.
So how does Sheffield’s career stack up to the career of 2014 HOF inductee Frank Thomas?
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Sheffield played 22 years to the ‘Big Hurt’s’ 19, but the era was nearly the same (late 80/early 90s to late 2000s).
Sheffield led the N.L. in hitting in 1992 (.330) while Thomas led his league five years later with a .347 average.
For 3-4 year stretches, each player was arguably the best player in his league.
The ballot for 2015 will be announced in late November by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. When the BBWAA announces the Hall of Fame results in early January 2015, Gary Sheffield should be one of the names called.