Our Brewers Flashback series continues as we look at some of the former Brewers players who had solid, underappreciated tenures in Milwaukee.
It’s hard to forget the awesome power that was possessed by Russell Branyan, commonly known as “Russell the Muscle”. Branyan spent parts of three seasons in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform, and it was the most successful tenure of any of the 10 teams he played for in his 14 year career.
Branyan finished with a .248/.351/.526 slash line with a .878 OPS and 35 home runs in Milwaukee, and had some memorable moments.
Russell Branyan From 2004-05
Early in 2004, Branyan signed as a free agent with the Braves, but was traded in late April to the Indians. Then on July 26 of that year, the Indians sent Branyan to the Brewers in a trade. On July 27th, Branyan hit a home run off of Greg Maddux.
His first Brewers home run traveled a reported 480 feet, off a future Hall of Famer, and is *still* the longest recorded home run in Miller Park history. That’s how he introduced himself to the Brewers faithful. That baseball would’ve left the entire stadium on the fly, had it not been for the AT&T sign hanging in right-center. Yeah, he hit it there.
There’s a snippet of that home run in this tribute video on Youtube by Joel Powers, which starts at 1:04.
Russell Branyan had some beautiful, towering home runs in his day, and they are fun to watch.
Branyan played in 51 games for the Brewers in 2004, with 158 at-bats. He hit 11 doubles, 11 home runs, had 27 RBIs, and 68 strikeouts.
The next year, Branyan put up the best slash line of his career, with a .257/.378/.490 in 202 at-bats. He slugged another 12 home runs with 11 more doubles, 39 walks, and 80 strikeouts. He lowered his strikeout percentage from 37.4% to 33.1%, which is still high, but that’s to be expected. Branyan was what we like to call a “Three True Outcomes” hitter.
With the Brewers, Branyan had 52.5% of all his plate appearances result in a home run, a walk, or a strikeout. Of that group, strikeouts were the largest, making up 33% of his trips to the plate.
As frustrating as the high number of strikeouts were, his home runs were a sight to behold.
Defensively, Branyan was a very good home run hitter. His defensive metrics were poor, and he posted a -11 DRS at third base for the Brewers in 2005.
The Return In 2008
The Brewers signed Branyan to a minor league contract early in spring training 2008 and he started the year in Triple-A Nashville. As usual, Branyan raked and earned himself a call up to the Brewers in late May.
In 50 games, Branyan had 33 hits in 132 at-bats, and 20 of them going for extra bases, including 12 homers.
He had a stretch where he hit three home runs in three straight days, torching the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff, hitting bombs off Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and A.J. Burnett in that series. Branyan saw regular playing time through July, but only played in six games in August and September combined.
Branyan was primarily a backup corner infielder that was a power bat off the bench in pinch hit situations. However, he left Brewers fans with more memories than your typical backup, pinch hitting corner infielder. His home run distances were legendary, and his success was iconic for an entire generation of hitters.
There were several three true outcome hitters in the 2000s and Branyan was one of the most iconic, along with Adam Dunn. Those kinds of hitters were very in-demand at the time, but with the analytics of today’s era, a player like Branyan probably would never even make his big league debut.
Nowadays, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching a player like Branyan, but let’s look back and appreciate Russell Branyan and his power at the plate. His long home runs are stuff of legend, and while he never was an everyday starter, he gave us so many great memories.
Miller Park has always been friendly to left handed power hitters, and few took advantage of that better than Branyan.