Our series going through the best Milwaukee Brewers player to wear each uniform number continues.
For the purposes of this list, we are only looking at the player’s contributions wearing that jersey number for the Brewers organization. If a player changed uniform numbers in the middle of their tenure in Milwaukee, then their contributions would be considered separately for each number. We’re also excluding managers from this list.
Let’s get rolling with No. 11.
Jersey No. 11
Richie Sexson (2000-03)
Honorable Mention: Davey May
You’d be hard-pressed to find a taller, lankier player in Brewers history than Richie Sexson. Standing at 6’7″ and just 205 pounds, Sexson was one of the best power hitters in Brewers history, swatting 133 home runs in just 3.5 seasons in Milwaukee.
Sexson could hit for average as well, posting a .276/.366/.536/.902 slash line in his four seasons as a Brewer. He knocked in over 100 runs in each of his three full seasons and hit 45 home runs twice. In 2001, despite hitting 45 home runs, Sexson was ninth in the league in home runs, very far behind Barry Bonds‘ 73 dingers that year.
Sexson was an All-Star in 2002, the year Miller Park hosted, and in 2003. He also received some MVP votes in 2003 and had his best statistical season as a Brewer with a 140 OPS+.
In December 2003, the Brewers made a huge trade with the Diamondbacks, sending Sexson, Shane Nance, and Noochie Varner to Arizona for Chris Capuano, Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay, Chad Moeller, Jorge De La Rosa, and future manager Craig Counsell. Sexson was one year away from free agency and played in just 23 games for Arizona due to injury.
It was a close call with Davey May for this spot. May had a really good season in 1973, hitting .303 with 25 homers and a league-leading 295 total bases. But his numbers were up and down over his four seasons in Milwaukee while Sexson was more consistent offensively, so Sexson got the nod.
Jersey No. 12
Johnny Briggs (1971-75)
In the five seasons that Johnny Briggs spent with the Milwaukee Brewers, he hit .258/.358/.441 with 76 doubles, 17 triples, and 80 homers. Primarily a left fielder, Briggs was solid defensively at that position as well.
In his first season in Milwaukee, Briggs hit 21 homers with a 141 OPS+. Briggs was also consistent offensively, hitting at least 17 home runs with at least a 120 OPS+ in each of his full seasons as a Brewer.
Briggs received some MVP votes in 1973, the only season of his career when he did, finishing 23rd in the voting.
A key player on those early Brewers teams, Briggs may be underappreciated now, but he’s still the best Brewers player to ever wear jersey No. 12.
Jersey No. 13
Zack Greinke (2011-12)
Honorable Mentions: Jeff D’Amico, Will Smith
This was a tough decision, especially considering Zack Greinke was here for the shortest amount of time of this group. But in the time that Greinke was here, he made a great impact.
In 49 starts as a Brewer, Greinke had a 3.67 ERA with a 2.79 FIP. He came over in a trade with the Royals along with Yuniesky Betancourt in exchange for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, Jake Odorizzi, and Jeremy Jeffress. Greinke played a huge role in the Brewers success in 2011, while the players traded for him helped the Royals win the World Series in 2015.
The most amazing stat of Greinke’s tenure with the Brewers is that he never lost a start at Miller Park. He made 23 starts at home and had a 15-0 record in those starts. In 2011, he had a 3.13 ERA in 15 starts. In 2012, he had a 2.56 ERA in his eight starts at Miller Park.
That puts him over the top of Jeff D’Amico and Will Smith, to me. D’Amico missed all of 1998 due to injury and only had one good season, which was 2000 when he had a 2.66 ERA in 23 starts. Will Smith was a very good reliever, serving as the setup man for the Crew for a couple of seasons, but the impact he had wasn’t quite as high as Greinke.
Jersey No. 14
Dave Nilsson (1996-99)
Honorable Mention: Casey McGehee
Dave Nilsson first made his debut with the Brewers in 1992 and wore No. 13, then he wore No. 11 before finally getting to No. 14 in 1996. As soon as he switched to No. 14, Nilsson had the best season of his career to that point, hitting .331/.407/.525 with 33 doubles, 17 home runs, and a 131 OPS+. After that, No. 14 was around to stay.
Nilsson played all over the field, serving as a catcher, right fielder, left fielder, and first baseman during his career.
Nilsson swatted at least 12 home runs in the final six years of his career and an above-league average OPS+ in each of his final five seasons. Unfortunately, Nilsson played on some pretty forgettable teams in the 1990s and his contributions have been largely overlooked, but he had some really good seasons.
He spent the entirety of his eight year career with the Brewers, earning an All-Star nod in his final season in 1999. His final season was actually his best season offensively, hitting .309 with a career-high 21 homers, a career-high .954 OPS, and a career high 141 OPS+.
Nilsson entered free agency after 1999, decided not to sign back with the Brewers or anywhere in MLB, and instead opted to go back to his native Australia and look to play for their 2000 Olympic team. He’s helped promote baseball across Australia since and never returned to MLB.
Jersey No. 15
Cecil Cooper (1977-87)
Honorable Mention: Ben Sheets
This was a tough choice. Both Cecil Cooper and Ben Sheets were successful, established Brewers that were a part of some of the great moments in franchise history. In the end, Cooper gets the nod due to his longevity and consistency.
In seven straight seasons from 1977-1983, Cooper hit over .300, hit at least 12 home runs, and had an OPS+ of 113 or higher. From ’78-’83, Cooper’s lowest OPS+ was 133. Cooper led the league in doubles twice and in RBIs twice.
Cooper was a two-time Gold Glove winner at first base. He also was a five-time All Star, three-time Silver Slugger, and finished in the Top 5 in AL MVP voting three times.
Cooper is arguably the best first baseman in Brewers franchise history. He’s right up there on several franchise leaderboards and hit .302 in his 11 seasons as a Brewer. In those 1981 and 1982 seasons, Cooper had a huge role in those playoff pushes.
Who could ever forget Cooper’s two-out, two RBI single in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels to take the lead? It’s one of the biggest moments in franchise history.
Ben Sheets had some good seasons and some memorable moments as well, despite being on some bad teams. Unfortunately he was hurt when the 2008 team made the playoffs so he wasn’t able to pitch in the postseason. Sheets was hurt seemingly quite often and it took away from his ability to add to his legacy and perhaps surpass Cooper as the best No. 15 in franchise history.
One of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ in franchise history is ‘What if Ben Sheets had been able to stay healthy over his career?’. We may never know the actual answer to that question. But the answer to who is the best No. 15 in Brewers history is definitely Cecil Cooper.
Stay tuned as our series will continue soon with a look at the best Brewers to wear jersey numbers 16 through 20.