Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Harvey's Wallbangers

[This post was inspired by an MLB Network hour-and-a-half special, celebrating my all-time favorite non-Yankees team, which I happened to catch this past weekend.]

In the 1981 World Series, after the Yankees had taken a two-games-to-none lead over the Dodgers, I commented to a fellow eighth grader that the team's success was beginning to get a little boring. Of course, they had won the 1977 and 1978 World Series, and were poised to win their third in five years. But, they didn't. The Dodgers returned the favor for 1978, winning four straight games after trailing 2-0.

Still, this began a brief period where my interest in baseball in general, and the Yankees in particular, waned a little. Of course, the Yankees lack of success in the 80s may have had something to do with it, but it seems I already had the feeling that the team's win-or-else mentality took much of the fun out of being a fan.

In 1982, though, another team captured my attention, led by American League MVP Robin Yount and a utility man-turned-star named Paul Molitor. In his four big league seasons prior, Molitor played 304 games at second base, 53 at shortstop, and 46 in the outfield. Then, for the 1982 season, he was switched to third base, a position at which he had previously appeared in only two major league games.

Long before my current fascination with players like Marco Scutaro and Casey Blake, I had always been an admirer of versatile players. Quite possibly it's because of my own experience. In my three years of little league, I had spent full seasons as a left fielder, first baseman and center fielder, and then became primarily a second baseman at the senior league level.

The 1982 Milwaukee Brewers featured three future Hall of Famers—Yount, Molitor, and Rollie Fingers—in key roles, and a fourth—Don Sutton—acquired for the stretch run and the playoffs, as well as a borderline Hall of Famer in catcher Ted Simmons. They were also powered by 30 HR, 100 RBI seasons from Ben Oglivie, Gorman Thomas and recently fired Astros manager Cecil Cooper.

On the mound, they were led by the starting efforts of Yankee killer Mike Caldwell and 18-game winner Pete Vuckovich, while Fingers anchored the bullpen. However, it was their offensive prowess, as evidenced by 216 home runs as a team, that earned them the nickname Harvey's Wallbangers.

Harvey, of course, was manager Harvey Kuenn, who took over the reins of the club after their 23-24 start got Buck Rodgers fired. Kuenn, a .303 lifetime hitter who accumulated over 2,000 hits in his playing career, led the Brewers to a 72-43 record and a first place finish in the AL East. He also previously played for another team—the 1956 Detroit Tigers—that I have a certain fondness for. But, that's a story for a different day.

The Brewers seemed to be a team of destiny in 1982. After falling behind the California Angels two-games-to-none in a best-of-five series, they won three consecutive elimination games to advance to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the first World Series in team history. But, after rallying from a 5-1 deficit to win game four and tie the series, then taking a 3-2 series lead to St. Louis for the final two, their luck ran out.

Not helping matters was the absence of Fingers, who missed the entire postseason due to injury. So, while fellow future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter was saving game seven for the Cards, Milwaukee's bullpen was being touched up for seven earned runs in 6 1/3 innings in the final two games of the series.

My 1982 Brewers capHarvey's Wallbangers fell short of a World Series victory in 1982, and the Brewers didn't return to the postseason until last year, when C.C. Sabathia carried them there on his overburdened shoulders. But, this particular edition of the team was a truly remarkable group, not to mention that they wore one of the greatest caps in baseball history. I'm a little embarrassed to admit, however, that until about five years ago, I never realized the baseball glove that was their emblem consisted of an M and a B.


  1. Great post. I think the switch from AL to NL in '97 is cool part Brewers history as well.

    How many teams in baseball history have made the switch from one league to another?

  2. Good question, Joey. In the 20th century, the Brewers are the only team to switch leagues. A bunch of teams moved from the American Association to the National League circa 1890.

  3. I'm a little late to be reading this post (and a number of others) but I thank you for it. Our young family was living in Milwaukee then, and I remember the series vividly. Somewhere in a shoebox I have photos of the Goodyear blimp making its way along the shore of Lake Michigan as it flew past our neighborhood on the way toward County Stadium.

    I'm pretty sure that Brewers logo was designed by a fan in a contest. Curiously, back then I thought it was kind of a cheesey (Wisconsin pun not intended) rip-off of the Montreal Expos logo (m-e-b, as in Montreal Expos baseball).

    Now, I am delighted whenever the Brewers wear the old-style pinstripe uniforms with this old cap.

    Thanks for dredging up some good memories.

  4. Better late than never, Dan. I'm glad I could dig up some nice memories for you. Thanks for sharing.