Friday, February 22, 2013

Long Lost Brouthers

I've written about this story a couple times here in the past few years, but its origins actually go back about 25 years.

My second summer job during my high school and college years was always umpiring local baseball games. During one of those summers, I was working a Little League All-Star game in a neighboring town to mine, at a field I didn't even know existed.

It just so happens the field was called Brouthers Field, which didn't mean anything to me until I arrived and discovered a monument to 19th-century slugger and Hall of Famer Dan Brouthers (pronounced Brew-thers). Now, I'm quite sure I was only vaguely aware of Brouthers at the time, and I certainly had no idea he was born and raised in the county where I grew up.

But, I was pretty sure my good friend Joe knew of him. This is the same Joe who currently chairs SABR's Overlooked 19th Century Baseball Legends Project. But, Joe wasn't even aware of SABR's existence back then, I don't think. He was just a college kid like me, but one with an unusual interest in, and incredible knowledge of, baseball history.

Joe and I were just becoming really good friends around that time, so I was just becoming acquainted with his encyclopedic knowledge. [Years later, he would point out errors in individual players' counting stats, as displayed in the Baseball Hall of Fame.] We were friends through mutual friends for years, but it was during breaks from college that we discovered our shared obsession with baseball. As our friends would drink $1 Heinekens at happy hour at a place called Bertie's in Poughkeepsie, we would annoy said friends by challenging each other with obscure trivia questions...while drinking $1 Heinekens*, of course. I'd say Joe had about a 55-45 advantage in those days, but I held my own.

*A quarter century or so later, I suppose $3.50 would be about the equivalent price, but I still think paying $1 for a bottle of Heineken is not a good deal.

It was also during these years that our tradition of heading to Cooperstown for Hall of Fame Induction Weekend was born. There was a lot of cheap beer involved in that story as well, but I'm not going to get into it right now.

Anyway, after sharing my discovery of the Brouthers monument with Joe, I learned he didn't know of it either. So, of course, we headed together to Brouthers Field.

Brouthers Field [c. 1987]

Even if Dan Brouthers was hardly Babe Ruth (although by 19th century standards, you'd have to give that distinction to either him or Roger Connor), it was still pretty amazing that a monument to a Hall of Fame player existed less than 10 miles from where we grew up, and we might not have known about it if not for one random umpiring assignment.

Fast forward to the summer of 2009. KJ and I had been dating less than a year at that point, and on a weekend visit to my hometown, we decided I should take her to see the monument. But first, we swung by the cemetery where Brouthers is buried to view his gravestone.

I know what you're thinking. How romantic. Either that or it's amazing this woman actually agreed to marry me. But, she was just as interested in this little adventure to pay tribute to one of two no-doubt Hall of Famers—Eddie Collins is the other—who grew up close to where I did.

We found Brouthers' final resting place at St. Mary's Cemetery in Wappingers Falls, but the monument and the field were gone. Its whereabouts became a mystery that wasn't fully solved until this past weekend.

Brouthers Field [June 2009]

We later learned, thanks to Hudson Valley magazine, the statue had been restored and relocated, but the follow-up to that article was rather vague as to its exact location. During a previous visit, my dad, KJ, Little Chuck (he wasn't much help) and I went looking for it, unsuccessfully.

The aforementioned article referred to it being located on Main Street in the Village of Wappingers Falls, "just a stone's throw" from the cemetery where Brouthers is buried, but that's all. The photo in the magazine showed it near a tannish cinder block building with a central air conditioning unit nearby. Obviously a business, not a residence. Which, of course, makes sense, although if I was asked to allow a statue of a Hall of Famer to be located on my property, I'd say yes in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, though, most of the buildings near the cemetery are houses, and none came close to fitting that description.

This past weekend, we expanded our search, and discovered the statue located in a pretty obvious place: in front of a bike shop about a half mile from the cemetery. Seriously, though, it was in a fairly obvious part of town that we hadn't looked for no other reason than we were fixated on locations closer to St. Mary's.

Let's just say even Tim Keefe couldn't throw a stone that far.

Dan Brouthers monument [Feb. 2013]

Friday, February 15, 2013

Frequent Spins (2013.1)

Last year, it took me almost three months to post my first installment of Frequent Spins, about twice as long as usual. This year, perhaps, it's back to normalcy. Well, we'll see.

Eels - Wonderful, Glorious
I was a little underwhelmed by my first listen to E and company's follow-up to my #1 album of 2010. But, it only took a second listen to realize that, although it's no End Times, it's definitely a worthwhile effort. E's outlook has obviously improved in the three years since and, while there are still some introspective moments, it seems he's moved on from acoustic lament to the point where he's ready to rock out a little.

Foxygen - We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
My taste certainly isn't as eclectic as your average Pitchfork writer, but I can still occasionally get some good recommendations there. I may have pieced this impression together from their review, but this one reminds me of a cross between The Velvet Underground and The Kinks, with a little Mick Jagger swagger sprinkled in. "San Francisco" is one of two songs this year that I can't get out of my a good way.

Holopaw - Academy Songs, Vol. 1
Quite possibly the first show that Abe, my brewing partner, and I attended together was Holopaw and the Fruit Bats at Cambridge's TT the Bear's, back in 2003. One of the things I remember most from that show was we hung out most of the night with a girl we met next door at the Middle East. She was from Seattle, passing through town on vacation, and trying to decide between going to TT's or to see the Decemberists at the Middle East upstairs. She came along with us, but in hindsight we should have followed her lead. That's not meant as an insult to Holopaw—whose latest just might be their best, although the reviews are mixed—but rather as an admission that I wasn't a fan of the Decemberists yet and it would have been great to see them play a really small venue before their popularity skyrocketed.

The Joy Formidable
- Wolf's Law
If you've been reading my Frequent Spins posts for any length of time, you probably realize I'm endorsing most of the albums I'm writing about. But, there are exceptions. It would be a little unfair of me to throw this one into that category, but let's just call it a mixed bag. It initially reeled me in with some really catchy songs, namely "This Ladder is Ours" and a few others, but most of the rest of it just grates on me. A friend compared them to Smashing Pumpkins, a band that is probably the definition of "mixed bag."

Night Beds - Country Sleep
Abe, like Pitchfork, has much more eclectic taste than I do. He's a multi-instrumentalist in a math rock (although he likes to call it physics rock) band, after all. He frequently recommends albums to me that have me scratching my head as to what he was thinking. Night Beds was not one of these. One reviewer refers to this outfit as Bon Kil Foxes. Enough said.

Tegan and Sara - Heartthrob
The term "pop" can take on different meanings in the context of music discussions, ranging from describing a band as Beatlesque (generally a compliment) to calling something akin to top 40 radio (usually an insult). To differentiate, I usually add some sort of adjective when talking about the former (power pop, indie pop) or just use the term pop/rock. In fact, I sometimes just say "poppy," with the understanding I rarely discuss music that would be described as top 40 (is this term even used anymore?) in any meaningful way, so it's probably understood I'm talking about pop/rock. The identical twin sisters duo's latest is infectiously poppy, and I mean that in the top 40 way. But, I also mean it as a major compliment. "Closer" is the other song I have habitually stuck in my head these days.

Yo La Tengo - Fade
I'm not as familiar with YLT's entire catalog as you might think, but this one seems to capture the best of their more accessible side. In that sense, Fade is kind of like Luna was to Galaxie 500.

Friday, February 08, 2013

All-Time Teams #16: Milwaukee Brewers

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

No franchise that started in Seattle has ever won a World Series. The Brewers were only the Seattle Pilots for one year, but their 44 years combined with the Mariners’ 36 adds up to almost as much futility as a certain drought that ended with a “curse” being broken.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there's not a single member of the '69 Pilots on this all-time team.

Franchise History
Milwaukee Brewers (1970- )
Seattle Pilots (1969)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Darrell Porter (1971-1976)
1B - Cecil Cooper (1977-1987)
2B - Jim Gantner (1976-1992)
SS - Robin Yount* (1974-1993)
3B - Paul Molitor* (1978-1992)
LF - Ryan Braun (2007- )
CF - Gorman Thomas (1973-1976, 1978-1983, 1986)
RF - Sixto Lezcano (1974-1980)

When I’m working on these teams, I scour the internet for other all-time teams for comparison purposes. While several of these positions were a consensus, catcher was not one of them. In fact, I saw B.J. Surhoff (no surprise), Ted Simmons (not surprising, but a little misguided) and Dave Nilsson (even though his best years were after he stopped donning the tools of ignorance regularly) as starters on other all-time Brewers teams. They all have it wrong. Porter is the greatest catcher in Milwaukee history.

Don Money was probably a better player than Gantner—for his overall career and his time in Milwaukee—but squeezing Money into the starting lineup would mean moving Molitor to second or playing Money there.* Molitor played almost twice as much at third as he did at second, and Money was only a regular second baseman for one year with the Brewers. Plus, Gantner’s in the franchise’s top five in defensive WAR, runs, hits, total bases and stolen bases, so he’s certainly worthy of being recognized here.

*Or, I suppose Molitor could be the DH, but since for just a little more than half of the team’s history (1973-1997) they were an American League DH-era team, and Molitor was only a regular DH for his final two years in Milwaukee, I chose not to go that route.

Both Ben Oglivie and Geoff Jenkins played primarily left field for the Brew Crew. They accumulated a little more value than Lezcano, so I considered moving one of them to right, but Sixto was a slightly better player (Lezcano: 125 OPS+, 4.1 WAR/162; Jenkins: 116 OPS+, 3.2 WAR/162; Oglivie: 124 OPS+, 3.2 WAR/162) during his shorter tenure and was a true right fielder, so he gets the nod. I promise this has nothing to do with the fact he has perhaps the greatest name in baseball history.

Teddy Higuera (1985-1991, 1993-1994)
Ben Sheets (2001-2008)
Chris Bosio (1986-1992)
Mike Caldwell (1977-1984)
Bill Wegman (1985-1995)

Dan Plesac (1986-1992)

C - B.J. Surhoff (1987-1995)
1B - George Scott (1972-1976)
IF - Don Money (1973-1983)
3B - Jeff Cirillo (1994-1999, 2005-2006)
OF - Ben Oglivie (1978-1986)
OF - Geoff Jenkins (1998-2007)

Typically, I insist on each team having a realistic bench. This includes carrying at least one player capable of backing up at each position, most importantly catcher, shortstop and center field. Neither Oglivie nor Jenkins is a legitimate option in center, but Yount is, so we've got that covered. However, Money's days as a shortstop were mostly numbered by the time he arrived in Milwaukee. In fact, Molitor played more games there as a Brewer. So, this team is a little weak on the bench at that position. But, what was I supposed to do, take Jose Valentin?

Rollie Fingers* (1981-1982, 1984-1985)
Ken Sanders (1970-1972)
Mike Fetters (1992-1997)
Yovani Gallardo (2007- )
Jim Slaton (1971-1977, 1979-1983)

Fingers is a Hall of Famer, but his time in Milwaukee doesn't compare to Plesac's run as closer there, so he'll have to share setup duties with Sanders and Fetters, while Gallardo and Slaton fill the long reliever/spot starter roles. Slaton is the franchise's all-time wins leader, but his 97 ERA+ says he was basically an average pitcher. An average pitcher over 2000+ innings of work, that is, which still earns him a spot on this team.

Harvey Kuenn (1975, 1982-1983)

Kuenn is certainly the most famous manager in the Brewers' short history, having led a team that was nicknamed Harvey's Wallbangers to the franchise's one and only World Series appearance in 1982. But, considering he only managed one full season, the 1983 campaign in which his team finished a respectable 87-75 and he was subsequently fired, his selection isn't a no-brainer.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

I've said this before, but this selection can be a little tricky. Here I'm looking for the best Hall-eligible player who would wear a Brewers cap on his plaque if he happened to be elected. There are three Hall of Famers on this team, and Braun and Gallardo are still active, so that leaves 20 remaining candidates.

Among those 20, only Cecil Cooper, Don Money, Jeff Cirillo, George Scott, B.J. Surhoff and Darrell Porter were worth over 30 career WAR. I'll add Teddy Higuera (28.9) to the mix, because he falls just short and is the only pitcher really worthy of this discussion. Between them, this group received a grand total of four Hall of Fame votes, so I probably don't need to say that it's pretty slim pickings.

Surhoff, who quite unbelievably received two of the four aforementioned votes, played one more year in Milwaukee than in Baltimore, but enjoyed most of his better seasons with the Orioles, including his only All-Star appearance and two trips to the postseason, so I'm ruling him out.

Porter played almost an identical number of games with Milwaukee, Kansas City and St. Louis, but his best years were clearly the Royals years, including two top ten MVP finishes and three All-Star appearances, so he's out.

That leaves Cooper, Money, Cirillo, Scott—who played longer in Boston, but clearly had his best years in Milwaukee—and Higuera, who technically isn't Hall-eligible because he only played nine years, but that's kind of a silly rule. Here's how they look based on Hall Rating:

Cooper - 63
Higuera - 63
Cirillo - 63
Money - 61
Scott - 57

Just what I thought. Well, I'll admit I really didn't expect Cirillo to rank that highly, but I'm not surprised there's really not much separating these guys in terms of their overall careers. In such cases, I like to fall back on who produced the most for the team in question. That essentially means it's down to Higuera and Cooper, who are 4th and 5th in team history in WAR, after Yount, Molitor and Braun.

Higuera's an interesting case—although, as I previously said, he's technically not eligible for the Hall of Fame—but I'm sticking with my original decision that Cecil Cooper is the Brewers' greatest eligible non-Hall of Famer. Cooper is basically third (behind Yount and Molitor) in the team's history in just about every offensive category: runs, hits, total bases, doubles, runs created, extra base hits, times on base. Alright, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but he's also second all-time in RBI.

Cooper enjoyed a nice five-year peak from 1979-1983, during which he batted .320/.359/.517 (143 OPS+) with 123 HR, 535 RBI and 459 runs scored, winning three Silver Sluggers, and finishing 5th in AL MVP voting three times and 8th another time. He also won two Gold Gloves and was named to four All-Star teams during a period in which he was worth 23.3 WAR.

These years comprise his age 29 to 33 seasons, so he was a bit of a late bloomer. He also didn't produce much beyond his prime, so there are no Hall of Fame discussions regarding Cecil Cooper. Still, for a short period of time, he was capable of producing at a high level and he's certainly a player worth remembering.

Next Up: Minnesota Twins