The Next Number the Brewers Will Retire Will Be…

Jan. 31, 2017
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Despite coming up five votes short on the recent ballot, Trevor Hoffman will almost certainly be the next former Brewer elected to the Hall of Fame. As he will be the first to be elected to the Hall since Paul Molitor – and likely the last to even be seriously considered until CC Sabathia retires – the Brewers might do something this coming season to honor his brief time with the team. Although he will be forever remembered as a Padre, Hoffman did have a pretty great season in Milwaukee in 2009, when he registered the second-lowest ERA of his long career and was named to his seventh All-Star Game. He registered his 600th career save the following year, although the milestone was lost in his overall rotten performance – which left him with an ERA of nearly 6.00, cost him his closer role, and left no question as to whether or not he was done as an effective pitcher.

His time with the Brewers probably does not warrant any serious consideration for retiring his #51 (although as a Hall of Famer, he would be automatically inducted into the team’s ‘Wall of Honor,” the series of plaques on the third base side of the stadium). But he still presents the most compelling case for retirement in recent memory. Who will be the next to have their digits raised to the roof at Miller Park? Well, let’s take a look at who is already so honored and try to see who might meet similar criteria in the future.

The first Brewer to have his number retired did so without any fanfare at all. When Henry Aaron trotted off the field to let Jim Gantner pinch-run for him on Oct. 3, 1976, it was the final time any Brewer would wear #44. The Brewers let the retirement of the number – and the end of Aaron’s career – pass without much pomp. There was no ceremony to mark the occasion, only a statement from the club and the encasement of an Aaron jersey in a glass case along the lower concourse in the stadium. At the time, Aaron was only the 36th player ever to have his number retired and the Brewers were just the third expansion team to hand out such an honor. Of course, Aaron’s play as a Brewer was hardly worthy of much celebration, but his overall time in Milwaukee was certainly deserving.

The first Brewer to have his number retired in a pregame ceremony was fireman Rollie Fingers, whom the Brewers honored the week after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992. His number 34 was fittingly plastered onto the outfield wall, near the gate to the bullpen.

Like Aaron, Fingers was only a part-time Brewer, but he did manage to contribute mightily to some of the best teams in franchise history. Had Hoffman managed another All-Star caliber season or two in Milwaukee, Fingers might be a good precedent for retiring Hoffman’s #51. Still, Fingers is clearly the weakest case of the group. Even if Hoff had duplicated Fingers’ stats as a Brewer, I doubt he’d get the call.

The retired number display at County Stadium.

The first no-doubt retirement came in 1994 when the Brewers honored Robin Yount. Nearly 50,000 people turned out to see the ceremony before a Brewers-Mariners game and Yount was presented with a new Harley-Davidson and a trip to the British Open by the team. By now, the Brewers had placed large banners on the fence at the top of the outfield bleachers with the names and numbers of Aaron, Fingers, and Yount – the first organized system the team had for displaying the digits.

The bad feelings of his departure mostly forgotten, the Brewers took Paul Molitor’s #4 out of circulation in 1999, after Molitor retired as a member of the Twins. Molly used the occasion to announce to the County Stadium faithful that he would – if he were so honored – enter the Hall of Fame with a Brewers cap on his plaque. Five years later, he was inducted into the Hall, cementing his status with Yount as franchise legends.

Paul Molitor at his number retirement ceremony in 1999.

The most recent number retirement is one (1) that you’ve probably already forgotten about. In another stage of the franchise’s endless deification of Bud Selig, the number 1 (as in #1 fan) was retired in April 2015. With the move to Miller Park, large round signs had been placed along the top ring of the stadium to honor the retired numbers. Among the above-mentioned numbers (as well has Jackie Robinson’s #42, which is retired league-wide), there is also a #50 to honor Bob Uecker’s 50 years in baseball. This number, however, remains in circulation.

So, if not Hoffman, who is the next Brewer to have their number retired? Using the Molitor-Yount standard, Ryan Braun might be the best bet. He certainly will have the most impressive career numbers of any Brewer shy of Yount or Molly by the time he retires. He also won an MVP and led two playoff teams. Although it seems unlikely that he will get much consideration for Cooperstown – even ignoring his PED issues – he was undoubtedly the biggest star the Brewers have had since Yount. Of course, you cannot ignore the PED issues. It might take Braun some true atonement (and a few more high-level years in Milwaukee) to generate serious consideration for retiring #8. Aside from Braun, it takes a pretty vivid imagination to picture the next “all-time legend” level Brewer. Perhaps it will be Mauricio Dubon, whom ESPN has tabbed as the next Brewers Hall of Famer… his projected induction: 2047.

At the Rollie Fingers level, things are just as unclear. The Fingers standard is also complicated by Don Sutton, who spend three years in Milwaukee and, despite being inducted into the Hall in 1998, was never even mentioned as a possible candidate for number retirement. Aside from Hoffman and Sabathia, the Brewers haven’t had many Hall of Fame contenders on the roster. Aramis Ramirez is a fringe Hall candidate at best and unless Jonathan Lucroy goes all Pudge Fisk for the next 15 years, the next best hope in this category is either still at the Dubon level or on another team right now. And it’s almost impossible to even contemplate another Hank Aaron-type to consider. Of course, no player could have the connection to Milwaukee that Aaron did and even if the team were to acquire an Aaron-level player for a short spell (and do we really want Albert Pujols hobbling around first base for few charity seasons?) a number retirement seems an unlikely prospect.

No one has worn #17 since Jim Gantner, but it is not officially retired.

That leaves only the Selig-esque wild cards. No one has worn #17 since Jim Gantner, who was hardly a standout player, but certainly paid his dues for the Brewers. It seems that his number is in a kind-of defacto-retirement limbo. But if they haven’t retired it officially by now, it seems doubtful that will change. They could always honor Bob Uecker by retiring one of his old player numbers – 8, 9, or 12 – but that would be a stretch. There is also – God forbid – the possibility of an active player passing away, which sometimes brings about a retirement, as it did with the Marlins and Jose Fernandez or as some are encouraging the Royals to do for Yordano Ventura. But that’s far too morbid to make guesses about.

My pick for the next man to have his number retired by the Brewers is a bit of a wild card… Craig Counsell. He has the Milwaukee roots, he was part of the two best Brewers teams since ’82, and he has a chance to lead what could be a very competitive club in the near-future. If Counsell puts in a decade or so as skipper, winning a few pennants and a World Series, it’s no stretch at all to imagine his #30 (I had to look it up) alongside Aaron, Yount, Molly, Rollie, and Bud. It’s a hell of a long shot, but as things stand now, it’s the best shot anyone has. 


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