The Greatest Brewers Performances that Time Forgot

Some of the biggest flashes in the Brewers pan

Aug. 21, 2017
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Bill Wegman was, for one summer, one of the AL’s best pitchers.

The future looks bright for the Brewers right now, thanks in large part to a number of breakout seasons from players who were not exactly expected to break out. For players like Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson and Travis Shaw, the expectations will be high in 2018. Hopefully, they will continue to produce. But there is always the chance that they could regress, leaving their 2017 successes to stand alone and their Brewers stardom to fade Bill-Hall-style. So this week, we’re going to take a look at a list that fans certainly hope no current Brewers will join–the greatest seasons by Brewers players that most fans have long-ago forgotten.

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John Briggs, 1972. Johnny Briggs is probably the most overlooked player in franchise history. The Brewers picked up the sturdy outfielder in an early-season trade with the Phillies in 1971 and by ’72, Briggs had emerged as the team’s most potent offensive weapon. He led the team in homers (21) and OPS (.801), while finishing among the league’s top ten in homers and slugging percentage (.455). His OPS+ was a robust 141, a mark only 23 other Brewers have ever bested over a full season. He remained a plus hitter over the next two seasons (and even got some MVP votes in 1973), but rankled the Brewers’ brass by threatening to go to salary arbitration and was open in his desire to secure a big payday for his big numbers. He was off to another hot start in 1975, but was dealt to the Twins in June for Bobby Darwin, who was lauded for this high RBI totals.

Tom Murphy, 1974. The mid-1970s saw the emergence of the “fireman” in baseball, a tough-as-nails bullpen ace who came into the game when things were about to burn beyond control. Detroit’s John Heller, the White Sox Goose Gossage and Oakland’s Rollie Fingers all become stars in this role and, in the summer of 1974, Milwaukee’s Tom Murphy was as tough as any of them. Acquired from the Cardinals that offseason for utility infielder Bobby Heise, Murphy anchored the Brewers pitching staff, throwing 123 innings over 70 relief appearances and running up a sparkling 1.90 ERA. His 20 saves were second most in the AL and his 5.1 pitching WAR was tops in all of baseball for relievers. Murphy even received a handful of MVP votes that offseason. Murphy’s ERA ballooned by nearly three runs in 1975, and he was never nearly as effective again for the remainder of his career.

Willie Randolph, 1991. Randolph was an aging six-time all-star who was just looking for a job when he signed with the Brewers days before the start of the 1991 season, but ended up turning in one of the greatest seasons ever by a Brewers second baseman. Taking over the starting spot for an injured Jim Gantner early in the year, Randolph slapped his way to a career-high .327 batting average (third-best in the AL) and used his keen eye on the plate to register a .424 on base percentage (second-best in the AL). It would be the last great year of Randolph’s career. He moved on to the Mets for 1992 (rewarded with a handsome raise), but struggled at the plate. He retired after the season.

Bill Wegman, 1991. Most people remember Bill Wegman as a steady, yet unspectacular, starting pitcher. But in 1991, while Willie Randolph was proving tough to get out, Wegman was one of the toughest pitchers in the AL to hit. Over 28 starts, he registered a 2.85 ERA – by far a career best–which was good enough for third-best in the AL. Wegman’s 142 ERA+ on the year remains the seventh-best among qualified Brewers starters. But even nearly winning the ERA title and posting the kind of won-loss record (15-7) that baseball writers of the era loved to see, Wegman was stiffed at the ballot box for the Cy Young award, even as pitchers like Kevin Tapani and Bill Gullickson got votes with similar numbers.

Ricky Bones, 1994. Acquired in the Gary Sheffield trade, Rocky Bones has an undue reputation as an example of why the “every team gets an all-star” rule dilutes the honor of the game. Bones was the Crew’s lone representative in 1994 but, unlike many other Brewers solo-reps of the era, he was entirely deserving of the spot. While the 3.43 ERA Bones posted on the season does immediately jump out at you, it was good enough for eighth best in the AL during the homer-happy 1994 season. Bones also placed among the league top ten in WHIP, walks per nine innings, ERA+, and pitching WAR. Bones regressed in 1995, but remained an above-average starter. He struggled badly to start the 1996 season and was traded away to the Yankees that August.

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