Bernie’s Back! The 1993 Comeback of Bernie and his Chalet
As the Brewers entered the dog days of summer in 1992, team officials noticed that the outfield bleachers at County Stadium – indeed the tall aspects of the steel and concrete battleship of a ballpark – were looking a tad bland. The stadium was nearing its 40th year, caught in between the classic ballparks of the 1920s and the cookie-cutter giants of the 1970s as an old, but not quite iconic, facility. The team wanted a trademark feature for the stadium that could help to define it in the way that the exploding scoreboard defined Comiskey, or the Green Monster defined Fenway, or the ivy defined Wrigley. County Stadium already had such a feature. But it had been sitting in storage for eight years.
In 1973, as promotional gimmick, the team installed a huge beer barrel in the centerfield bleachers, around which was built a small Bavarian-style home, a beer mug, and a slide connecting the two. The structure’s occupant was a little lederhosen-clad man known as Bernie Brewer (who can actually trace his roots back to 1970). When the Brewers hit a home run, Bernie slid from his porch into the mug and released a cluster of balloons. Bernie made his first slide that year for a Pedro Gomez home run and continued to be a part of the goings-on at County Stadium for over a decade. The “chalet,” as it came to be known, was so well-known that it was even featured on a Trivial Pursuit question (Where is the world’s largest beer barrel found?).
After the 1984 season, however, the bleachers at the stadium were rebuilt and the sound system overhauled. This added the massive speaker tower in centerfield and necessitated the removal of Bernie’s chalet and the beer barrel. Protest against the removal of the structure, and the retirement of Bernie Brewer, was surprisingly minimal. Perhaps objections were somewhat tempered by disgust over the Brewers’ 1984 season, in which they finished dead last in AL East with just 67 wins – only two years removed from the World Series.
But by 1992, the tenth anniversary of the pennant-winning club, the Brewers began to wonder if they had erred in dumping Bernie. In July, the team announced that they were considering bringing the mascot and his home back for 1993. Both the Journal and Sentinel printed ballots to poll fans about the potential return and both papers found that a comeback would be most welcomed. Some fans, however, objected. One wrote to the Sentinel, “We do need something to spark fan excitement, but we don't need to encourage Milwaukee's ‘beer and brats’ image for visiting teams’ TV broadcasts.”
This feeling was behind the most vocal objection to the bringing Bernie and his slide out of retirement (and it’s a worry not limited to the baseball realm of Milwaukee). The Journal dismissed such fretting. “The people who go around publicly complaining about our "image" are the people who don't understand our reality,” the paper opined. “So somebody in Los Angeles or New York doesn't think we're cool because we've got a vaguely Teutonic caricature sliding into a giant beer? So what?” The Brewers’ fan base overwhelmingly agreed, casting 94% of the 23,000 votes in an official team poll in favor of returning the chalet (which was in storage in the bowels of County Stadium) back to centerfield. The result was announced on September 9, 1992 – the same day Robin Yount recorded his 3,000 career hit.
The team planned to have Bernie and his chalet ready to go for the 1993 season, but construction delays (the original chalet could not be used and had to be rebuilt) pushed his debut back towards mid-season. Nonetheless, a reborn Bernie Brewer (homeless, per the Journal) appeared at County Stadium for the home opener and was a regular presence around the park while his new home rose above the centerfield bleachers.
Finally, on June 8, with Bernie dressed in a black tuxedo, a new era was christened as manager Phil Garner presented the mascot (who traveled with an “interpreter” to make sense of his hand gestures) with a key to the new chalet. Bernie’s first slide, however, was delayed even further by an anemic Brewers offense. Three days later, on June 11, Greg Vaughn launched a three-run home in the first inning of a game against the Yankees, and Bernie took his first dip in the new mug. Bernie remained a mainstay at the Stadium until the team moved to Miller Park. He still exists today, but now resides in an awkward little corner of the outfield with an amusement-park slide, no barrel and no mug. It’s where he stands and celebrates, but no real Brewers fan could ever call it his home. The old chalet can currently be found on the Lakefront Brewery tour, in their Commerce Street headquarters.