Sometimes, particularly when we take a stand in a column, it can come back and bite us in the you-know-where.
Witness Rob Lucas, our hapless NFL prognosticator/columnist who decided to branch out with a bold prediction for the Milwaukee Brewers. Not only did he claim they would win 100 games and take the NL Central by a hefty margin, but he also went a step further.
Well, these are his own words: “This is, and I don’t use this phrasing lightly, the best Milwaukee Brewers team of all time.”
That was on Sept. 2 when the Brewers were 82-53 and leading runnerup Cincinnati by 10 games.
We all know what has happened lately. But even if there hadn’t been a recent slump, are the 2021 Brewers really better than the 1982 team which took the Cardinals to seven games in the World Series?
Just for fun, let’s compare today’s Brewers and that 1982 squad which went 95-67 and won the AL East with Harvey Kuenn as manager.
Let’s start with the lineups.
FIRST BASE: The 1982 Brewers had Cecil Cooper in his prime, hitting .313 with 104 runs scored and 121 runs batted in. He hit 32 home runs. Oh yeah, he also won two Gold Gloves. The 2021 Brewers have, um, guys like Daniel Vogelbach and Rowdy Tellez. Advantage: 1982.
SECOND BASE: In 1982, second belonged to Jim “Gumby” Gantner, a lifetime .274 hitter with a steady glove, who hit .295 that season with 43 RBIs in 132 games. 2021 has, when healthy, Golden Glover Kolten Wong. A career .262 hitter, he is hitting .273 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs this season in 108 games. Advantage: 2021.
SHORTSTOP: Hey, I love Willy Adames, but the 1982 Brewers had Hall of Famer Robin Yount playing 156 games and batting .331 with 129 runs scored and 114 RBIs. He hit 46 doubles, 12 triples and 29 homers that season. Enough said. Advantage: 1982.
THIRD BASE: 1982 had Paul Molitor, hitting .302 with 19 homers, 71 RBIs and 41 stolen bases. Backup third baseman Don Money, who was also a DH, played in 96 games and hit 16 homers, knocked in 55 and batted .284. 2021 has been solid with either Luis Urias (21 homers, 71 RBI, .251) or Eduardo Escobar (28 homers, 83 RBI, .248), but not even close to the Hall of Fame credentials of Molitor. Advantage: 1982.
CATCHER: 1982 had yet another Hall of Famer in Ted Simmons (see a pattern here). It wasn’t one of his best years, hitting .269, but he had 23 homers and 97 RBIs. 2021’s squad has Omar Narvaez (11 homers, 47 RBIs, .277) and Manny Pina (12 homers, 32 RBI, .195). Advantage: 1982.
LEFT FIELD: 1982’s Brewers had Ben Oglivie, a hot-and-cold hitter who smacked 34 homers and drove in 102 runs in 1982. He had huge homers in the ALCS and World Series. In a typical Christian Yelich season, he gets the nod. But he hasn’t been Yelich since 2019. Advantage: 1982.
CENTER FIELD: 1982’s Brewers had Gorman Thomas, who was average defensively, but would fit in perfectly in today’s all-or-nothing offenses. He hit 39 home runs in 1982 with 112 RBIs, batting .245 and striking out a ton. The 2021 Brewers counter with often-injured Lorenzo Cain and light-hitting Jackie Bradley Jr. Both could play rings around Thomas defensively. Cain, when healthy, is much more of a steady, clutch hitter. Problem is, he can’t stay healthy, Advantage: Even.
RIGHT FIELD: The Brewers moved Charlie Moore from catcher to right field and while he had a terrific arm, he had little power and was a good choice for batting near the bottom of the order. The 2021 Brewers have Avi Garcia (29 homers, 84 RBI, .270) having a career season. Advantage: 2021.
Now we come to the pitching staff.
STARTING ROTATION: For much of the season, the 1982 Brewers had a rotation of Pete Vukovich, Mike Caldwell and Moose Haas and a bunch of others who were minimally effective until they traded for Don Sutton in August.
Vukovich was 18-6 with a 3.34 ERA and captured the Cy Young Award mainly due to leading the league in wins. Later the Brewers found out he had pitched much of the season with a tear in his rotator cuff. He put his team first and bore the pain.
Caldwell was 17-13 with a 3.91 ERA, but he did beat the Cardinals twice in the World Series. Only Caldwell and Vukovich registered an ERA better than the AL average.
The Big Three of Corbin Burnes (10-4, 2.34 ERA), Brandon Woodruff (9-10, 2.52) and Freddy Peralta (9-5, 2.65) haven’t put up big numbers in terms of wins, but they’ve been dominant and are the team’s best hope in the playoffs. Adrian Houser (9-6, 3.43) has been solid as a back-of-the-rotation guy. Eric Lauer (6-5, 3.03) has, too. Brett Anderson (4-9, 4.30) has struggled. Advantage: 2021.
BULLPEN: The 2021 Brewers have a dominant closer in Josh Hader. The 1982 Brewers had Rollie Fingers, one of the best ever. He had 28 saves and a 1.04 ERA in 1981 and was nearly as good in 1982 with 29 saves and a 2.60 ERA. A severe muscle tear in September benched him and probably cost the Brewers the World Series.
With Fingers out, the Brewers went to big old Pete Ladd, who faltered in the Series. Jim Slaton was a quality spot starter and middle reliever, but the bullpen was otherwise remarkably mediocre for a Series qualifier.
While Fingers would cancel out Hader, the 2021 have the edge elsewhere in the bullpen. Brent Suter (12-5, 3.13), Brad Boxberger (5-4, 3.36), Devin Williams (8-2, 2.55), Hunter Strickland (3-2, 1.83), Jake Cousins (1-0, 1.82) and Aaron Ashby (3-0, 2.77) have all been quality pitchers. Advantage: 2021.
CONCLUSION: Position by position, the 1982 Brewers dominate 2021 when it comes to offense. They mashed the ball which was fortunate because they had just enough pitching to get by. Going into the World Series, their offense was Goliath compared to the 1982 Cardinals’ David, yet they lost. St. Louis won with speed and defense. Milwaukee had a good defense. St. Louis had a great defense.
The Cardinals also had Bruce Sutter the whole year while the Brewers didn’t have Fingers when they needed him the most.
The 2021 Brewers are built more like the 1982 Cardinals. They rely on tremendous defense and pitching and just enough hitting to get by. We’ll have to see how that plays out in the playoffs.