January 23, 2013
The Milwaukee Walk of Shame?
If you think the museum in Cooperstown is making things tough on itself this year, you may want to check out the Milwaukee Brewers Walk of Fame.
The Brewers opened Miller Park in 2001. As part of the effort to connect this 21st century stadium to Milwaukee's baseball past, the Brewers installed the Walk of Fame the same year. Inductees in the Walk of Fame are honored with large, home-plate shaped plaques placed in the grounds around Miller Park. Each slab features the player's name, signature, and years that he was associated with the team. The inaugural class consisted of the inner-circle of Milwaukee baseball greatness: Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, and Rollie Fingers. That's a "no brainer" class if there ever was one.
Over the next few years, members of the Wisconsin media voted in more Brewers greats. In 2002, Cecil Cooper and former Brewers owner Bud Selig were honored. The next year saw longtime Brewers announcer Bob Uecker inducted alongside former general manager Harry Dalton, another pair of obvious choices. The 2004 election continued honoring the Brewers of the 1980s, when Gorman Thomas and Jim Gantner, two big cogs of the Brewers only pennant-winning team, were voted in. Not much changed in 2005, with Don Money and Harvey Kuenn getting the call. This meant that in five years, twelve men had been selected to the Walk of Fame: three front-office types, eight members of the 1982 Brewers (including their manager), and Hank Aaron. Not even the Veterans Committee in its Frankie Frisch-heyday could boast that kind of record.
But with the 1982 Brewers nearly tapped out, what would happen to the Brewers Walk of Fame in 2006? Unsurprisingly, it was a shutout. In a year where the Brewers actually made it tougher to be selected, former manager George Bamberger received the most votes, but not enough to qualify. In 2007, the fiftieth anniversary of the 1957 Milwaukee Braves World Series championship, Warren Spahn, Eddie Matthews and John Quinn (former Braves general manager) got the call in the first year Braves players were eligible; no Brewers players made the cut.
And it has continued like that. Since 2007, only two men have been selected to the Walk of Fame: Lew Burdette in 2010 and Johnny Logan in 2013, both former Braves. In the most recent election announced this week (in which the voting standard for selection was dropped from 75% to 65% in hopes of finding an inductee), former Brewers Teddy Higuera, Jeff Cirillo, Ben Oglivie, and Mike Caldwell (the club's all-time leader in complete games) all received at least 30% of the vote. Higuera, one of Milwaukee's three 20-game winners and the man second and third in career team-strikeouts and ERA respectively, has been the closest to selection every year since 2009.
The voters in Cooperstown have the weight of the nation on their shoulders as they try to figure out how best to honor and represent an admittedly questionable era of baseball to history. There are some legitimately dicey issues to deal with there. In Milwaukee, however, voters are trying to decide what former Brewer deserves a small ceremony before a random August day this summer and a small plaque in a part of the stadium most people don't even see. Despite this, Wisconsin media members have failed to bestow this honor on any former Brewers player since the last Star Wars movie was in theaters, or on anyone not associated with the 1957 Braves or 1982 Brewers, including the best pitcher in club history.
Unless the lesson is that there is a generation of Brewers history worth forgetting completely, the current Walk of Fame is failing miserably at achieving the goal of connecting 21st century Brewers fans to Milwaukee baseball history. While the Brewers aren't exactly the Yankees or Cardinals when it comes to all-time greats, there is no reason to hold the Walk of Fame to that kind of standard. Lighten up and help young fans see the players of their (or their parents') childhood.