A Simple Kind of Fan. Changing the Culture of Losing– 8.23.11
The prevalent attitude surrounding the Milwaukee Brewers appears to be one of skepticism and disbelief. Many fans seem content to spend their time talking more about what the team has never accomplished versus talking about what they are capable of accomplishing. I believe this comes from a culture of losing. The city of Milwaukee, which has had its collective heart ripped out so many times, is extremely guarded in their trust of a good team. The reason is simply because a large number of their predecessors have gone down in flames. As a result, the average Milwaukee fan has many deep battle scars and a predisposition to failure. This is what happens when a team has fostered a culture of losing. It creates a city reluctant to completely embrace a winner. Yes, this city is afraid to fully enjoy the success that the Brewers have brought because of the potential for disappointment.
This losing culture began to change once owner Mark Attanasio bought the team. Since he ushered out the black Selig cloud, there has been a renewed sense of hope. Hope, however, doesn’t pay the bills. Now that Milwaukee on the verge of qualifying for the playoffs for the second time in four years, I sense an opportunity for this franchise to change the culture that has festered for nearly three decades.
Of course, to have such a losing stigma last, it must be embedded deep within the community. You will typically hear things such as, “It’s only a matter of time before they blow it” or “They always blow it once Packer season starts” from fans that truly don’t believe they can win. These fans are so busy looking for potential potholes in the road that they miss the chance to enjoy the rainbow shining in the sky. They can’t appreciate how special this current Brewers team has become because somehow, somewhere, a team once blew a 9 game lead.
When looking at colossal tank jobs in September, I truly think this team has nothing to do with those teams. Here is a good piece on classic tank jobs. Many teams have blown 9 game leads, but how many of these teams:
1) Had a stretch where they went 24-3?
2) Won five games in a row three times?
3) Used only six starting pitchers the entire season?
4) Won five games in a row while scoring three runs or less in each game?
I won’t look up the answers to these questions because the answer is probably none. This Milwaukee Brewers team is special because it has continued to win despite not being in an offensive groove. This team will not fall apart because it is built upon the foundation THAT ALWAYS WINS BASEBALL GAMES: Terrific starting pitching and a dominating bullpen. As the team marches towards a post season berth, I am sure there will still be more than enough pessimism to go around. The only way to turn this pessimism into a believing culture is to finally give the city what it craves, a winner. Winning 24 of 27 has me convinced that this team is capable of tremendous things in the next couple of months. Instead of looking for every possible pratfall and obstacle, I would advise stopping to enjoy this ride while it lasts, who knows when the stars will be aligned once again in the future.
Random Excerpts from the Book of Unwritten Rules
“If you play for one run, that’s all you’ll get.”
I love this unwritten rule that was made famous by Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver. This rule simply points out that when a team chooses to use a sacrifice bunt, it essentially has taken away the opportunity for a big inning. I cannot think an unwritten more appropriate for Runnin’ Ron Roenicke than this example.
Ken Macha was steadfast in his philosophy of not running into outs and waiting for the big inning. RRR has gone in the complete opposite direction and allows his team to be aggressive on the bases. Personally, I prefer this approach on the bases and it has also allowed Braun to use his speed as a weapon. This approach has allowed Milwaukee to steal 73 bases at a 74% clip. On the flip side, it also has cost the Brewers 63 outs in the bases.
The part of RRR’s strategy that does have me upset is his penchant for bunting early in games. I feel that taking the bat out of the hands of the hitter completely eliminates the possibility of a big inning early in a game. This flawed strategy is exactly why this unwritten rule exists. Yet, the Brewers continue to bunt away and keep the score close, as evidenced by their league leading 66 sacrifice bunts and their second place 39 sacrifice flies.
I want to be clear when I criticize this strategy early in the game. I fully support manufacturing runs in the late innings, particularly with how dominant the bullpen has become. In fact, one run has often proved to be the deciding advantage in many victories this season. I simply feel that the team bunts too much in the wrong situations. Another great example of bunting too much would be the weird addiction RRR has to the suicide squeeze. I’ll ask you this: How on earth is a surprise tactic that is used in only in a specific situation going to be a surprise in the playoffs if you try to pull it off three times a week during the regular season???
While I can understand wanting the team to be proficient in small ball tactics, I certainly feel that the strategy of bunting in the early innings should be reigned in significantly. Allowing the team an opportunity to put together a few large innings throughout the year will help turn some close games into easy, bullpen saving games. I feel the benefits of not bunting by far outweigh the benefits of attempting to grab a quick run early. One little talked about aspect of playing for one run is that the team still needs to get another hit to even score that run. Often times, this strategy fails and no runs are scored at all. In short, much like the unwritten rule itself, I feel that playing for one run is a flawed strategy that yields low reward and no upside early in a ballgame. I hope that as the season progresses, RRR learns to be patient and give his offense a chance to win a game in the playoffs with a big inning.
A Season You Have Probably Forgotten About By Now
The 1936 New York Yankees won the World Series based on an incredible offense and steady pitching. They were paced by MVP winning Lou Gehrig and rookie Joe DiMaggio offensively, while Red Ruffing and Lefty Gomez led a savvy pitching staff. The Yankee offense hit .300 and had an .864 OPS as a team in 1936. Those are some pretty impressive offensive numbers. How impressive? Considering that there are currently 15 players in the AL and 19 players in the NL (minimum 350 ABs) that currently have a higher OPS, I’d say that it was a pretty impressive offense.
While that is all well and good, frankly it makes me near the point vomiting to praise a Yankee squad. In fact, the real reason I am writing this column is discuss a young 17 year old kid who made his major league debut in 1936.
Think about any 17 year old you know in your own life right now. Sure some are responsible, hard working, courteous, respectful, and a pleasure to be around. These types of 17 year olds can often be found riding magical unicorns. My point is that it is RIDICULOUS to fathom this scenario happening in baseball ever again, let alone a 17 year old raking and setting an American League strikeout record.
Bob Feller made his major league debut after his junior year in high school. He had a major league fastball and was quick to learn how to use it to his advantage. After six relief appearances, he made his first career start against the St Louis Browns. Bob threw a complete game six hitter while striking out 15 hitters! A month later, Feller set a new American League record when he struck out 17 Philadelphia A’s in a complete game two hitter. A 17 year old was taking baseball by storm and it was a story the camera loved.
For the year, Feller struck out 76 hitters in 62 innings and incredibly had five complete games in eight starts. The following charts shows his NL ranks that season using a minimum of 60 innings pitched:
The best part of this tale? Feller went back and finished his senior year of high school after the season. Can you imagine that scenario in today’s game? Some people may look back on this season and first recall the Yankees defeating the Giants as the memorable portion of the year. It is my opinion that anyone who doesn’t mention Hall of Famer Bob Feller is revealing themselves as someone that has probably forgotten about his unmatchable rookie season in 1936.
Dates Appearing Closer on the Horizon
August 31, 2011. The real trade deadline.
September 8, 2011. The start of a 4 game home series against the Phillies should provide plenty of opportunity for folks to make this series the obligatory postseason preview. Many things can change in a month, so I’ll just say that it’s a good opportunity to let everyone in the National League know that it is going to be tough to squeak out a victory at Miller Park in another month.
Shameless Self Promotion
Please don’t forget to follow my Twitter account, @simplekindoffan. If you aren’t following me, then you are missing out on useless tweets such as this.
Are you traveling or will you miss an upcoming Brewers game because of a MLB black- out? No worries, the PocketDoppler is here for you. Brian has you covered with a nightly ‘250 words or less’ summary of what happened for the Brewers. It is a quick and convenient way to stay on top of the team when the social calendar fills up in the summer.
Featured Image Credit: http://www.allmotivated.com/pictures/Demotivational-pictures-losing.jpg