It stands to reason that on a rather nasty day, the Major League Baseball season started in Milwaukee.
I should add scare quotes to the words “Major League Baseball,” because as far as the Brewers are concerned, their on-field product for 2016, and for perhaps years afterward, is not going to be very compelling to watch. The Brewers are in year two of a plan of indeterminate length to gut their major league roster of anyone with talent another team might be interested in and grab their trading partners’ quality minor league players, in the hope that at some indeterminate future point the Brewers might contend for postseason play again.
How is it working out so far? Game 1 of 162 on Monday: San Francisco 12, Milwaukee 3.
It should be pointed out that the Brewers have played this badly in past seasons when they were supposedly contenders. (Their first winning season didn’t take place until eight years after the bankrupt Seattle Pilots moved after one season to Milwaukee. Two years after their only World Series appearance, the Brewers went 67–94. The year after Miller Park opened, the Brewers lost 106 games.) The Brewers were improbable contenders two seasons ago until a hideous finish to their season, which continued in 2015. Hence the plan to blow up the roster and start over, charging major league prices for a minor league product.
Brewers fans are supposed to take comfort in the example of their bitter rivals down Interstate 94, the Chicago Cubs, which got all the way to the National League Championship Series last year and are picked to get to the World Series (which, if it happens — and with the Cubs any achievement is a big if — would be their first World Series appearance since 1945) and maybe even win their first World Series since 1908. A few years after the Cubs and Brewers both made the playoffs (did we miss the resulting apocalypse?), the Cubs blew up their roster as well and it paid off with the Cubs imitating a professional baseball team. So we Brewers fans should have hope, except that given that the Brewers have just 17 winning seasons since 1970, you’d have to call it a triumph of hope over experience.
You might ask why I don’t simply root for the Cubs. I used to, back when the Brewers were in the American League, and as a college student I could sit on my back deck and work on my tan and listen to Harry Caray on WGN-TV during the improbable year of 1984 and their first playoff berth since my father, the original family Cubs fan, was in second grade. But the Cubs aren’t on WGN anymore, Caray is dead, and the Cubs now have slightly more charm than the White Sox, which have none at all.
The Brewers’ planned ineptitude is also, to be blunt, an insult against the Wisconsin taxpayer. Most of the public contribution to the stadium project comes from the 0.1 percent sales tax in the five counties around Milwaukee. (Which you pay if you visit the Milwaukee area.) All of us state taxpayers, however, paid for the infrastructure to build Miller Park beyond center field of old Milwaukee County Stadium. Thanks to Miller Park, the Brewers’ franchise now is worth $875 million, according to Forbes magazine. Given that, why are the Brewers not competitive every year? Instead, for the foreseeable future, the Brewers will consist of Jonathan Lucroy (until he’s traded), Ryan Braun (who makes too much money to be traded), and a bunch of has-beens, never-weres and never-will-bes.
Part of the reason is that, unlike other pro sports, baseball talent development is a crapshoot. Remember shortstops Isaiah Clark and Gabby Martinez, third baseman Gordon Powell, or pitchers Kenny Henderson, Tyrone Hill, Joe Wagner, J.M. Gold and Mike Jones? Those are the Brewers’ number one draft picks who never threw a pitch or swung a bat for the Brewers. If the Packers had that kind of drafting record, every member of the pro personnel staff would have been replaced, repeatedly. On the other hand, in a market not much bigger, the St. Louis Cardinals have been a contender for years. (That should be a painful sentence for both Brewers and Cubs fans to read.)
Another comparison between pro football and baseball that is unfavorable to the latter is the fact that National Football League teams share most of their revenues, whereas baseball teams share considerably less. The big revenue that isn’t shared is local broadcast rights, which are considerably less for the Brewers than for the New York Yankees, or the Cubs.
The thing is that there is absolutely no guarantee that any of the five players the Brewers got for mercurial outfielder Carlos Gomez (a trade I fully agreed with making), or any of their other trades for prospects will become even everyday major-league players. The Cubs rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt, and rebuilt, and they’ve been waiting for a World Series winner since before radio was invented.