An active and much-praised offseason has significantly raised expectations in Milwaukee, to the point where it almost feels like anything less than a serious run at the World Series would be a disappointment. While January and February are great months for optimism, sometimes we can lose perspective when it comes to our expectations. It’s important to remember just how far this team has come in a short time. It wasn’t that long ago that the Brewers were a team that had no hope, even as teams neared spring training.
The other day, I stumbled across some old issues of Sports Illustrated that I have collected over the years — specifically, some old MLB preview issues. With not much else happening in Brewer Land lately, I figured I’d share some of the more interesting/depressing tidbits from those previews. Let’s start with 2000, which is the oldest preview issue I was able to dig up.
SI didn’t have much hope for the Brewers that year, picking them for dead last in the NL Central, and ranked them 29th overall, ahead of only the Minnesota Twins. The one-sentence sub-heading used to sum up the team? “Rebuilding began with a flurry of trades, but none yielded much instant help.” Little did we know back then that this would be a perfect way to sum up the Dean Taylor Era.
Yes, this was the first full season under Taylor, and the team’s preview focused on the daunting job he had ahead of him. That doesn’t mean we’re without any absurdities. Take, for instance, this comparison:
“I see a lot of similarities between the Braves of 1990 and the Brewers of 2000,” says Taylor, who wears Atlanta’s ’91 National League Championship ring engraved with the words WORST TO FIRST. “They were a last-place club, morale was low throughout the organization, and we had to get the players to believe they could win. We have a significant amount of retooling to do.”
Needless to say, that comparison was a little off, as were his assessments of the talent he was getting back through six offseason trades. Jeff Cirillo and Fernando Vina were among those sent away, and Henry Blanco was highlighted as one of Taylor’s biggest additions.
At least the magazine seemed to realize how ridiculous Taylor’s aspirations were at the time. From the scouting report provided in the sidebar: “Davey Lopes waited a long time to get a big league managing job. Now that he has one, he doesn’t have a good team at all.” Oh, and don’t forget this gem: “When Steve Woodard is your No. 1 pitcher, you’re in trouble.”
Perhaps the most depressing thing about the preview, though, is the fact that Kevin Barker is the prospect featured in the “Next Up…” sidebar. Barker was the organization’s player of the year in 1999 and was expected to be the team’s first baseman of the future. SI had him pegged as the team’s starting first baseman for the 2000 season. Davey Lopes called him a “tremendously hard worker” and a “throwback.”
Barker played in 40 games for the Brewers in 2000, hit .220/.352/.330, and never played for the Brewers again. These were the types of guys that passed for prospects in the Brewers’ system back then.
Surprisingly, the 2000 Brewers didn’t finish in dead last. They weren’t very good, either, but 73-89 meant third place in the NL Central that season. A midseason trade brought a young first baseman by the name of Richie Sexson to town, and 24-year old Jeff D’Amico burst onto the scene with 23 fantastic starts. I’ll tell you what — if he can stay healthy, that D’Amico kid may be the kind of pitcher the Brewers haven’t had since Teddy Higuera.