Greg Peck: Tim Thompson offers views on Brewer woes
Dear Milwaukee Brewers fans (and those fleeing the bandwagon): Even I couldn't imagine the team getting off to such a horrid start. I'm at a loss to explain it. So I thought maybe Tim Thompson, a big fan who previously wrote the “Peace & Glove” Brewers blog for gazettextra.com, would help by answering 10 questions related to the team's sorry start. Thompson, who sells cars at Rock County Honda and with his wife, Tracy, operates a farm, agreed to take time late last week to answer my questions (the team's fortunes haven't improved since then).
1. Were you surprised that the Brewers didn't clean house after last fall's collapse?
A: No, not really. Last season was disappointing, to say the least. But it also shows you what is one of the more fascinating things about the game of baseball. How can a group of professionals play with the best of them in one half of a season and play with the worst of them in the other half? Is bad play contagious, or is it the manager's responsibility to turn things around? The answer for one team may not be the same answer for another. There are people out there who can make legitimate arguments for cleaning house or not cleaning house, which just confirms that there is no way to know what the answer is. Personally, I don't think cleaning house was the answer. But after the start to this season, maybe I'm wrong.
2. Given the team's terrible start this season—worst in team history—is it time to scrap Ron Roenicke? We don't need a manager who spews “f” bombs like the guy in Cincy, but holy cow, wouldn't it help if we had someone with a little fire overseeing the troops?
A: I'm not sure if Mark Attanasio has a thing for laid-back managers or what, but I agree 110 percent that even if it's just for show, the coach needs to get tossed from a game every now and then, and I think a properly placed “f” bomb can have some shock factor. We had the same issues with Ned Yost. I don't know that firing him right away is the answer, but I also wouldn't wait until June to do so. You can't place sole blame on him for last season's collapse or this season's start, but you have to consider both when considering if he's the man. If I'm Attanasio, I give him until May 1 and re-evaluate then.
I'm a little biased on this topic because I'm still sore that they didn't give Dale Sveum the job. Easter Sunday alone earned him the gig, in my opinion, and he should have gotten the job even if to just keep him out of a Cubs uniform, but I guess the powers that be make decisions with their heads more than their hearts. Never mind the fact that Ron Roenicke should have been fired when he started Mark Kotsay in center field in the NLCS, and we shouldn't be discussing this now, but I won't get started on that.
3. Are we wrong to think things will get better once the three starters get off the disabled list? Other injuries could occur, and those players didn't start the season well anyway.
A: You're not wrong to think that they will turn it around for a couple reasons. A) I'm not going to scan the rosters from last year to this, but I can tell you that most all of the guys who were part of that amazing team start last year are still here. If they can make such a sudden turn for the negative last year, there is no reason to believe that they can't do it for the positive this year. B) You have to think the players and team will get better because why would you even want to be in a baseball world without hope?
4. Has age caught up with too many key players, including some of the starting pitchers? Is it time to clean house now?
A: No. Aramis Ramirez maybe is too old, but he knows that, which is why he's done after this year. Francisco Rodriquez should probably consider retiring, as well, but we just inked him to a two-year deal, so we're stuck there. Other than those guys, I'd consider most of the team still in their prime or not even to their prime yet.
Cleaning house is way easier to do on the manager/front office than it is the team. You have bloated contracts, payrolls and a 40-man roster to consider. If there is a fire sale, it will be closer to the trade deadline. If the Crew is out of contention at that time, you will probably hear trade talk for Jonathan Lucroy and Carlos Gomez. Mostly because they have the most value and both have respectable contracts that any team could and would absorb. I've never been a fan of trading players in their prime with good contracts, but I understand why management would. The Brewers don't have one of the better farm systems, and those two guys are perfect trade material to re-stock that farm system.
5. Give us your take on General Manager Doug Melvin. Time for him to go, too?
A: I'm getting a vibe to these questions that you want 'em all gone. :) I'm on the “Never Fire Doug Melvin” team. Now, I admittedly form my baseball opinions with my heart more than my head, but these two words are why Doug Melvin earned a lifetime contract: Richie Sexson. You may recall the tall man who had a beautiful swing from the left side and a tolerable glove at first base. Doug traded him to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Craig Counsell, Junior Spivey, Lyle Overbay, Chad Moeller, Chris Capuano, and Jorge De La Rosa. Sexson did very little after that trade, but everyone of those guys contributed to the big league team in one way or another.
Doug came on board after the Brewers dropped 106 games in 2002 and built a team that got us in the playoffs in five years and twice in the first eight years. That may not seem like much for some franchises, but as a Brewers fan for decades, those are huge numbers. Never fire Doug Melvin.
6. We lost two players who in recent years were the heart and soul and had bulldog mentalities: Prince Fielder and Nyjer Morgan. Does the team lack such a leader now?
A: This could probably be the biggest reason for the collapse and failure to right the ship. Prince Fielder was not afraid to be a leader with his voice and his play. Prince had some neck problems last year, but when he had the Crew jersey on his back, he was on the field. Carlos Gomez seems to have that fire, as well, but one of the things we don't see and the wrench in the “stat nerds” thought process is we have no idea what is said or done in the clubhouse. None. We see what happens on the field, and with Carlos that fire shows, but who knows what he does or says in the clubhouse?
In my opinion, the clubhouse is one of the biggest factors for a team. Are they friends or just teammates? Are they there for a common goal or a similar paycheck? Stat nerds can and will analyze data all day long to predict an outcome, but that clubhouse factor makes their whole equation worthless and more of a guess than a data-based prediction.
Nyjer Morgan may have had a “bulldog mentality,” but I think it was more of a “for Nyjer” mentality than a “for the team” mentality. I liked Nyjer, and I can still see his game-winning base hit in my brain's video vault, but he was more of a showboat than a leader.
7. Speaking of toughness, do we need to scrap our lapdog mascot for, perhaps, a Rottweiler or pit bull?
A. Ha ha. I don't even want to get started on Hank The Dog. Look, I own three dogs and a Scottish Highland calf who thinks she's a dog, so I definitely think dogs are some of the coolest creatures in the world, but Hank is not a mascot, he is a marketing ploy. Nothing more and nothing less. That's great that he has raised money for the good, but a dog in a Brewers shirt has nothing to do with the team on the field. I think it's more of a sad commentary on how easily distracted we are as fans and as a society, but that's a different story altogether.
If there were to be a mascot change, I would vote to remove the alcohol-themed mascot with something much safer for kids and people in general, but that would probably require removing the theme from the team, the stadium, the city and the state, which won't be happening. That, too, is a different story altogether and one I'd be happy to discuss in a different blog post.
8. Is Ryan Braun—his five-year $105 million contract extension not yet even started—a lost cause?
A: No. Far from it. In fact, if he gets back to the level he's capable of, it will still be a great contract. Ryan failed a test for PEDs in 2011 and went out and had one of his best years in 2012. You may recall one of my Peace & Glove blogs where I advocated for a line to be drawn between performance-enhancing drugs, and performance allowing drugs. Lou Brown said it best, but the players' bodies get beat up playing day after day. If there is something that allows a player to recover faster and get back on the field, it should absolutely be legal for them to do so. We all have those choices in our work lives. Never mind the fact that 10 percent of the players have medical excuses to use those drugs anyway.
I'm by no means belittling anyone's medical use of any medicine because that's for a doctor to decide, but if that drug is forbidden because it enhances one's performance, how is it OK to enhance one's performance medically? That is still a performance enhancer, and I'd argue that maybe even more so.
I realize times can change, but at one time there was “hot coffee” that players could choose from in the clubhouse. “Hot coffee” was nothing more than coffee spiked with amphetamines. How many players are in the Hall of Fame today who drank the “hot coffee” before a game?
Braun hasn't been the same guy we know and love last year or the start of this year, but if you look at the other players involved in the biogenesis case, you'll see a pattern of guys who don't suck because they got caught “cheating.” The “Our stuff doesn't stink as bad as yours” St. Louis Cardinals signed Jhony Peralta to play shortstop and paid him $14 million/year. Nelson Cruz got $14 million/year from the Mariners. Braun's $20 million/year might be a bit much, but in today's baseball world is there even a difference from $14 million/year to $20 million/year?
9. OK, be honest. How many games have you seen in person this year?
A: I hit my peak with 36 games in that amazing year of 2011. By far my favorite that year was my then 9-year-old son and I riding our bikes to the stadium for Game 5 of the NLCS, but I haven't had the same motivation since that year. Not because of the product on the Miller Park field, but you may recall one of the big reasons for me to end Peace & Glove was because our farm was consuming more and more of my thoughts. I don't make it to many games in person these days, but I did build a hydroponic growing system in my barn, and I'm putting the finishing touches on one in my greenhouse this month, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. Making healthy organic food for my friends and family is way more rewarding than sitting in Miller Park.
I have been to one game this year. I let my son play hooky and took him to his first Opening Day game ever. It was a great day with a not-so-great score, but the score didn't matter that day. I have plans for a few more, but it'll be in the range of five or six games by the end of the year.
10. Tell me why I should invest my hard-earned money in tickets to watch a team that's playing so poorly.
A: Well, first, like a car purchase, it's not an investment. Investments have chances for a return, while cars and game tickets don't. :) It's not about the scoreboard to me, and it shouldn't be to you. Sure, it's always better when they win, but it's mostly the same experience either way. Riding bikes into the stadium from State Fair Park or tailgating with friends and family before the game is where the memories are made.
Miller Park is just a sample of what Wisconsin is. People are friendly and want to help you if you're in need. If you eliminate the final score from being a factor on how your game experience is, I can almost guarantee you'll have a good time and get your money's worth.
Being the avid Peace & Glove reader that you were, you probably recall my blog about going to the ballpark on a budget? The one and only good thing about having a team that isn't playing up to expectations is that the later the season gets, the cheaper the tickets get. Search on Craigslist or stubhub. You can even call the Brewers ticket office on game day and ask for deals. They want to fill the seats, and they know they can't do that with unused tickets.
You should absolutely spend your hard-earned money on tickets, just try not to pay retail, and you won't spend as much of your hard-earned money.