About a month ago, my colleague Patrick Dubuque was working on the Milwaukee Brewers installment of his Ironic Jersey Omnibus series over at NotGraphs. In support of the piece, he asked me, “What are the Brewers?” Here’s most of my response to Patrick’s inquiry, from which he quoted for his piece:
One thing that I think of when I think of the Brewers — or at least of Brewers fans — is a nostalgia for any time that isn’t now. Even though the team has had some success in recent years, there remains a fondness for the shitty ’90s and early ’00s. At opening day this year, for instance, I saw a Geoff Jenkins jersey. Jenkins was a decent player, to be sure (he had a few 4+ WAR seasons), but he was the Brewers’ best player for a long time, and I think that says a lot about those teams. But people seem to remember those times with a sort of reverence that is completely undue. It probably wouldn’t be too difficult to find people that would rather have the Jenkins/Jeromy Burnitz 3-4 combo over the Braun/Fielder combo of the recent teams. The uniforms in the ’90s were especially shitty.
It goes without saying that people love the 1982 AL Championship team that featured Yount and Molitor, amongst others, but lots of fans in Milwaukee can’t get over the Braves leaving, though most of those people are older, I’m sure. People are even big fans of Seattle Pilots gear, probably because it’s somewhat obscure, and makes them seem unique.
All of this speaks, IMO, to a sort of midwestern complex: we are at once embarrassed of who we are, and apologists for our pasts. There’s a statue of Bud Selig outside of Miller Park that was just erected last year, for crissake: the man who brought baseball back to Milwaukee, yes, but also the man who undermined their success for nearly two decades by insisting that small-market Milwaukee could never compete, allowing the team to throw their hands in the air and sign players like Jeffrey Hammonds as a half-assed effort to field a team that wouldn’t finish last. There are a number of reasons why Major League was filmed in Milwaukee…
The week before Patrick’s post, I had explored the results of the Brewers’ offseason contest in which fans were asked to submit designs for a spring training uniform. Both of these pieces, along with Patrick’s intial inquiry about the essence of the Brewers franchise/fan base, got me thinking more deeply — and for many days thereafter — about what the Milwaukee Brewers were, indeed. Why, to outsiders such as Patrick, does “Milwaukee’s baseballing history [seem] as flat as the cornfields that non-Midwesterners associate with its name”?
After many miles walked while considering this, I came up with a weak metaphor: that the history of the Milwaukee Brewers organization — and the accompanying psychology of the fan base — resembles the life of a middle child growing up in the midwestern United States, one confused about his/her identity who seeks refuge in nostalgia or stories from another time; one who fails to match the achievements of an older sibling and becomes crippled by self-imagined mediocrity; one who, somehow, overcomes that enough to find a smidgen of happiness and confidence in his/her middle-age only to abandon it for nostalgia again.