The BP Way-Back Machine: Beertown Build-Up

[Throughout the offseason, I thought it would be enjoyable to review some of Baseball Prospectus’s old stories about the Milwaukee Brewers. The archives at BP are not protected by any paywall, so they’re free for all to enjoy and from which to learn. Given the Brewers current rebuilding job and the fact that Craig Counsell was hired with long-term development in mind, I remembered this article from 2007 on Ned Yost, rebuilding, and renaissance.]

Ned Yost could have thrown up his hands many times in the initial years of his first major league managerial job. Worse yet, he could have deviated from the plan General Manager Doug Melvin devised. That plan wasn’t about bringing back the glory years for the Brewers-after all, this is a franchise with two postseason appearances in 38 seasons since being born as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 in baseball’s second round of expansion-but to simply make Milwaukee competitive.

“A lot of times people would ask why I didn’t bench J.J. Hardy or pinch-hit for him in a tough situation,” Yost said. “They would ask why I didn’t take Rickie Weeks out for defensive purposes in the late innings when we had a lead. If I had made those moves, perhaps we would have won a game or two more in the last couple of years. That wasn’t what we were looking for. We were taking the long-term view of things, and that was to make this franchise competitive again. To do that, it meant playing the young guys and letting them learn.”

That meant that Yost, who grew quite accustomed to winning after a 12-year run as a coach on Bobby Cox‘s staff in Atlanta, had to suffer through a lot of losing. Yost took over a club that went 56-106 in 2002, and would lose 94 games in each of his first two seasons. The Brewers made a 13-game improvement to 81-81 in 2005, their first non-losing season since 1992, but fell back to 75-87 last year during an injury-riddled season.

“I get asked a lot if losing all those games was tough, and it honestly wasn’t,” Yost said. “It’s not that I like to lose but I knew there was going to be a payoff down the road. I was convinced we were going to have a good ballclub. Knowing that day would come is what kept my spirits up and everyone else’s.”

That day has arrived this season, as the Brewers have the best record in the National League at 53-40 and lead the Central by 4 games over the hard-charging Chicago Cubs. Buoyed by a 25-12 start, the Brewers have been able to withstand challenge so far by going 28-28 in their 56 games since, though their division lead has been whittled from a season-high 8 games on June 23, and is even more tenuous now that staff ace Ben Sheets will miss at least one month with a finger injury suffered last Saturday.

Left fielder Geoff Jenkins has suffered longer than any Brewers’ player. A homegrown product of Milwaukee’s farm system, he made his major league debut in 1998, and played all the way through the dark period. He had the chance to escape when he became a free agent following the 2004 season, but he decided to stay, signing a three-year, $23 million contract.

“The biggest reason I signed back was because I was excited about the future,” Jenkins said. “We had lost for so many years here and I really wanted to be in Milwaukee when the Brewers finally won. I saw the young guys we had on the major league club and coming up through the farm system, and I was also convinced Doug Melvin and Ned Yost were the guys who were going to get this turned around. I’m glad I stayed, that’s for sure. It’s been tremendous to see all the excitement in Milwaukee. The fans have waited a long time for this, and they are so jacked up. I can only imagine it’s only going to get crazier as we get later into the season.”

Read the remaining article for FREE at Baseball Prospectus.

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