When Curtis Granderson pulled on his uniform before a steamy game at Nationals Park on September 1, he immediately became one of the more talented players to ever wear Brewers blue.
On its face, that may sound a bit extreme. Hank Aaron wore Brewers blue, after all, as did Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. But rattle off a list of all-time Brewers greats, and you’ll pretty soon get to names like Ben Oglivie or Cecil Cooper. Great players, both, but not demonstrably better than Grandyman, who has two key traits working in his favor.
The first is his longevity. At 37 years old, Granderson is in his fifteenth major league season. The second is that he’s really, really good at baseball. Better perhaps, than many casual fans realize. Granderson has four seasons of 5+ WARP to his name, including one as recently as 2015. The only other current Brewer for whom that’s true is Ryan Braun, whose last such season came in 2012. (Cecil Cooper had two; Ben Oglivie had none.) For his career, the lanky lefty has racked up 44.4 WARP, most of that on the strength of his powerful bat (332 career home runs, .286 career True Average [TAv]).
That’s a superlative career by any definition. It’s also one that is coming to an end. Barring an incredible surge in the next year or two, Granderson doesn’t have any more 5 WARP campaigns in the tank. He may not play next year at all; he spent last offseason waiting for an offer to come his way before signing with Toronto weeks before Spring Training. If that offer hadn’t come along, he was prepared to hang up his cleats. The same is true for this offseason.
That all puts Granderson in a different class of Brewers: those whom most people will forget ever suited up for the Milwaukee nine.
He’s in good company there. Over the years, Milwaukee has hosted a number of good-to-great players for half a season here or a season there, often just in time for a run at the playoffs or as the last stop before the beckoning, sunny pasture of retirement. That Granderson has had a positive, if small, impact on the team places him among the best of these players, too, with room to move up the list in the event of any October heroics.
In no particular order, here’s a look at some of Granderson’s peers on the all-time Brewers cameo list.
Willie Randolph, 1991
Second baseman Willie Randolph burst into the majors in 1975 at the age of 21, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was traded to the Yankees that offseason, along with Ken Brett (brother of George) and Dock Ellis (fan of hallucinogins), for Doc Medich (who finished his own fine career with a Brewers cameo). Randolph spent 13 of his 18 big league years in the Bronx, where he made five of his six career All Star teams and won a World Series in 1977. He was a patient hitter with a good hit tool but not much power, and a terrific defender at the keystone.
In 1991, Randolph was 36 years old and nearing the end of his playing career. He signed a one-year deal with the Brewers and produced a fine season, although his defense had begun to erode. Randolph batted .327/.424/.474 over 512 plate appearances, accumulating 3.1 WARP and striking out just 38 times. In 2011, FanGraphs named Randolph’s ’91 campaign as the second-best by a hitter who went the whole season without hitting a home run. He hung around the league for one more year before calling it quits, finishing with 2,210 hits and 51.8 WARP.
An addendum: Randolph was named manager of the New York Mets prior to the 2004 season and guided them to the NLCS in 2006, where he lost in seven games to the Cardinals (once a Brewer, always a Brewer). He joined Milwaukee’s coaching staff in 2009 as a bench coach, after losing out on the vacant managerial position to Ken Macha. He remained a Brewers coach for two years, before closing out his coaching career with a stint in Baltimore.
Julio Franco, 1997
Franco is remembered well for his agelessness; he spent parts of 23 seasons in the big leagues, finally retiring after 2007 at the age of 48. By that point, he had mustered 42.3 WARP and a .298 career batting average, though his days of swiping 30+ bags were some sixteen years in the rearview mirror.
Impatient with the 1994 strike, Franco took his bat and glove overseas and played the 1995 season in Japan. In 1996, at the tender age of 37, Franco returned to the MLB with Cleveland, where he had spent six seasons in his prime. He hit well in ’96, riding a .290 TAv to 1.7 WARP in 112 games. 1997 wasn’t quite as kind, and Cleveland released him in the midst of a mediocre campaign propped up by a good batting average.
Milwaukee swooped in, signed him, and sent him out to the field for 42 games. Franco was a first baseman and DH by this point in his career, after starting out as a shortstop. He hit .241/.373/.348 for the Crew, good for 0.4 WARP. He managed 1.1 total WARP between Cleveland and Milwaukee; it stood as his finest season between that year and his eventual retirement. Franco made the playoffs seven times, all coming after he had turned 37. He never won a World Series.
Franco Fun-Fact: He never struck out more than 83 times in a season.
Jim Edmonds, 2010
With 72.9 career WARP, Jimmy Baseball may deserve a spot in Cooperstown. At the very least, he deserves to still be on the ballot. Life isn’t always fair, though, so Edmonds is stuck waiting around for the Veterans Committee.
A great defensive center fielder, Edmonds could swing quite a bit, as well. He finished his career with a fantastic .303 TAv, though he fell just shy of two big milestones; Edmonds is forever stuck on 1,949 hits and 393 homers.
Bearing those numbers in mind, it’s a shame that he didn’t find an offer to his liking before the 2009 season. Dissatisfied with his suitors, Edmonds opted to sit out the whole year. At age 40, the Brewers gave him another shot at the majors, and Edmonds delivered. He spent 73 games in Milwaukee in 2010, batting .286/.350/.493, and tallying an astonishing 8.6 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA). That effort netted Edmonds 2.6 WARP in just 240 plate appearances; Milwaukee shipped the veteran out in a waiver trade to the contending Cincinnati Reds, who were swept out of the NLDS by the Phillies
It’s not all tears for Jim though; Edmonds won a ring, with the Cards, regrettably, in 2006. (Sorry, Willie Randolph-managed Mets!)
CC Sabathia, 2008
Everybody knows how this one went down. The Brewers traded a suite of talented prospects for half a season of CC Sabathia, easily the greatest Rent-A-Brewer in team history. Sabathia started 17 games for the Crew down the stretch, many of them on short rest, and tallied a staggering 4.6 WARP in that time. Taken as a whole, the 2008 season (all 253 innings of it) stands alone as the best of a storied career.
The veteran lefty has a decent shot at Cooperstown, particularly if the voting block comes to their senses concerning pitcher performances. He’s sitting on 68.3 career WARP thanks to a neat late-career resurgence, with a tidy 3.71 career DRA. Sabathia turned 38 this season, but if he comes back in 2019, he’ll probably lock down his 250th win; he’s just shy now, at 246.
Sabathia has spent the last ten years playing for the Yankees, so it will not surprise you to learn that he won a World Series in 2009. Pity he didn’t come closer in 2008; he was gassed after carrying the team for three months.
Ray Durham, 2008
Ray Durham is the closest historical analogue to Curtis Granderson’s situation. Durham was acquired to shore up the infield and bench through the 2008 Wild Card chase. Like Granderson in ’18, Durham wasn’t the Brewers’ flashiest mid-season addition that year. (See above.) Also like Granderson, Durham performed well in Brewers blue, to the tune of a .280 TAv, solid defense, and 0.9 WARP over 122 plate appearances. (Granderson, a late August waiver addition, hasn’t played as much for the Crew, but he’s still managed 0.3 WARP and a .311 TAv in 54 plate appearances.)
Durham finished with an even 36.0 WARP and 2,054 hits. Had he been a better defender, his value would be even higher; still, few players would say no to a career slash line of .277/.352/.436.
One more similarity to Curtis Granderson: Durham was in his fourteenth big league season when he became a Brewer, and had never won a World Series. Granderson is in his fifteenth, still searching for a ring. He’s come close on numerous occasions; Granderson played for the Tigers when the Tigers were good (World Series appearance in 2006), the Yankees when the Yankees were good (ALCS in 2010 and 2012), the Mets when the Mets were good (World Series appearance in 2015), and was traded to the Dodgers in time for their run to the Fall Classic last year.
He’s an easy player to like, with a laidback personality and a devotion to charity. There are indications that, if given the keys to the league tomorrow, he’d make a better commissioner than one Mr. Manfred, or at least a better marketing director than the one Mr. Manfred employs. He’s a mentor to prospect Corey Ray; here’s hoping his career numbers wear off on the youngster. By all accounts, Granderson is one of the finest people to play the game, let alone a tremendous player. Let’s hope his 2018 ends on a happier note than Durham’s 2008.