The fall classic, the World Series, is why they play the game of baseball and what the fans live and die for. Getting there is half the fun, Once there, you never will be the same again, Careful, it’s catching. The diagnosis: Pennant Fever!
While the high expectations after last year’s finish weren’t realized by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, fans have a lot to look forward to in the years to come with their young team and hope some day soon, this fever will again raise Milwaukee’s fall temperatures when the Brewers make their return to the World Series. This past summer, with the retro Sunday’s promotion, the Brewers even wore their classic blue pinstripe uniforms with the MB ball and glove logo, reminiscent of the great Brewer teams of the past. With the addition of Robin Yount as bench coach joining his 1982 teammate and manager Ned Yost, the memories of the 1982 World Series wasn’t far from this fan’s thoughts.
In 1978, team president Bud Selig hired Harry Dalton as the Brewers new General Manager whose first decision was to bring in George Bamberger, one of baseball’s finest pitching coaches to manage the Brewers. With a much improved pitching corps The Brew Crew finished 1978 with a record of 93-69 after a dismal showing of 67-95 in 1977, good enough for a 3rd place finish. But it wasn’t the improved pitching alone that set the Brewers apart from it’s teams of the early 1970’s and launched them into the major league’s elite, they also had the bats to go with them.
In 1979 ‘Bambi’s Bombers’ had three .300 hitters, Sixto Lezcano, Paul Molitor and Cecil Cooper. Gorman Thomas led the American league with 45 home runs, Ben Oglivie launched 29, Lezcano slammed 28 and Cooper hit 24. Their record was 95-66 finishing in 2nd place 8 games behind the Baltimore Orioles. After suffering a heart attack during spring training in 1980, George Bamberger was replaced by Coach Buck Rodgers who guided the team to a 86-76 mark that year. An off season trade with the St Louis Cardinals brought into place the final pieces of the puzzle when the Brewers received pitchers Rollie Fingers and Pete Vukovich, along with catcher Ted Simmons for pitchers Lary Sorensen and Dave LaPoint, outfielders Sixto Lezcano and top prospect David Green.
A 50 day players strike forced the 1981 season to be split into halves with the New York Yankees winning the first half and the Milwaukee Brewers taking the 2nd half. A Divisional Playoff Series was played between the Yankees and Brewers to decide the winner of the American League East, unfortunately, they lost the 5 game series to the Yankees 3 games to 2. In spite of the strike and the early exit from postseason play, it was positive year for Milwaukee, the Brewers had arrived and for the first time in their history, the Brewers had made the playoffs. It was also a very special year for relief pitcher Rollie Fingers who won both the Cy Young and American League’s Most Valuable Player awards that year.
In 1982, the Brewers struggled early and replaced manager Buck Rodgers with hitting coach Harvey Kuenn. ‘Harvey’s Wallbanger’ responded well to their easy going manager and won the American League East Title by defeating The Baltimore Oriole’s, the ‘hard way’. Being 4 games up with only 5 games to play, all they needed was one win to clinch the division. Well, they lost 4 straight games and had their backs against the wall, needing desperately to win this last game against the Orioles to avoid a humiliating meltdown. They went on to win the final game in exciting fashion. It was on to California and the American League Championship Series. They fell behind in the ALCS, losing the first two games of the 5 game set to the California Angels and were again facing an abrupt ending to their season. No one had ever come back from 2 games down, but the Brew Crew was not to be denied, the Brewers turned a blind ear to the voices of the odds makers and swept The Angels in 3 straight games in front of their hometown fans becoming the American League Champions. It was their first World Series for the team and ended a long drought of post season baseball for the fans of Milwaukee who hadn’t had much to cheer about since the Milwaukee Braves won the Series in 1957 and then winning the National League pennant in 1958.
The Brewers were to face their trading partners of 1981, the St. Louis Cardinals in a best of seven game World Series. It was an exciting well played contest showing brilliant pitching, explosive hitting and speedy base running but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as the Milwaukee Brewers went on to lose a heart breaking 7th game in St. Louis. Though they didn’t win, they were welcomed home as heroes by the jubilant fans who met them at the airport and also lined the streets of downtown Milwaukee for a victory parade. There was nothing to be ashamed about. What a year! ‘Harvey’s Wallbanger’s’ led the league with 216 Home Runs. They blasted 1,599 hits and drove in 843 RBI’s. Gorman Thomas had 39 home runs, Ben Oglivie clubbed 34, Cecil Cooper 32, Robin Yount 29 and Ted Simmons 24. Robin Yount won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award and also a Gold Glove. He finished the season with a batting average of .331, 29 home runs and 114 RBI’s. He had 210 hits along with 46 doubles. Paul Molitor led the majors in runs scored, 136 and collected 201 hits. Jim Gantner hit a career high .295 during the 1982 season. Pete Vuckovich followed Rollie Fingers example by winning the 1982 Cy Young award with a record of 18-6 and Mike Caldwell wasn’t too shabby himself, with in a stellar performance that year, winning 17 games including two World Series victories.
Speaking of Rollie Fingers, the mustachioed pitcher was having another fine season in 1982, with 29 saves until a muscle tear in September sidelined him for the season. The team had to do without him in the post season and in this fan’s opinion, it was this critical injury that made the difference, as they lost to the Cardinals.
While 1982 may seem like yesterday, it has in fact been nearly 25 years since the Milwaukee Brewers won the American League Pennant. (which will never happen again as the Brewers switched to the National League in 1998) Over the past few years I have found myself going over my Brewer collection, seeing what I have and deciding what I needed to add to the collection, upgrade, etc… Life as we all find out, has it’s changing priorities. We have more pressing things to deal with and I am not alone in the hiatus I took from actively collecting Milwaukee Brewer related material.
A funny thing happens with this passage of time, while we were off doing other things, the gremlins were busy at work, things we were sure we had, disappear, the mint condition we remember the stuff being in, turns out to be slightly folded, spindled and mutilated or otherwise degraded with time or neglect. The biggest shock of all is trying to find the stuff we need to replace items or add to the collection and finding out what used to sell for next to nothing in 1982 has our blood pressure soaring when we see some of the price tags. This “Duh lay”, as I call it, is the zone where the reality of this passage of time settles in and we realize our missed opportunities by not collecting it sooner and the challenge we have ahead of us to reclaim the memories we hold so dear as collectors. “If only I bought it then.” or “Why did I nail that sucker to the garage wall?” Duh? You betcha.!
When collecting items from our favorite teams, there are hundreds of items to choose from, you name it, if they sold it, we bought it, wore it, or in some cases, we even ate or drank it! Baseball cards, autographs, game used equipment, pins, buttons, cushions, programs, yearbooks, magazines, newspapers, schedules, helmets, hats, jerseys, jackets, glasses, mugs, soda cups, figurines, champagne bottles, candy bars, their wrappers, stuffed animals, (insert a breath… here) the list could go on forever. But for this installment I will focus on a particular group of items from my collection that I have found to be the most consumable and fragile collectibles related to that 1982 Champion Season of the Milwaukee Brewers, the pennants.
The first thing one discovers about pennants is that if they weren’t properly handled, stored or displayed, they didn’t fare too well over time. The synthetic materials modern pennants are made of are just not as good as previous generations. Fortunately, I did pretty good with what I had collected. If they were stored flat and in protective sleeves and kept out of harsh light, they stayed in pretty decent shape. My biggest problem was realizing that I didn’t have anything close to all of the various pennants that were produced during that time period. It was by searching for decent representations of what I missed, that I saw the very daunting task ahead of me. To complete my collection, I had to endure the hundreds of wrinkled, pin holed and soiled pennants that seem to be the norm and seek out the few people who actually took care of the pennants.
Pennants can be local, regional or national, in manufacture or distribution and this will have a bearing on their scarcity and availability. The majority will probably be issued directly related to the event, sold during or immediately after the1982 playoff season. There are also bootleg and phantom pennants to contend with as well as commemorative issues and reproductions that were issued much later. Also worth noting are two of our favorite players, Hall of famers, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Both of these players have pennants that were issued after the 1982 season but hold interest to collectors because of the roles they had with the team during the World Series. I am unable to show all varieties as space is limited and I am still searching, evaluating, upgrading and adding to my collection but these examples should show some of the different varieties that are available.
AL Eastern Division Championship Pennants: The first Pennants to appear in the post season were the AL Eastern Division Champ Pennants issued after the team clinched the Division, printed between the season’s end and the Brewers winning the American League Championship they had a short run and production stopped as soon as the Brewers won the ALCS and were in the World Series. Varieties seem limited when compared to the later pennants. Shown are two examples I have of the AL Eastern Champs pennants. The top pennant declaring Milwaukee as AL Eastern Division Champions and the bottom adding a scroll with the players’ names. The Scroll pennant design reappears on later issues. ALCS Pennant: A very scarce pennant was issued in California during the American League Championship series. It features the two team Logos, names and 1982 American League Championship on a white background. AL Champion Pennants: See photos. Probably printed during the World Series, immediately after ALCS. These two Pennants were issued declaring the Milwaukee Brewers as American League Champions.
#1 A blue banner shaped American League Championship pennant similar to the banner that hung at Milwaukee County Stadium.
#2 A white Pennant with gold lettering declaring Milwaukee Brewers as the American League Champions.
World Series Pennants: American League Champs (World Series designation added) showing Players names on Scroll in both white and the somewhat scarcer blue variety. The commonly seen blue American League Champs (World Series designation added) Pennant and it’s less common “gold” colored twin. A white Pennant with blue stripe shows the World Series 1982 Logo in patriotic colors listing both the Cardinals and the Brewers A basic white Pennant has the 1982 World Series Logo with Milwaukee Brewers Logo Phantom Pennants: Phantom Pennants result because manufacturers print them in advance of series finale prior to outcome in anticipation of having product ready for the fans immediately after the game. Unfortunately, when your team loses, the pennant is also considered a “loser” by some collectors. My experience has been that most phantom pennants are not very desirable and although collectible to some extent, they are not as popular as the ones that tell it like it is, and in the case of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982, wishing won’t make it so. Shown are two examples of the phantom pennants showing slight variation in design elements. I have seen “plenty” of these around. They are by no means scarce.
Bootleg Pennants… When there is money to be made, everybody wants to get into the act, photo shows 2 examples of cheaply made bootlegs Pennants, I have seen others but as a general rule you can spot them as they usually are pretty shabby in design when compared to the legitimate pennants. Post 1982 Pennants: All fans expected 1983 to be a repeat of the success of 1982 and I have included an example of a very scarce 1983 advertising piece from a Liquor store celebrating the 1982 season.
Commemorative & Reproduction Pennants: Since 1982 I have found two commemorative Pennants that I have added to my collection. A white team Scroll variation of the 1982 American League Championship was issued 20 years after the World Series as a stadium giveaway in 2002 with many of the 1982 team members honored on the field before the game.
Also, Mitchell & Ness issued a high quality smaller version of the Ubiquitous Blue World Series Pennant in soft “old school” felt which included yellow streamers not on the original. I sure wish all modern pennants were made this well. This pennant has been readily available on the internet. Player Pennants: Two of the heroes of the 1982 season were Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, both were inducted into the hall of fame as Milwaukee Brewers. They have had individual pennants devoted to them and although some were issued after the 1982 season, I consider them as part of my 1982 collection due to the role these two had in getting the team to the World Series, they are fan favorites and mine too. In analyzing their respective pennants we learn that local vs. national distribution isn’t always a clearcut clue as to what is common or what may be scarce.
When comparing the pennants of Robin Yount, the white pennant issued in 1992 is a national issue and is still very common and easy to find. The blue “Robin” Baseball’s Best MVP Pennant is a local issue with an interesting story. The brain-child of 3 Milwaukee fans, Chuck Bekos, Tom Donnelly and Milwaukee Mayoral aide Richard Budelman. It showed up right after the World Series and is relatively scarce. I have a newspaper clipping from the Milwaukee Journal Newspaper where the columnist took umbrage at the Mayor’s office wasting the taxpayers time contacting the Hall of Fame while there were more important issues to be dealt with in city government. I thought it was a great promotion during a time of great civic pride. Through this contact with the Baseball Hall of Fame Mr. Budelman made sure that one of these pennants became part of the permanent collection at the Hall of Fame. I have confirmed through conversations with the Hall of Fame that it is indeed part of their collection and this pennant is actually featured in the Hall of Fame’s 2007 Calendar. (see photo) Thanks guys, I can’t remember which one of you I got mine from, but I got it out of the trunk of your car when you dropped one off at the Milwaukee Public Museum for their collection too.
A rare glimpse of the Robin Yount fan club photo Pennant. If you have one of these, you must be smiling like Robin is on this pennant. In Contrast to the Yount Pennants, which show us that local issues are usually scarcer than the national issues, I have chosen the two Hall of Fame induction Pennants of Paul Molitor to illustrate that sometimes the opposite is true.
The gold trimmed light blue pennant is the Milwaukee Brewer Stadium Giveaway to all fans attending the game at Miller Park on June 15, 2004. The navy Blue felt Pennant was issued nationally by the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York in celebration of Molitor’s induction into Baseball’s hall of fame. Although actual numbers are not available, it does appear that the local SGA pennant from June 15, 2004 is much easier to find than the “Hall of Fame” issued pennant that flew under the radar for most of the casual fans out there who missed it. It was available at the Hall of Fame or through catalog sales and is no longer sold. This high quality felt pennant is my favorite, commemorating Paul Molitor’s career and is an enduring part of Milwaukee’s 1982 participation in the Fall Classic.
While Milwaukee fans join the “wait until next year” crowd on the sidelines as the St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers battle it out for the “Wins of October”, I am not alone having faith in our Milwaukee Brewers that we can soon set aside the pennants featuring the Milwaukee Sausage Race and raise our banners to Milwaukee’s promising future, both on the field and in the field of Milwaukee Baseball Memorabilia.