At just 42 years old, the Milwaukee Brewers are one of the youngest franchises in all of Major League Baseball. By Chicago Cubs’ standards, they’re still very much in the infancy phase as far as years of experience is concerned.
With only one appearance on the Fall Classic stage — which came as a member of the American League way back in 1982 — the Brewers aren’t known as a terribly successful franchise, truth be told. But that shouldn’t undermine the Hall of Fame-bound talent that the franchise has compassed over the past near half-decade.
Let’s take a look at the top 15 players in Milwaukee Brewers history with a few honorable mentions included for their exceptional play as members of the organization.
Honorable Mention: Bill Hall
Bill Hall was never going to tell you how good he was or how much he meant to the success of the team. He was a hard worker with a great attitude who could play every position other than pitcher and catcher.
During the first half of his seven seasons with the Brewers, Hall was probably Milwaukee’s biggest threat at the plate. Four times he amassed over 55 RBI in a single season (yes, we know that isn’t saying much) but his best season came in 2006 where he batted .270 with 35 home runs and 85 RBI. He has since found his way around the league with a number of teams after his time with the Brewers, but make no mistake: He is absolutely deserving of being on this list.
Honorable Mention: Jim Slaton
Jim Slaton was never known as being a overwhelmingly successful Major-League pitcher. However he deserves to be on this list for no other reason than his statistics alone.
In 12 seasons as a starter for the Brewers, Slaton went 117-121 while posting a 3.86 ERA. Pedestrian numbers, to say the least, however his 117 wins remain a franchise record to this day and his 3.86 ERA also ranks in the top 10 among all Milwaukee starters. What’s most remarkable about his career with Milwaukee, though, was how much of an innings-eater he was. In 1976, Slaton worked 292.2 innings and started 38 games, fifth and fourth among all MLB starters that year, respectively.
Though he may be more well-known throughout the baseball community for his days as a St. Louis Cardinal, there’s simply no getting past how striking his power was in his first few seasons with the Brewers.
Chosen as the fourth overall pick in the 1986 draft, Vaughn made his major league debut in Milwaukee back in 1989. The relentless slugger first truly burst onto the scene in 1991, where he gathered 27 HR, 98 RBI and a .456 slugging percentage. He spent just seven seasons with Milwaukee, but he ranks seventh in home runs (169) and ninth in RBI (566) and runs scored (528).
15. Richie Sexson
Acquired via trade from the Cleveland Indians back in 2000, Sexson spent three and a half unforgettably lasting seasons as a Brewers up until his departure after the 2003 season. From 2001-2003, Sexson managed no fewer than 102 RBI, 29 HR and 159 hits. The two-time all-star finished 12th in the NL MVP voting in 2003 with 45 HR, 124 RBI and a .927 OPS.
Although the slugger was never able to flaunt his power on the postseason stage, he was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished power-hitters in MLB during his stay in Milwaukee.
14. Yovani Gallardo
The 25-year-old right-hander may have only just completed his fourth complete season with Milwaukee, but there’s absolutely no disputing what he’s accomplished.
Since his rookie debut back in 2007, Gallardo has progressively transformed into the ace that GM Doug Melvin recognized when he took him in the second round of the 2004 draft. His career 3.63 ERA ranks second-best all-time behind Teddy Higuera (3.61), and his 9.25 K/9 ranks first. Milwaukee locked up the power righty to a five-year, $30.1 million contract back in March of 2010. If his outstanding production sustains the test of time, he’ll end up as the greatest starter in Brewers history.
If you’re talking about all-time Brewer greats, you simply cannot exclude Jim Gantner. He played 17 steadfast seasons at second base for Milwaukee and was a mainstay in Harvey Kuenn’s wall-banging 1982 championship team.
Never known for his power (he finished with 47 career home runs), Gantner worked through his impotent-ways at the plate by ranking fourth all-time in hits (1,696) and runs (726) and fifth in doubles (345). He was also apt on the bases, notching 137 career stolen bases — enough to rank third all-time.
Gantner was a hard-worker who gave seemingly everything he had, and is certainly deserving of being deemed an all-time Brewer great.
12. Gorman Thomas
Thomas was, believe it or not, Milwaukee’s first ever draft pick, coming back in 1969. He spent over nine seasons in the outfield of old County Stadium, most of which will probably never be forgotten by Brewers fans everywhere.
Milwaukee’s ever-likable center-fielder currently ranks fourth-all time in home runs (208), seventh in RBI (605) and eighth in slugging percentage (.461). He was a true power-threat at the plate but was by no means consistent, posting a career .230 BA as a Brewer.
11. Jeromy Burnitz
During the so-called “dark ages” of the franchise prior to the construction of Miller Park, Jeromy Burnitz galvanized Brewers fans with his power-packed swing.
During his five-and-a-half year stay with Milwaukee, Burnitz totaled 165 home runs and 525 RBI, a .508 slugging percentage with a .362 on-base percentage. He averaged 33 home runs and 102 RBI in each season from 1997-2011 and finished 19th in NL MVP voting in 1998. Burnitz would end up bouncing around the majors after his time with the Brewers, finishing his 14-year career as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, there’s no doubt his legacy will remain with Milwaukee.
It’s sad to think that Rollie Fingers is more widely known for his extravagant facial hair than his dominating days as a Milwaukee Brewer. Then again, that is one impressive mustache.
Spending his last four professional seasons with Milwaukee, Fingers was able to dispatch every ounce of pitching talent left in his arm. In 1981, he posted a 1.04 ERA with 28 saves and a 0.87 WHIP on his way to the Cy Young Award, and to this day still remains the only pitcher in Brewers history to win the prestigious award. The next two seasons, Fingers averaged 26 saves and a 2.28 ERA, but more importantly aided in Milwaukee’s quest toward the 1982 AL pennant and lone World Series appearance. Long live the ‘stache.
9. Ben Sheets
Boom or bust — whatever you want to call him — there’s simply no denying how dominating Ben Sheets was during his golden days with Milwaukee.
In eight seasons with the Brewers, Sheets went 86-83 and struck out a franchise-best 1,206 batters, boasted a 3.72 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. In 2004, one of the greatest individual seasons in Brewers history, Sheets went 12-14 with a 2.70 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and struck out a ridiculous 270 batters. Sheets had a number of dominating pitches at his disposal, but none were as notorious as his curveball. Thanks in large part to his breaking pitch, he managed a 28.1 K% during his historic 2004 campaign.
In my mind, there has never been a Brewer starter with more pure talent than Sheets. If not for injuries, we could be talking about a future Hall of Famer.
8. Ben Oglivie
Probably one of the most unheralded pure hitters in the history of baseball, Ben Oglivie was an absolute gamer in his nine seasons with the Brewers.
Originally drafted by the Red Sox, Oglivie made his way to Milwaukee prior to the 1978 season. That year, he posted a .303 BA and a .497 slugging percentage. In nine seasons with the Brewers, Oglivie was named to the All-Star team three times and won a silver slugger in 1980, arguably his best season, where he batted .304 with 41 home runs and 118 RBI. He was a mainstay on Harvey Kuenn’s AL championship team in 1982, and will go down as one of the best pure hitters in franchise history.
There was an undefinable likability about Geoff Jenkins among fans in his 10 seasons with Milwaukee. Maybe it was his scrappy demeanor of play, or maybe it was his alarmingly impressive statistics. I think it was both.
In a decade’s worth of play for the Brewers, Jenkins managed to crack the franchise’s top five in career home runs (212), RBI (704), slugging percentage (.496), OPS (.843) and extra-base hits (521). He made the All-Star team in 2003 but unfortunately had just one taste of postseason action with Milwaukee coming in 2008. Jenkins’ big bat helped usher in the post-County Stadium era and was arguably Milwaukee’s premier slugger from 1999 to 2004.
6. Teddy Higuera
The Brewers have never been particularly notorious for their historic pitching talent, but Teddy Higuera is a clear exception to that criterion.
In 10 major league seasons (all spent with Milwaukee), Higuera posted a franchise-best 3.61 ERA and went 94-64, enough for a .595 win percentage. He once amassed 20 wins and four times posted 15-plus win seasons. He wasn’t a strikeout/power pitcher by any means — he garnered just a career 18.8 K% — but he was able to work his way through tough spots and limit his mistakes.
5. Cecil Cooper
Originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox, Cecil Cooper never truly found his way in the major leagues until he was traded to Milwaukee on December 6, 1976. From there on out, he was indeed a superstar.
During his 11 season with the Brewers, Cooper was selected to the AL All Star team five times and hoarded three silver-slugger awards. He also aggregated two gold glove awards, a testament to his superb defensive capabilities while playing first base for Milwaukee.
From 1979 to 1983, Cooper averaged 25 home runs, 107 RBI and a .320 BA. He led the AL in RBI 1980 and 1983 and finished in the top five in hits during that four-year span. If it weren’t for Prince Fielder, Cooper would be the greatest first baseman in Brewers history.
Though Prince Fielder was unable to lead the Brewers to a World Series in his six full seasons with the club, he was able to become one of the greatest players in franchise history. That’s saying something.
Holding down the fort at first base full-time since 2006, Fielder has put together an unprecedented career. He 230 home runs rank second all-time and his 656 RBI are enough to rank sixth. He holds the all-time high with a .390 on-base percentage and his 439 extra-base hits ranks fifth.
Oh, and did we forget to mention he’s a two-time silver slugger, three-time All Star and has participated in three home run derbies? There may never be another left-handed slugger like Fielder in the history of the franchise.
3. Ryan Braun
Unwarranted performance-enhancing drug allegations aside, Ryan Braun will be the greatest player in Milwaukee Brewers history when it’s all said and done. Signing a five year, $105 Million contract extension last April will make him a Brewer until 2020. It’s only inevitable, folks.
Since entering the league May of 2007, Braun has been absolutely remarkable. He’s hoarded 161 home runs, 531 RBI and has set franchise-bests with a .312 BA, .563 slugging percentage and .933 OPS. He’s been, as the kids call it, totally rad.
Last season, Braun stockpiled 33 home runs, 111 RBI and a league-best .597 slugging percentage on his way to winning the franchise’s first MVP award since Robin Yount (more from him later) did it back in 1989. You’d better believe there’s more where that came from for Braun in the coming seasons.
2. Paul Molitor
Paul Molitor could seemingly do it all. He could run, hit for power, hit for average and play defense. When you look up the definition of a “five-tool” player, there’s probably a picture of Molitor.
In 15 illustrious seasons with the Brewers, Molitor put up some truly incredible numbers.
Seven times he posted a batting average over .300 and eight times he notched over 30 stolen bases in a single season. In 1987, easily his greatest season as a Brewer, Molitor batted an amazing .353 but somehow failed to reel-in a the AL batting title. He was a three-time All Star and two-time silver slugger with Milwaukee, was inducted to the baseball Hall of Fame as a Brewer in 2004 and would have been the greatest player in franchise history if not for…
1. Robin Yount
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a more convincing ranking in the history of the franchise.
What Robin Yount accomplished in 20 seasons with the Brewers may never be repeated or surpassed. He holds the all-time lead in hits (3,142), runs scored (1,632), home runs (251), RBI (1406), stolen bases (271) and extra-base hits (960). We could keep going, but I think you get the point.
He was a three-time All Star and remains the only player in MLB history to win an MVP award at two separate positions — one coming as Milwaukee’s shortstop and the other coming as a center-fielder. Yount also compiled three silver slugger awards and one gold glove, and his jersey number, 19, is retired in Milwaukee.