The arrival of a new baseball team to a city, whether by relocation or expansion, I would imagine, is a permanent parade for kids, new friend to teenagers, companion for adults, medicine for an elder. I was born in July, 1970, a few months shy of witnessing the birth of the Milwaukee Brewers, not that I had any idea what a baseball was at birth. That took a few years, maybe five, when my dad came home with a pack of 1975 Topps and it was probably more the wild, psychedelic colors than anything about baseball that sucked me in, but I do remember one of the cards – Jim Brewer of the Dodgers which probably struck me as strange, a player named Brewer on the Dodgers?
Later in life, I learned the creation story of the Brewers, of them actually being born in Seattle, as the Pilots and that team going bankrupt after one season, yes, one and done. In that spring of 1970, the truck driver was instructed to head northeast, not northwest, to go to Milwaukee, not Seattle, to become the Brewers, not the Pilots. The Brewers retained the Pilot’s blue and yellow uniforms that continue to this very day, a somewhat superficial reminder, but there was more….there was the player the Pilots selected in the 1969 amateur draft. More on that famous pick a bit later.
Firstly, the Pilots added to their roster in the 1968 expansion first, winning the mini lottery, but choosing to pick second, rewarding them both the second and third picks. The Royals, the other American league expansion team that season (The Padres and Expos were the NL expansion teams) picked first, among the American League teams, selecting Roger Nelson from the Orioles. Nelson didn’t pitch too bad in 1969 for the Royals. He gave up 170 hits in 193.1 innings, but it kind of paled in comparison to the production the Pilots got from their first 2 picks….Don Mincher and Tommy Harper. They got Mincher from the Angles. I mean the Angels. I always screw up their name when typing. Anyway, Mincher hit 25 homers and drove in 78 runs and made the all-star team. However, I’m not sure if the rule back then was that at least one player from every team made the all-star game? The other player the Pilots got, in the expansion draft, 3rd over all, from the Indians, was Tommy Harper. He had a .349 OB% and led the league with 79 steals.
The following year came the amateur draft and for some reason that I don’t know, none of the new teams picked first. The Pilots had the 21st pick followed by the Expos, Royals, Padres. The Pilots picked shortstop/pitcher Gorman Thomas out of James Island, high school in Columbia, South Carolina and eventually turned him into an outfielder, a centerfielder. Like every other player back then, Thomas had to dig in and work hard (there was no pampering first round picks). Thomas was called up to the crew in 1973, and hit 2 homers in 155 at bats. Over the next four years he was up and down, AAA minors to majors. Limited playing time and get this, he hit a whopping 51 homers in 1974 as a member of the Sacramento Solons in the Pacific Coast League and yet, he didn’t even lead the team in homers! That honor went to Bill McNulty with 55. On that same team Sixto Lezcano hit 34 and Tommie Reynolds hit 32. As a team they hit a stunning 308 homers which begs the question what professional baseball team has the record for most homers in a single season? The Twins hit 307 in 2019.
In 1978, Thomas got 482 at bats and made the most of it, hitting 32 homers. He became a strikeout/home run machine, leading the league with 45 bombs in 1979 and 39 in 1982. He was also a damn good centerfielder, but more than anything else he became a symbol of hard working Milwaukee and all its breweries and manufacturing plants.
The face of the franchise Gorman Thomas. Even to this day, mostly amongst the older crowd, Gorman remains that face, more than Yount, certainly more than the lier, I mean liar Braun and more than today’s struggling star Christian Yelich.