When the Milwaukee Brewers take the field tonight in the Bronx, it will be the first time the team has played at Yankee Stadium since 1997, and the only time as a member of the National League. Even though the Brew Crew made the switch to the NL in 1998, and to the AL Central in 1994, it’s still hard to not think of them as an A.L. East rival.
Yankees Cumulative Regular Season Record, 1980-1989
|Kansas City Royals||68||52||0.567||544||526||39-21||29-31|
|Toronto Blue Jays||65||57||0.533||566||567||30-31||35-26|
|Chicago White Sox||61||58||0.513||525||481||32-28||29-30|
|Boston Red Sox||63||60||0.512||605||587||31-30||32-30|
Over the years, the Boston Red Sox have usually been the Yankees’ chief rival, but during ebbs in the two teams’ relationship, other franchises have stepped in to fill the void. For part of the 1980s, the Milwaukee Brewers were that team.
The Yankees won more games than any other franchise in the 1980s (as George Steinbrenner was fond of pointing out), but the Brewers were the one team against which they had a losing record (albeit by only one game). During the decade, the two A.L. East teams also faced off in an often forgotten playoff series necessitated by the 1981 strike. In what turned out to be the first League Division Series in baseball history, the Yankees avoided blowing a 2-0 series lead by winning the deciding fifth game, but not before suffering two very embarrassing moments.
In the seventh inning of game 3, which was held at Yankee Stadium, an irate fan jumped out of the stands and tackled third base umpire Mike Reilly, who an inning earlier called Dave Winfield out on a close play. Luckily, Graig Nettles was able to pull the fan off Reilly before serious damage could be inflicted. The black eye given to the entire Stadium crowd, however, was not avoided.
I didn’t see him ‘til he hit me from the back. I haven’t been tackled like that since I played high school football.” – Umpire Mike Reilly, quoted by AP, October 10, 1981
After dropping that game 5-3, the Yankees also lost the next one 2-1. In the process, the team went 0-7 with runners in scoring position, which infuriated the Boss. In particular, Steinbrenner fumed over a base running blunder by Rick Cerone that cost the Yankees a first and third opportunity in the seventh inning.
According to newspaper accounts, the volatile Yankees’ owner lashed into the team during a clubhouse rant, but the chief whipping boy was the Yankees’ catcher. Perhaps still steaming from losing an arbitration case to him earlier that spring, Steinbrenner repeatedly told Cerone that he would be gone next year, which not only provoked an angry response, but also tears.
You’re all a bunch of over priced fat cats. If we lose, I’ll take the heat, but all of you will be gone. You’re an embarrassment.” – Yankees’ owner George M. Steinbrenner addressing the team after a game 4 loss in the 1981 LDS, as quoted by AP, October 11, 1981
The Yankees rallied to win the series against the Brewers and then swept Billy Martin’s Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. However, Steinbrenner’s anger was only temporarily abated. When the Yankees lost the final four games of the World Series to the Dodgers, after taking a 2-0 series lead no less, the Boss’ wrath was felt once again. This time, Steinbrenner expressed his dismay with a now infamous public apology.
Despite never being directly involved in a pennant race during the same season, the Yankees and Brewers always seemed to play competitive series punctuated by dramatic rallies and improbable comebacks. What’s more, at various points during the 1980s, both teams also featured several future Hall of Famers. Two such examples, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, also happened to be among the Yankees’ chief tormenters during the decade. The really Yankee killer, however, was left handed pitcher Teddy Higuera, who dominated the Bronx Bombers with relative ease. Not only did the Brewers’ lefty notch a decade best 12 wins (Floyd Bannister also had 12) against the Yankees, but he also ranked first in ERA and winning percentage among all pitchers with at least 75 innings.
Although the two teams will meet this week as distant interleague opponents, it’s still fun to hark back to the days of those great 1980s Brewers. Of course, the current squad, which includes such stars as Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Yovani Gallardo, shouldn’t be taken for granted. After all, if each team maintains its current position in the standings, the Brewers next trip to the Bronx could come as soon as this October. With all eyes on the Red Sox vs. Phillies as a potential World Series preview, the real sneak peak could be taking place at Yankee Stadium.