Exclusive: Brewers’ ‘unofficial’ mascot barks it up with Neyer
PHOENIX — Before Barry Bonds arrived in Arizona, the biggest story in the Cactus League was Hank, the bedraggled stray mutt adopted by the Milwaukee Brewers contingent. First Hank took the Brewers’ spring home of Maryvale, Ariz., by storm, then Milwaukee, and now he’s gone national in recent issues of both In Touch Magazine and People. Thursday, Hank found time in his busy schedule for a sit-down interview (yes, there were treats involved) with FOXSports.com’s Rob Neyer. The interview below has been neither edited nor condensed for space.
Rob: First off, congratulations on the regular baths, the fluffy coat and the weight gain.
Hank: [licks reporter’s notebook]
Rob: Umm, earlier this week I visited the Giants’ camp and saw Barry Bonds coaching the hitters. I’m sure you know that a lot of people consider Bonds’ records illegitimate, but I won’t ask you who’s the real Home Run Champion. You’re an aficionado of the game’s history, though, so let me ask you this: Who was the greatest Yankee, Babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio?
Rob: Right. Maybe if DiMaggio’s peak had been longer …
So the weather here in Phoenix is perfect in the spring, but you’re about to relocate to Milwaukee, and it can be pretty cold there in April. If you attend Opening Day at Miller Park, would you rather watch the game with the roof, or without?
Rob: Huh. I’m not a big fan, myself. But you’re right, it can be pretty cold there in April. Now let’s get to this team. You’ve been here all spring, probably seen them as much as anyone. And unlike the pundits, you’ve even worked out with the players during their morning drills. But you know, if it weren’t for you, there wouldn’t be a lot of buzz around this team. After nearly reaching the World Series in 2011, the Brewers fell to third place and then fourth, and attendance at Miller Park was way down last season, which makes me w …
Hank: GRRRRRR …
Rob: Hold on there, little fella, let me finish. Which makes me wonder if the Brewers’ moment has passed. Just three seasons ago, the Brewers drew nearly 3.1 million fans to Miller Park; last year it was 2.5 million, which ranked just ninth in the National League (granted, 2.5 million is still a huge number of fans, considering the Brewers play in MLB’s smallest market). Meanwhile, the front office has traded a number of fine prospects over the last few years; as Jack Moore pointed out in Baseball Prospectus 2014, from 2011 through ’13 “just eight players who were drafted and developed by the team graduated to the majors, and collectively those players produced only 5.0 WARP” … and roughly half that figure came in 2012 from pitcher Michael Fiers, who was lost in 2013 and might never pitch in the majors again.
Meanwhile, last season the Brewers lost 88 games and all they did this winter was sign strikeout machine Mark Reynolds, oft-injured starter Matt Garza, and setup man Francisco Rodriguez. Thanks to the Cubs, the Brewers probably won’t finish last, but it’s hard to see how they’re going to win enough games to keep the attendance slide from continuing, and if the attendance slide continues while the farm system — rated 29th best in baseball by Baseball America — continues to struggle, this franchise might be in serious trouble for most of your blessed existence. So have you seen the projections for your adoptive team this season?
Rob: Oh. Hey, I just realized maybe this interview won’t be as interesting as I’d hoped. Maybe we should wrap this up now, because–
Hank: Relax. I was just clearing my throat. Sure, I know what the so-called experts are saying. I don’t buy it. Between getting to know these guys so well this spring and my own research, I think your “analysis” is missing some key points.
Mark Reynolds might not be great. He’s a lot better than Yuniesky Betancourt. Aramis Ramirez played only 92 games last season, but he’s healthy now and still figures as one of the best-hitting third basemen in the majors. Ryan Braun played only 61 games last season, but he’s having a tremendous spring and probably won’t get suspended again. And you mentioned the Brewers’ relative dearth of productive young players in recent years. Well, young Scooter Gennett was great last season after replacing the injured Rickie Weeks (who’d been terrible). And right fielder Norichika Aoki became expendable with the emergence of young Khris Davis, who has immense raw power and minor-league statistics practically identical to Prince Fielder’s.
Our pitching might seem unimpressive, but there’s reason for optimism there, too. We know that Matt Garza makes us better, and we know that Kyle Lohse was not, it turns out, merely a temporary manifestation of The Cardinal Way. Marco Estrada struck out four times more than he walked, and Wily Peralta was great last season after a poor start. Yovani Gallardo’s still Yovani Gallardo. There aren’t any Cy Young candidates on this staff, but we have five starters who could pitch for almost anybody.
I read Baseball Prospectus, too. Woof.
Rob: Good answer, good answer.
Thanks a lot for your time, Hank. I know you’ve got some barking and frolicking and reading to get to, and good luck in your new home.
Hank: It’s been my great pleasure, good sir. But now I’m thinking maybe I should have said DiMaggio.
Our hearty thanks to Hank for finding some time in his busy (really!) schedule, to the Brewers organization for adding a little happiness to the world, and to Brewers VP of Communications Tyler Barnes for helping Hank turn the pages during his nightly study sessions.
On Friday, Hank learned he made the roster from Milwaukee GM Doug Melvin.