In the short history of the Milwaukee Brewers, there have been a handful of solid performances in baseball’s smallest market. This year, Ryan Braun looks on pace to put together one of the best, similar to his MVP season of 2011. But how good is Braun’s performance this year in comparison to the rest of Brewers’ lore?
With just three MVP’s in the history of the franchise, great seasons in Brewers’ history have flown under the radar on several occasions, whether from guys like Ben Oglivie in 1980 or Richie Sexson in his final season. But at the top remain a handful of the best performances not only in Brewers history, but in the history of baseball.
10. Richie Sexson 2003 The numbers: .272, 45 home runs, 124 RBI, .548 slugging percentage, .927 OPS How they stack up: Playing in all 162 games, Sexson tied his own Brewers record with 45 home runs in a season. 2003 also marked just the second All-Star bid of Sexson’s fairly storied career in his final season with the Brewers. He’d never go on to put together another season like 2003 in his final five in the major leagues. Memorable moment: In September, Sexson became the first of three players to have 100 RBI in three consecutive seasons. He was soon joined by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun.
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9. 1B Cecil Cooper, 1982 The numbers: .313, 32 home runs, 121 RBI How they stack up: As one of the key cogs in the Brewers’ 1982 run to the World Series, batting behind Hall-of-Famers Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, Cooper’s biggest production would come in clutch moments in the playoffs, but his regular season was nothing to slouch at, as he was named the Brewers MVP over Yount and Molitor. 1982 also marked the first-ever thrice-consecutive Silver Slugger award for a Brewer, until Braun matched it almost 30 years later. Memorable moment: With the season on the line against the Orioles in a year that would eventually lead the Brewers to the World Series, Cooper had one of his best games of the season, tallying two hits and three RBI, including a solo home run that gave the Brewers the insurance to begin pulling away from Jim Palmer and the O’s.
8. LF Ben Oglivie, 1980 The numbers: .304, 41 home runs, 118 RBI, .563 slugging percentage, .925 OPS How they stack up: The first of many non-American-born players to lead the league in home runs in a season, Oglivie’s 1980 campaign was by far his best. After 1980, however, Oglivie never reached the 40-home run plateau again. That season also marked his only ever Silver Slugger award, but statistically, there are few better in Brewers history. Memorable moment: In back-to-back games against the Mariners in mid-May, Oglivie tallied two of his best game performances of his career, hitting a pair of home runs in both games and tallying eight RBI in that short span.
7. 1B Cecil Cooper, 1980 The numbers: .352, 25 home runs, 122 RBI, .539 slugging percentage, .926 OPS, 336 total bases How they stack up: After finishing fifth in the MVP voting in 1980, Cooper led the league in total bases and finished near the top in batting average, having hit .300 in every single month of the season. Unfortunately, his amazing season was overlooked as Kansas City’s George Brett flirted with a .400 average. Still, Cooper’s 1980 season was the best, statistically, of his career and established him as one of the mainstays in a soon-to-be great Brewers lineup, finishing fifth in MVP voting. Memorable moment: In an 18-1 rout of the Red Sox in April, Cooper and teammate Don Money became just the fourth pair in major league history to connect for two grand slams in the same inning. Since, the feat has happened twice.
6. Ryan Braun 2009 The numbers: .320, 32 home runs, 114 RBI, 20 stolen bases, .551 slugging percentage, .937 OPS How they stack up: Braun became the first Brewer since Paul Molitor to lead the league in hits in 2009, among a slew of other honors that Milwaukee players had rarely ever been a part of. He became just the second Brewer to hit 30 home runs and steal 20 bags in a season. And not to mention, Braun tallied the second-highest home run total ever in the first two seasons of a career (79). Memorable moment: It had been almost 30 years since the Brewers had a player named to consecutive All-Star game starts, but in 2009, as Braun led all NL outfielders in voting, he became the first since Yount to start the All-Star game twice in a row. But even Yount wouldn’t go on to start four in a row, like Braun did.
5. 3B Paul Molitor 1987 The numbers: .353, 16 home runs, 75 RBI, .566 slugging percentage, 1.033 OPS How they stack up: Perhaps more than anything, Molitor’s 1987 season will be remembered for his amazing 39-game hitting streak, the longest in the American League since Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-game streak. But of Molitor’s many good seasons, 1987 was the best, as his batting average towered above the rest of the league and he led the American League in runs scored and doubles. Memorable moment: As Molitor’s 39-game hitting streak remained in doubt in the ninth inning against Cleveland, with Molitor in the on-deck circle, Brewers fans actually booed fellow Brewer Rick Manning, who had just knocked in the winning RBI, thus depriving Molitor of a chance to go for 40 games in a row.
4. OF Robin Yount 1989 The numbers: .318, 21 home runs, 103 RBI, .511 slugging percentage, .896 OPS How they stack up: On paper, Yount’s 1989 season might not be one of the five best in the history of Milwaukee, but his second MVP year was a memorable one indeed. He continued to flash the impressive defense he showed in the infield, despite a move to center field, marking him as one of the game’s greatest defenders, regardless of position. He became just the third player ever to win MVP awards at multiple positions, and the first in the AL in over 25 years to win multiple MVP honors. Memorable moment: In one of the best stretches of his career, Yount tallied one of his longest hitting streaks in the 1989 season, stringing together 19 games with hits.
3. Prince Fielder 2007 The numbers: .288, 50 home runs, 119 RBI, .618 slugging percentage, 1.013 OPS How they stack up: Considering the video game numbers that Fielder has put up his entire career, plenty of seasons may belong here. But in 2007, Fielder announced his arrival as one of the game’s best power hitters, leading the league in home runs and becoming the youngest ever to hit 50 long balls in a season. He finished third in MVP voting and likely would’ve won, had the Brewers been in serious contention. Memorable moment: Against Cincinnati at the end of September, Fielder blasted a record-breaking home run against the Reds, becoming the single-season leader in Brewers history with his 46th round-tripper of the season.
2. SS Robin Yount 1982 The numbers: .331, 29 home runs, 114 RBI, 46 doubles, 210 hits, .578 slugging percentage, .957 OPS How they stack up: Nobody collected more hits in the 1980’s in all of baseball than Yount, and 1982, his first MVP season, was by far his best. Leading the Brewers to the World Series, Yount was not only known for his stellar offensive numbers — which led the league in doubles, hits, slugging, and OPS — but he also played the best defensive shortstop in the league. Before Ryan Braun, no one came close to touching Yount’s incredible 1982 run. Memorable moment: On the final day of the 1982 season, with the AL East race down to a winner-take-all game against the Orioles, Yount responded with two home runs in his first two at-bats off of Jim Palmer and tallied four hits overall, as the Brewers cruised to the postseason.
1. Ryan Braun 2011 The numbers: .332, 33 home runs, 111 RBI, .600 slugging percentage, .994 OPS, 336 total bases, 33 stolen bases, 77 extra-base hits How they stack up: Braun’s MVP season of 2011 arguably ranks among the best all-around seasons in the history of baseball, let alone in Brewers history. He led the league in slugging percentage, extra-base hits, and OPS and finished near the top in pretty much everything else, including stolen bases. Memorable moment: With the Brewers on the brink of putting away an NL Central title on September 23 against the Marlins, tied 1-1, Braun came to the plate and slammed a towering three-run home run 450 feet to center field, giving Milwaukee its first sure playoff bid in years.