MILWAUKEE — Craig Counsell sat at a podium in the bowel of Miller Park and received words of gratitude for his idea to create a Milwaukee Brewers Wall of Honor from Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Robin Yount.
Earlier in the day, Brewers general manager Doug Melvin ribbed his former player and now special assistant for coming up with the only good idea he has had in his three years in the front office.
Counsell’s vision, a place where players who have impacted the Brewers franchise in a variety of ways can be honored, came to fruition Friday. The Brewers unveiled their new Wall of Honor on the north side of Miller Park in a private ceremony prior to their game against the Cincinnati Reds.
Of the 802 players who have worn a Brewers uniform, 58 met the criteria necessary for induction. With 38 in attendance, Friday marked the largest gathering of former Brewers in franchise history, surpassing the final game at Milwaukee County Stadium.
"I’m a big fan of history," Counsell said. "I’ve always believed it is our responsibility to promote and protect the history of the game. So to me, the idea of a Wall of Honor is really made with the fans in mind and to really keep the history and tradition of Brewers baseball alive and celebrated."
In order to make the Wall of Honor, players must fall into one of the following categories with the Brewers: 2,000 or more plate appearances, 1,000 or more innings pitched, 250 appearances as a pitcher, winner of a major award (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Fireman of the Year), manager of a pennant-winning team, individuals recognized with a statue at Miller Park or members of the Baseball Hall of Fame who have played for the franchise.
Other than the 58 who were inducted into the inaugural class, active players John Axford, Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Yovani Gallardo, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart and Rickie Weeks have qualified to be put in when they retire. Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy is 45 plate appearances shy of qualifying, while center fielder Carlos Gomez is shy by 108 plate appearances.
Counsell said the idea behind the wall of honor is to give fans walking by a chance to recall certain moments with the players on the wall.
"This display allows those generations to bond over a story of, ‘I remember when,’ " Counsell said. "I remember when Sixto Lezcano hit that opposite-field home run on Opening Day with that new scoreboard at old County Stadium. I remember when B.J. Surhoff had a walkoff bunt against a tough left-handed pitcher on a summer day in the late ’80s. Or Charlie Moore hugging (Jim) Gantner after (Cecil) Cooper’s single in the playoffs.
"Maybe those aren’t the most memorable moments in the franchise, but I can remember where I was sitting and I can remember who I was with and what I was thinking during those moments. I think there are thousands of fans that will walk by this wall and have their own story to tell."
Also inducted into the Wall of Honor was former Brewers owner and current commissioner Bud Selig, who called bringing a Major League Baseball franchise back to Milwaukee following the Braves moving to Atlanta "the greatest accomplishment of my professional life."
What Counsell was going for when he came up with the blueprint of the Wall of Honor certainly proved impactful with Selig.
"To me, this was a very emotional day because it brought back memories," Selig said. "Last night I looked at the list of players that were coming back and every one of them had a moment that I remember. It was really amazing."
Yount echoed his former bosses’ thoughts, as he estimated he played with close to 90 percent of the inductees in his 20 years with the Brewers.
"A lot of franchises that have been around a while and have a great history do stuff like this," Yount said. "This is the start of it for the Brewers. That’s something to say for the organization, that we’ve been around long enough to have something that meaningful for that many guys. I think it is awesome."
Bound to a wheelchair but still receiving the loudest ovation of any of the inductees, Aaron went out of his way to thank Counsell because of what Friday meant to him.
"When you start thinking about some of the things that have happened here in Milwaukee, you have to give people credit," Aaron said. "It meant so much to me that I got a chance to play 14 or 15 years in Milwaukee. Coming up from Class-A ball, making all kinds of mistakes that I made, these fans, we kind of grew up together.
"Never, never in my life have I been booed in this city. I had a chance to sign with eight or nine different clubs but the one that I chose was coming to Milwaukee. It’s a great city not only because of the fan base, but because of the teammates that I had."
While having Hall of Famers such as Yount, Aaron and Rollie Fingers return to Milwaukee is always special for the community, they have been recognized by the Brewers organization in a variety of different ways.
What the Wall of Honor intends to do is serve as a way to provide recognition for players who have made an impact but aren’t immortalized with their numbers in the rafters or statues outside a ballpark. That didn’t go unrecognized Friday.
"To go in that room and see the plaque, that really hits home," former Brewers second baseman Fernando Vina said. "It’s a moment and a time now that feels special to me. It’s a tremendous honor to be included with these other guys."
"It means a lot," former Brewers outfielder Darryl Hamilton added. "I played 13 years in the big leagues and I felt like I had a good career, but I never felt there was a team that looked at what I was doing and said, ‘Oh, he did OK.’ It’s good to be back home with the Brewers and for them to recognize that."