The Brewers’ Five Greatest Hitters
Ryan Braun (2007-present)
The Los Angeles native, who’s lacked only an element of physical intimidation at the plate, was one of the very few players ever to debut on the major league scene at full throttle and sustain it.
By 2013, we all found out why.
Fair or fraud, Braun has nevertheless become the Brewers’ greatest hitter based on what he’s shown.
As a rookie in 2007, Braun hit .324 with 34 homers and 97 RBIs in just 113 games; the only reason he didn’t win NL Rookie of the Year honors by a wider margin over Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki was his terrible work at third base, recording a woeful .895 fielding percentage. That problem was remedied a year later when Braun was moved to the outfield—where he didn’t commit a single error.
Subpar defense has hardly offset the fact that Braun became a major star because of his terrific batting skills. With quick hands, he consistently hit at or above .300 with good power, and the concept of a hitting slump has been largely foreign to him. A four-time All-Star through his first five years, Braun won the 2011 NL MVP award in the same year he signed a long-term extension with Milwaukee through 2020.
But troubling news accompanied the MVP honor: Braun was found to test positive for steroids, a stunning development that shocked the baseball world. A 50-game suspension was overturned before it began, however, when Braun and the players’ union successfully argued that the protocol was violated as the tester missed a FedEx deadline and safely stored the blood sample at his home for a full weekend. Technically, he wasn’t supposed to.
In the aftermath of the controversy, Braun went on the offensive—defiantly stating that “the truth is on my side” and allegedly suggesting to other players that the positive blood sample was tampered by the tester out of anti-Semitic spite against Braun, who is Jewish. Strutting into the 2012 season, Braun barreled through unshaken, hitting .319 with a career-high 41 home runs.
A year later, new steroids revelations broadsided Braun as he became one of the biggest names on a menu of players connected to Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic based in a Florida strip mall recently shuttered when the owner was caught providing steroids to Braun and a dozen other baseball players. This time, Braun found no escape; he accepted the smoking gun evidence as the truth, absorbed a 65-game suspension that put an early end to his 2013 campaign and turned from hero to villain in the eyes of even his most loyal supporters.
Life after steroids has exposed Braun, now over 30 years of age, as a solid but no longer spectacular hitter, quietly attempting to wipe away the tarnish that’s stained his legacy.
Robin Yount (1974-93)
As a teenage shortstop in 1974, the 18-year-old Yount was so boyish, stringy and mild-mannered, NBC sportscaster Joe Garigiola once joked that whenever someone on the Brewers cussed, two guys had to race over and plug his ears. Twenty years and 3,142 hits later, Yount matured into a classy and loyal player who called Milwaukee home for his entire major league career, earning a spot in Cooperstown as well as the top of most offensive categories in the Brewers team record book.
Through his first six years, Yount put up nominal numbers at the plate and was no dynamo with the glove, once committing 44 errors in one season at shortstop. He was so discouraged about this play—and the stagnant direction of the Brewers in general—that he briefly stepped away from the game early in 1978 to pursue a golf career in the PGA. But as the Brewers began to bulk up on offensive talent, Yount began bulking up in the weight room—and the difference would become game-changing. In 1980 he hit 23 home runs—his previous high was nine—and lashed out 49 doubles to lead the majors; but that was merely a build-up to 1982, when he became the core of the “Harvey’s Wallbangers” crew that rallied from a blasé start and roared to the Brewers’ first (and only) American League pennant. Yount hit .331 and missed out on a batting title by one point, belted 29 homers, knocked in 114 runs and scored 129; he finished the regular season in heroic style, launching two homers and a triple against Baltimore to give the Brewers the AL East title over the Orioles. Despite losing the World Series that year to St. Louis, Yount was not to be blamed, hitting .414 with two four-hit games. Yount snared the AL MVP and won his first and only Gold Glove of his career at shortstop.
Throughout the rest of the 1980s, Yount’s numbers moderated from his 1982 success, but he remained a difficult out. A switch to the outfield in 1985 after suffering from shoulder woes made him more relaxed on defense and more focused at the plate; in 1989, he won his second MVP with less stellar numbers (.312 average, 21 home runs and 103 RBIs) than his 1982 campaign, but good enough to edge Ruben Sierra in the final vote.
Yount was not a power hitter, but his strength was never to be underestimated; he finished his career with 251 home runs and 583 doubles, the latter figure good for 17th on the all-time list. When he retired after the 1993 season, Yount had officially come to bat 11,008 times—a number bettered by only other four major leaguers—and laid a claim as the last active player to say he once called Hank Aaron a teammate (in 1975-76). The Brewers retired his number 19 a year later, as Milwaukee owner (and then-interim commissioner Bud Selig) praised the easy-going Yount for never causing “one iota of a problem” during his long tenure.
Cecil Cooper (1977-87)
A young Cooper was misdiagnosed by his first team, the Boston Red Sox, as a poor defensive player—and that, coupled with crowded talent at Fenway, kept him from becoming an everyday presence. The Brewers would become the benefactor of the misread, accepting him in a 1977 trade and allowing him free reign as, undoubtedly, one of the most underrated players of his time.
Though his name was often lost amid the crowded marquee of star Milwaukee sluggers during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the left-handed hitting Cooper at least was playing everyday to his full potential. Through his first six years at Milwaukee, he hit a collective .317—quietly highlighted in 1980 when he raked in a career-best .352 average that still placed a distant second to George Brett and his attention-grabbing race to hit .400. Additionally, Cooper twice led the AL in RBIs, including a then-Brewer-record 126 in 1983; twice led the league in doubles; and three times collected over 200 hits. Perhaps the most redeeming line on Cooper’s resume was that he won three Gold Gloves for the Brewers at first base—shattering the no-glove reputation invented by the Red Sox.
A five-time All-Star, Cooper received the esteemed Roberto Clemente Award in 1983 for his work in the community. He remained a Brewer through the end of his career in 1987 and later worked the coaching beat—managing three years during the late 2000s at Houston, not far from his hometown of Brenham, Texas, with .500 results.
Prince Fielder (2005-2011)
Barely measuring six feet but packing a booming 280-pound frame (give or take 10 pounds), Fielder became a major power presence in his early 20s and established himself as one of the game’s premier sluggers—blasting himself out of the shadows of papa Cecil Fielder, for whom he had a long falling out with. When Prince hit 50 home runs in 2007 at the age of 23—becoming the youngest player ever to reach the milestone, and part of the first father-son duo to both smack 50—he had hoped to total 52 and eclipse his father’s career high (set in 1990 with Detroit) in order to “shut him up.”
Well before Fielder joined the Brewers, he showed signs of a prodigious future when he cleared the fences at Tiger Stadium—at age 12. Over a decade later, his potential hasn’t disappointed; in six full seasons with the Brewers, he averaged 38 homers, 108 RBIs, nearly 100 walks, won the 2009 Home Run Derby (with one titanic blast traveling over 500 feet), and he rarely missed a game, remaining a durable presence in the lineup—perhaps in part because he’s a vegan, as hard as that is to believe.
Fielder formed one of the game’s best slugging duos of the 2000s when he paired in the lineup with Ryan Braun, the source of some of his frustration with Milwaukee management as he always felt disrespected at contract time—while Braun always got the fat, long-term extensions. When his contract expired after the 2011 season, Fielder bolted from Milwaukee and netted a rich deal with, ironically, the Tigers—his dad’s former team. He ultimately landed in Texas, where his career came to a premature end at age 32 in 2016 when doctors told him he couldn’t play anymore due to a serious neck issue.
Paul Molitor (1978-92)
After plodding through a decade constantly interrupted by injuries, the placid, almost-dour looking Molitor emerged as an enduring and highly productive hitting machine; had he not missed substantial portions of at least six early years for the Brewers, he might have finished his career closer to 4,000 hits instead of 3,000.
From the beginning of his career, the speedy Molitor was more than just a leadoff hitter with singles-and-speed abilities; he was a potent sparkplug with comprehensive offensive skills. He could hit, bunt, power the ball, and could certainly run—stealing 30 or more bases eight times for the Brewers, adding up to a franchise-high 412 for his Milwaukee career. Neither the plethora of injuries or an early cocaine habit (for which he quickly and without assistance cleaned himself from) seemed to stop his maturity. Three times with the Brewers, he led the AL in runs, and once led the league each in doubles and triples.
Molitor’s greatest year came in 1987, when he set personal bests in batting average (.353), steals (45), doubles (41) and scored 114 runs—all in just 118 games, as he couldn’t avoid the disabled list once more. He captured the nation’s attention in the dog days of summer when he embarked on a 39-game hitting streak—the fifth longest since 1900.
After 15 years with the Brewers, many believed that the 36-year-old Molitor was headed for the usual career fadeout. Instead, he became as productive as never before, comfortably settling into the designated hitter spot with separate three-year tours in Toronto and Minnesota (back home near his hometown of St. Paul). He helped the Blue Jays win the 1993 World Series with a marvelous .447 average and 10 extra base hits in the postseason, adding to his October legend that had begun in 1982 when he became the first player to earn five hits in a Series game. Over those final six seasons with the Jays and Twins, Molitor hit a collective .313, led the AL twice in hits, and still had enough legs to steal 92 more bases to become, by career’s end, one of just six players with over 3,000 hits and 500 stolen bases.
Milwaukee Brewers Team History A decade-by-decade history of the Brewers, the ballparks they’ve played in, and the four people who are on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
The Brewers’ Five Greatest Pitchers A list of the five greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Brewers’ Five Most Memorable Games A list of five memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Brewers’ history.