You’d think a hurricane was coming prior to the 1973 season, not a snowstorm. Popular first baseman George “Boomer” Scott said 1972 had been his most difficult season in the big leagues due to player moves on the team. Scott said, “I don’t want to go through another season and be humiliated. When I walk into a restaurant and someone asks me who I play for, I want to say ‘for the Milwaukee Brewers’ and keep my head up.”
Scott admitted to reporters his utter shock over Ron Theobald and Brock Davis being cut from the team late in camp. Davis hit .318 the previous season in 85 games. Theobald had backpedaled a bit to a .220 average after hitting .276 in 1971 for Milwaukee. He actually had seen his final action in the majors and retired after spending the year in the minors.
More of the Same?
“Boomer” had plenty of reason to be concerned about the state of the team. Would 1973 just bring more of the same on and off the field? The team sputtered to a 65-91 mark in 1972 under Dave Bristol (10-20), Roy McMillan (1-1) and former Milwaukee Braves catcher Del Crandall (54-70). Only 600,440 fans bothered to come out to County Stadium, which put the Brewers at the bottom of the American League in attendance.
Crandall returned to run the team on the field in 1973, but gone from the front office was General Manager Frank “Trader” Lane. Another former Brave, pitcher Jim Wilson, succeeded Lane in the role. Wilson threw the first no-hitter in Milwaukee’s major league history. When his playing career ended in 1958, he went into scouting and eventually made his way back to Milwaukee. Team owner Bud Selig declined to give Wilson the GM title, saying the position was outdated. Instead, Selig named Wilson “Director of Baseball Operations.”
Wilson grabbed headlines about a month into the job when he landed veteran third baseman Don Money in a seven-player deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Still, it would take a lot more for anyone to think the Brewers could even sniff a .500 mark in 1973.
The Battle for Last Place
Milwaukee kicked off the season in Baltimore on Friday, April 6. Several sportswriters picked the Brewers to finish fifth or sixth in the American League East. Many cited the lack of pitching and young position players as reasons why the Brewers would battle Cleveland for last place in the East. One of those young position players was right fielder Gorman Thomas.
Crandall said, “We’re going to give him (Thomas) a chance to put it all together. If he does, we’ve got a hell of a ballplayer.”
Thomas started off strong in the Opening Day lineup, with a triple in three at bats against O’s ace Dave McNally, but the Brewers were stomped 10-0. Thomas went on to hit just .187 in 60 games and wound up back in the minors, waiting for another shot to crack the big league club.
Baltimore won the second game of the season 8-7 in ten innings. The Brewers had a 7-6 lead heading into the bottom of the tenth after a Dave May homer, but it didn’t hold up. Baltimore walked off after an error and two singles followed by a throwing error brought in the winning runs. Two days off followed – first a rainout and then a scheduled Monday break.
Weather reports for the County Stadium opener against Boston were questionable, with eight inches of snow predicted. Selig said the team would wait until Tuesday morning before deciding if the team could play that afternoon. By the next morning when the storm dumped 13.8 inches of snow on the city, the only answer was to postpone the game.
Officials fielded a team – but it was a roster full of workers to clear the snow off the tarp on the infield. Worries about damage to the field prevented the use of machines to clear the snow. Workers filled wheelbarrows and carted the snow away, but left the outfield to melt on its own. Head groundskeeper Jack Turan said at one time there were 200 people helping, but they were coming and going due to the hard work. Even a helicopter that cost $90 an hour helped out as a hair dryer for the field.
The Red Sox didn’t bother to show up anyway, not that they could with the Milwaukee airport closed. The Brewers used the unexpected time off to have workouts at the UW-Milwaukee fieldhouse. Outfielder John Briggs said he didn’t think it would hurt the team’s conditioning if the team missed a couple days of games, but three or more could be detrimental.
George Scott agreed, saying, “You work hard all spring training and get yourself prepared for the season, and now this. A week’s layoff is going to hurt this club.”
It wound up being a six-day break from field action. Bud Selig announced late on Tuesday that it would be Friday at the earliest before the field would be ready for play. Del Crandall named righthander Bill Parsons as his starting pitcher for the afternoon contest with Baltimore.
The team of grounds crew and volunteers put in 32 hours of work in two days, ending with a sweep of the seating areas. An additional two inches of snow mid-week made for extra work, and unfortunately some snow remained in portions of the stands. Temperatures in the 40’s helped melt the snow depth outside of the stadium to less than six inches by the first pitch of the new home opener.
Bonnie, Ollie, and Pedro
A well-rested Brew Crew beat the Orioles 2-0 that afternoon behind Parsons, who admitted that he struggled from the first pitch. He added, “But Baltimore was hitting right at somebody. They made more mistakes than I did.”
A crowd of just 13,883 witnessed Bernie Brewer unveiled in his chalet. Bernie slid down the chute from his chalet to a giant beer stein for the first time after a Pedro Garcia solo homer off Mike Cuellar. Bernie did it again two innings later after Ollie Brown hit homer into the left field bleachers. Brown was first designated hitter in team history (as the DH became a new position in the AL in 1973) and also had been drafted first by the expansion San Diego Padres in 1968.
Garcia said he couldn’t handle the 38-degree day. He commented, “The last two innings, I just wanted to get the game over. We see no snow in Puerto Rico, no way. If it stays like this, it’s going to be bad, man.”
But Mother Nature cooperated and the Brewers and O’s even played a doubleheader that Sunday. Milwaukee made up the missed two game series with Boston by creating doubleheaders in two of their home series that summer. Meanwhile Bernie Brewer gained a female companion named Bonnie Brewer. Donna Bozmoski played the first Bonnie with an outfit consisting of a skirt, lederhosen, and a gold blouse. Part of Bonnie’s shtick involved interacting with the opposing team’s third base coach after she swept off the bases in the seventh inning stretch. The lucky coach generally received a kiss on the cheek and a playful swat on his rear end from Bonnie’s broom.
As for the team, they finished in fifth place as many predicted, but improved to a 74-88 record that included a ten-game winning streak in June. A six-game losing streak and eight losses in their last ten games put the chance of finishing .500 to rest (they were 70-73 on September 10). Jim Colborn became the first 20 game winner in team history, giving fans more to cheer for than Bernie and Bonnie Brewer. And despite the snowy beginning, the team eclipsed the one million attendance mark for the first time.