Saturday, April 01, 2006

Slick Willy (It's not who you think)

I don't think much about Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Occasionally, when I consider the overexpansion of major sports franchises and the dilution of talent in modern games, I target Milwaukee as one of those places that shouldn't have a team. I'm fine with the Packers being in Green Bay, because they are an American institution there. What would the NFL be without Lambeau Field?

The thing is, I've never actually been to Milwaukee and I really have no clue what I'm talking about. Sometimes, I get the itch to be a little condescending and I take it out on Milwaukee, or Salt Lake City, or Charlotte. When it boils down to it, although I've travelled to most parts of the United States over the years and all over the world, I've never been to any of those cities. My knowledge of Milwaukee is limited to Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days, Jeffrey Dahmer, Alice Cooper's explanation of the origin of the name "Milwaukee" in Wayne's World, and vivid memories of the 1980 Brewers.

As a 9 year old boy, I can clearly remember sitting in the family room of my house in Cumberland, Rhode Island watching the Red Sox play the Brewers on the 2nd day of the new season. In the home half of the 2nd inning Cecil Cooper delivered a grand slam against Sox starter Mike Torrez. One out and 3 base runners later, Don Money hit another grand slam off reliever Chuck Rainey. As a 35 year old man, that seems outrageous and spectacular. As a 9 year old boy it was life changing, hence my vivid recollection 26 years later, almost to the day.

That team featured Paul Molitor, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper, Ben Ogilvie, Gorman Thomas, Sixto Lezcano, Don Money, Robin Yount, USA's WBC manager Buck Martinez, and current Brewers' manager Ned Yost. Talk about a colorful cast of characters. I protected the Brewers' cards I got in those Topps packs carefully after that game and I'm sure they're still in some cardboard box in my mother's basement. Note: Ogilvie and Money both went on to play in Japan for the Kintetsu Buffaloes.

Why did I choose to write about the Brewers today? Good question. I'm increasingly infatuated with Milwaukee's super utility man, Bill Hall. He caught my eye this spring training, and I couldn't help but find out more about him. The guy plays 2B, SS, 3B, and now CF. He's a Chone Figgins type player that doesn't have a set place in the Brewers lineup, but got 500 ABs last year. He stands to get the same this season, but the Brew Crew went out and signed journeyman Corey Koskie to play third opening questions about where the versatile Mr. Hall will play. Last season Hall played over 1000 innings at shortstop and according to Baseball Think Tank's analysis of the NL MVP race last season, he would qualify 17th, ahead of names like Bobby Abreu, Andruw Jones, and Jimmy Rollins.

His numbers last year aren't going to win him an All Star berth, in all likelihood, and I don't expect him to be inducted to Cooperstown when all is said and done, but there's something to be said for a guy like this. He's a fiery competitor, as is in evidence from his June 28th ejection last year, arguing balls and strikes with umpire Mike DiMuro. He goes all out and never complains about his role on the team. When interviewed about the Koskie signing, Hall chose to praise the depth of the team and showed his confidence in remaining an everday player. I think he knows he's better than Koskie.

My interest in Hall is especially heightened this year, as the Yankees are fielding as uninspiring group of bench players as I can remember. The debate about the Kevin Thompsons of the world will rage on as long as they're forced to play in Columbus while Bubby Crosby gets his chance to appear at the plate and make outs. It's not to say that I want to see Hall on the Yankees, as there is REALLY no place for him to get his ABs on a team featuring All Stars at virtually ever spot, but the life of a ballplayer like Bill Hall makes for a more interesting story than anything the Yankees have on the field today, championship or no. Look for more about this exciting player as the season progresses.