If you want to talk about one of the most overlooked, under-appreciated offensive clubs in Milwaukee Brewers history, you can start with the 1996 squad. That group holds the franchise record for runs in a season, yet people only want to talk about Harvey’s Wallbangers, Bambi’s Bombers and the recent squads that featured Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder.
Clearly, something is wrong here. Then again, maybe it’s just a matter of perspective and circumstance.
Let’s look at the players from that ’96 club that still played in the American League. Four regulars hit .300 or better, led by Dave Nilsson‘s .331 mark to go with his team-high .407 OBP and third-best .932 OPS. Meanwhile, John Jaha hit 34 bombs, drove in 118 runs, and put up a .941 OPS on the year.
Greg Vaughn outdid him with a .948 OPS thanks in large part to a .578 slugging percentage while in Milwaukee. He hit 31 homers in just 442 plate appearances before getting traded to the San Diego Padres.
Rounding out this seemingly dangerous crew was Jeff Cirillo‘s team-leading 46 doubles to go with a .391 OBP and .504 slugging. 26-year-old shortstop Jose Valentin added another 24 home runs and 95 RBI while Kevin Seitzer chipped in his .406 OBP. Up and down the lineup, despite lacking any Hall of Fame talent, the Brewers could hit.
Comparatively speaking, however, they weren’t all that special in 1996.
The ’96 season was in the middle of the so-called “Steroid Era,” and the average runs scored across the league reached over five runs a game per team. That was the first time since 1939 clubs were scoring that much. Thus, it adds a bit of an asterisk to the Brewers’ team-record 894 runs that season.
Breaking it down a little further shows the Milwaukee hitters were simply average for the times. The Brewers ranked eighth in runs scored in baseball that season, finishing 99 runs shy of the leader. They actually only hit 178 home runs that year as well, putting them 13th overall. They were also ninth in on-base percentage and slugging and finished 10th in OPS.
Again, this team scored the most runs in franchise history and had the highest OBP and OPS ever for Milwaukee. yet they were middle of the road when it came to the rest of the league that season.
So compare that to a squad that has been, and always will be, revered around Milwaukee. The 1982 team had two Hall of Famers on offense with Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, another guy who should be enshrined in Ted Simmons and a boatload of power between Cecil Cooper, Gorman Thomas and Ben Oglivie. With just the names alone, who wouldn’t take the American League Championship team over the 80-82 club from the mid-90s?
The 1982 version of the Brewers were atop the league in a few offensive categories, unlike the average standing of the ’96 club. Harvey’s Wallbangers were first in runs scored, slugging and OPS. They were also second in doubles and batting average in 1982. In terms of franchise ranking, their 891 runs is second to the 1996 team. They’re also second to the 2007 club in home runs and slugging percentage as well as second to the 1979 team in batting average.
When you stop to think about the different times those two teams played, it does create a better perspective on how good the ’96 team really was or wasn’t. Certainly, those guys still had to hit the ball and perform at a high level, but the fact everyone around the league was crushing the ball takes a little bit away from them.
For the record, I’m not accusing any of those players of something illegal or questionable; I’m simply pointing out what the numbers were during that season and overall period of time.
Ranking an offense based on runs scored seems like the straightforward way to go, but it fails to tell the whole story. Considering league averages, power versus on-base skills and the overall quality of players on the team, we should look at clubs in a well-balanced fashion. So while in a vacuum the 1996 team was the best offense in Brewers history, it appears the 1982 group should own that title until further notice.