A while back, I counted down the 25 coolest Brewers cards of all-time for a local alt weekly publication here in hometown of Milwaukee. Since much of the card blogging community probably doesn’t have chance to grab the Shepherd Express, I thought I’d rerun the article here. For this, I stuck to the base sets of the big companies. I have a companion piece on the 20 WORST Brewers cards as well, which I’ll also post in due time.
25. 1981 Donruss Sixto Lezcano
Sixtoooooooooo Lezcano was a major part of the team’s emergence in the late 1970s as a contender and put together one of the best offensive seasons in team history in 1979. This card actually came out after he had already been traded to St. Louis (the back actually mentions the trade), but is a solid and simple example of cardboard badassery. Sixto’s scruffy beard, boss hat, and fierce scowl work very nicely with old Comiskey Park in the background.
24. 1983 Donruss Gorman Thomas
Speaking of fierce! If league home run leaders had official portraits commissioned like outgoing US Presidents, this would surely be the image of Stormin’ Gorman best suited to capture his legacy. Ornery, sweaty, and haggard, you can almost feel the breeze from the mighty hack Gorman is about to unleash. It almost doesn’t even matter if he makes contact or not.
23. 1997 Topps Jeff Cirillo
The late 1990s are a kind of lost era for the Brewers. Third baseman Jeff Cirillo was one of the few bright spots of those years. This card neatly encapsulates his times, with Cirillo tear-assing around third in a hideous uniform (with a Milwaukee sesquicentennial patch!) in front of a wide patch of empty seats.
22. 2012 Topps Nyjer Morgan
If this looks familiar, it’s because it is the exact same photo that appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated back in August 2011. Like the Cirillo card, this one perfectly captures the feel of a time in Brewers history – albeit a much more exciting one – when the Brewers were world-beaters, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder were MVP candidates, and T-Plush was our own resident shit-starter.
21. 1975 Topps George Scott
The late George Scott was the Brewers’ first real superstar and one of the league’s top hitting and fielding first basemen. This card illustrates him in his prime, mutton-chopped and adorned in his shark-tooth necklace (he always claimed they were teeth he had knocked out of second basemen).
20. 1973 Topps Bill Parsons
Good action shots are pretty rare on baseball cards from the 1970s. Here, we get to see young Parsons about to fire one home with second baseman Ron Theobald cheating in and a good crowd in the bleachers. The players at the rail of the outfield wall watching from the bullpen and the huge beer mug on the scoreboard complete the scene.
19. 1998 Upper Deck Doug Jones
18. 2009 Upper Deck CC Sabathia
Although he won’t be remembered as a Brewer, CC Sabathia gave the greatest three months of a great career to Milwaukee. This card shows a pitch from the August 31, 2008 game in which he came oh-so-close to no-hitting the Pirates. It also commemorates the final year Upper Deck produced licensed baseball cards.
17. 1978 Topps Paul Molitor
Now, this one might actually cost you a few bucks. As the rookie card of both the Hall of Famer Molitor and the should-be Hall of Famer Alan Trammell, this is one of the landmark cards of the 1970s. As I’ve blogged about before, Molitor was a very late addition to the Brewers 1978 plans and, had Robin Yount not been waffling on his future as a ballplayer, Topps might not have bothered to include Molitor’s ill-lit face on this rookie shortstops card.
16. 1979 Topps Paul Molitor
Now THIS would be a beautiful rookie card. Substantially cheaper than his 1978 card, the ’79 shows the 21-year-old Molitor in the sunlight at County Stadium in a beaten-up batting helmet grinning the grin of a kid who had suddenly found himself as an every-day Big Leaguer. I haven’t mentioned card design yet on this list, but I really like the 1979 look. Simple and bright, this card borders on art.
15. 1982 Donruss Harvey Kuenn
This is another that falls into the presidential portrait category. Huddled at the batting cage and with a plug of chaw in his cheek, the image just is Harvey Kuenn, the Milwaukee-bred former AL batting champion who (of course) led the Brewers to their only World Series. Kuenn is depicted here as the Brewers batting coach, but he would be promoted to manager just over a month into the season. It’s the only example of a Brewers coach ever being given his own card. Donruss issued a few coach cards in 1982, mostly of former star players, in addition to the more traditional managers cards.
14. 1971 Topps Mike Hegan
1971 Topps might be the most beautiful trading card set every produced. The mod font and crisp black borders meet with some of the best photography of the decade. This is actually the first Brewers card set ever produced. Their shift to Milwaukee occurred so near to the opening of the 1970 season that Topps had already printed their cards as the Seattle Pilots. Anyway, a great shot here of one of the Brewers early stars at old Yankee Stadium.
13. 1976 Topps Kurt Bevacqua Bubble Gum Champ
Kurt Bevacqua spent two undistinguished seasons with the Brewers, save for his triumph in 1975 Joe Garagiola/Bazooka Bubble Gum Blowing tournament. The final match with Johnny Oates of the Phillies (from which the photo was taken) was held before game 3 of the 1975 World Series and broadcast nationally on NBC. If you want to watch it and see grown men talking way too seriously about bubble gum, check out parts one and two on youtube.
12. 1993 Topps Pat Listach
When I was a kid, that little golden All Star Rookie cup was of unimaginable importance. And not only was Listach an All Star Rookie, but he was the reigning Rookie of the Year when this card – with its awesome broken-bat photo – was issued. Of course, Listach didn’t meet expectations, but this card – part of a very nice looking set – captures a moment when the sky was his limit.
11. 2011 Topps Carlos Gomez
Carlos Gomez is probably one of the most exciting Brewers players of all time and this card does a good job at framing the intensity he brought to Miller Park. It helps that the picture comes from a game against the Pirates who would, in time, come to love the sight of Gomez running full-speed so much that they could not stand to see him jog.
10. 1983 Fleer Gorman Thomas
If his ’83 Donruss card was fierce, Gorman’s ’83 Fleer issue is downright horrifying. Deranged hobo? Confused biker? Thoughtful Mountain roadie? With all apologies to Rollie Fingers, this is a premier use of facial hair on a Brewers baseball card.
9. 2010 Topps Ryan Braun/ Prince Fielder Checklist
Forget the stupid “Bernie’s Bash Brothers” tag in the corner, Brewer fans can easily recognize this scene as the aftermath of one of the most important Brewers home runs maybe ever. It’s an odd use of the photo, especially in 2010 and without mention of the context, but memorializes one of the greatest Brewers games I’ve ever watched.
8. 1986 Fleer Pete Vuckovich
This is card is cool for everything that is so terribly wrong about it… the wildly dopey look on Vuke’s face, his Corky St. Claire haircut, the fact that his baby blue uniform melts into the background and borders. In spite of all that, Vuke looks like he’s ready to go fire a few fastballs. He was just four years removed from winning the AL Cy Young Award in this picture, but had managed only 25 starts in that time. He would throw only 32 more innings in 1986 before retiring.
7. 1994 Upper Deck Greg Vaughn
Vaughn’s Valley was the section of bleachers at County Stadium where leftfielder Greg Vaughn deposited a lot of home runs in the early 1990s. Vaughn was not really a major star or nationally known when this card came out, so it was a nice bit of work by the Upper Deck people to pay tribute to a local hero. Huge plus for the inclusion of all those pasty-white ‘stallis bleacher folks, too.
6. 2013 Topps Nori Aoki
I really can’t decide what is better here – the pure joy on Aoki’s face as he trots home or the welcoming arm of third base coach Eddie Sedar guiding him in. This was a big homer, too. It gave the Brewers an 8-7 lead over the Nationals in a wild 2012 game that featured five homers. The Nats ended up winning 11-10 in 11 innings. Plus Nori even took the time to scribble his name (I guess?) on my copy!
5. 1976 Topps Record Breaker Hank Aaron
This is easily the best of the few cards that feature Hank Aaron as a Brewer. His 1975 card shows him in a badly airbrushed cap and his regular 1976 card makes him look about 500 years old. This would be his last card as an active player to show him in action, as he takes a hack in a very blue Brewers road uni with some very gold socks. It commemorates his breaking of Babe Ruth’s all-time RBI record, which is a surprisingly little-remembered event in baseball history.
4. 1993 Upper Deck Darryl Hamilton
With an understated design and vibrant photography, 1993 Upper Deck is up there with ’71 Topps as one of the most beautiful card sets ever. The Brewers of the set are are highlighted by this fantastic issue of Darryl Hamilton. One of the fan favorites of the post-Yount/Molitor era, Hambone always seemed to look good on the field, with smooth defense and a sweet lefthanded swing. Sadly, Hamilton was killed by his girlfriend last year in a murder-suicide.
3. 2010 Topps Prince Fielder
There seems to be a tiny sliver of the baseball fan populace who feels that, for some reason, baseball should be fun. And this widely-derided “bowling ball” walk-off homer celebration was fun. And this card commemorating it is a whole lotta fun! As it turns out, Prince was merely a pawn in all of this. Bill Hall and others devised the celebration, and left it up to the next Brewer to hit a walk-off to act as the ball to his teammate’s pins. You also notice that Prince has his jersey untucked, a post-win practice started by centerfielder Mike Cameron as a tribute to his working-class father who untucked his shirt after a day’s work. The bowling ball stunt earned Fielder a ball in the ribs in a game against the Giants the following spring training, to which the nation’s grumpy old white men nodded in silent approval.
2. 1975 Topps Robin Yount
This is the iconic Brewer card. Rockin’ Robin at just 18 years old, posing in his crisp Brewers whites in Spring Training… the curly blonde hair, the grin, the “Rob Yount” signature. There really isn’t all that much I can add to it. But at #2? What could possibly outrank the classic Robin freaking Yount rookie card??
1. 2012 Topps Nyjer Morgan NLDS Game 5
In the end, I had to go with fun. And even though he wasn’t the best or most exciting or most valuable player on the 2011 division champions team, Nyjer Morgan was easily the most fun. For his annoyance of the Cardinals and their fans alone, T-Plush could have taken that title, but for that one incredible summer, everything he did was loud, fast, and entertaining. Here, we get to see him just after the franchise’s biggest hit since Cecil Cooper willed his line drive to get down against in the ’82 ALCS. It was a “Beast Mode” kinda summer, and this one defined it.