A powerful thunderstorm ripped through Milwaukee early Monday morning. My high school English teacher, James Kearney, would say that rain symbolizes change. The life-giving power of water offered a rebirth. Milwaukee sports fans may understand.
At 11:00 AM that morning in Milwaukee, the Brewers officially announced the trade that would bring reigning Cy Young winner C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee for top prospect Matt LaPorta and three other minor-league players.
10 games over .500 and holding the wild card by percentage points, the Brewers were widely considered in the best position to drastically improve their roster before the trade deadline. 6'8" and 280 pounds (which is generous) of lefty fire without losing any big-league contributors does just that.
But this deal is about more than just a small-market major-league team making a splash before the trade deadline, when those teams tend to sell off players to teams hoping to make stretch runs.
The Brewers haven’t made the playoffs since 1982 and have only even been close a handful of times. After front-running in the Central Division much of last year, the Brewers collapsed in the second half and missed out on a postseason bid on the 25th anniversary of their last such trip.
Two weeks ago, the Milwaukee Bucks traded the highly touted Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons to get All-Star Richard Jefferson from the New Jersey Nets. In the process, the Bucks gave up a young prospect with plenty of potential for proven production.
The Bucks had already landed a head coach with playoff experience and a hard-nosed approach in Scott Skiles, as well as a GM with an NBA Championship, who was a part of the most successful franchise in the league, plucking John Hammond from the Detroit Pistons.
The Green Bay Packers are a cornerstone franchise in the NFL, but for more than 20 years, no one wanted to player there. You don’t go to a small-market team who can’t win or won’t commit to winning. When Reggie White came to Green Bay 1993, he showed that Green Bay was a desirable place to go, and just as importantly, that the Packers were an organization committed to winning.
For too long the two Milwaukee franchises have been content to perpetually look to the future. The Brewers have one of the best farm systems in baseball and have homegrown talent like Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, and Corey Hart to prove it.
The Bucks have had a roster of talented youth for several seasons, recently with Mo Williams, Michael Redd, and Andrew Bogut.
Neither team showed much interest in its fan base, however. The Brewers under the Selig family were a joke, and when the league was talking about contraction, Milwaukee was a city being discussed.
The Crew never played a role in free agency and only recently made splashes like Mike Cameron or Eric Gagnè. Whether they pay off or not, it doesn’t matter because making those deals shows your commitment to winning.
When the Brewers announced the Sabathia trade, phone lines at the Brewers' box office were jammed and the website blistered with hits. The Milwaukee Bucks, instead of trading Michael Redd for salary-cap reasons, chose to build around a homegrown talent and support him with players like Jefferson.
Williams, Redd, and Jefferson give the Bucks one of the most potent wing trios in the East and could get them to the playoffs. The Bucks sure could use it. They haven't been a consistent player in the Central division since Ray Allen left. They haven't been to the Finals since 1974, when they lost to the Celtics in seven.
Winning the World Series this season doesn’t matter. A playoff berth for Brewers fans makes the Sabathia trade worth it. Anytime you can send a top prospect and others for an ace, you do it.
Do the Brewers have a legitimate chance to win the pennant with the Cy Young award winner on board? Yes. It doesn’t matter that Milwaukee has the best record in baseball since May, or that the Crew may lose both Sheets and Sabathia to free agency this summer.
Likewise for the Bucks, no one in Milwaukee has delusions of grandeur, thinking their team can leap frog the Celtics as the team to beat in the East. On the other hand, no team outside perhaps the Wizards can match the Bucks' wing players, and Bogut, Alexander, and Villanueva give Milwaukee a frontcourt capable of scoring and rebounding at a high level.
If you had been there before Glenn Robinson missed a bunny that would have sent the Bucks to the Finals, the city was buzzing, the Bradley Center was jammed, and Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, and the aforementioned “Big Dog” were Milwaukee’s version of the “Big Three.”
For the past two seasons, and for the first time in at least 10 years, the Brew Crew have been playoff contenders. They were trendy picks. They were talent-laden and strongly supported by the fans.
For a town that works so hard, it is nice to see Doug Melvin and John Hammond working to give back to a city that has made the Brewers the most attended team per capita in baseball. Adding a player like C.C. Sabathia or Richard Jefferson spurs fans interest and, ultimately, the profit of the company.
Create an atmosphere like that, and suddenly you have organizations popular enough and profitable enough to compete with the big boys.
With Richard Jefferson and C.C. Sabathia headed to Milwaukee, I guess when it rains, it pours.