Shortly before Opening Day, The Milwaukee Journal conducted a telephone survey of Wisconsin residents and found that 74% of them had no idea who the Brewers manager was. It definitely wasn't George Bamberger, who had resigned last September with only nine games remaining in the season—in sixth place, 20½ games out—but if not he, who? The Brewers had tried on several occasions to persuade Sal Bando, one of their most popular ex-players, to take the job, but Bando didn't want it. Suddenly finding themselves in a bind, the Brewers turned to third base coach Tom Trebelhorn, who was scheduled to start last season managing at Helena, Mont., in the Pioneer League.
Hanging the word "interim" on a major league manager's job description is usually the same thing as hanging a bull's-eye from his neck. Fortunately for Trebelhorn, he had already held the only other job in the world that could have prepared him to be an interim manager. He was, yes, a substitute schoolteacher.
"I know when they hired Treb as interim manager they had no intention of bringing him back," says veteran outfielder Rick Manning. "But I think when they saw the way we played behind him for those last nine games, they decided to give him a chance. And now I think they're real glad they did." The Brewers won three of Trebelhorn's first four games, and after G.M. Harry Dalton made the appointment permanent, the Brewers closed the season with three victories in a row.
"Treb" might not be in Milwaukee at all had it not been for a gas explosion at the Brewers' spring training facility in Chandler, Ariz., last year that seriously injured the third base coach, Tony Muser. Trebelhorn was called up from the minors to fill in for the ailing Muser, just as he had been called hundreds of times as a substitute teacher in the Portland, Ore., school system. Trebelhorn had started out as a premed student in college, decided to try for a career in baseball and wound up teaching in the off-season to support himself. "My intention was to get to the big leagues," he says, but he never made it, languishing for five seasons in such baseball backwaters as Bend and Walla Walla.
Trebelhorn taught full-time for five years—history, economics and a class in leadership—but by early 1983 he decided to return to subbing so he could manage Pittsburgh's Triple A team in Hawaii. When the Brewers gave him his chance at the end of last season, Trebelhorn began preparing his lesson plans for this spring. "He ran the best training camp I've ever seen," says Dalton. "One of the real curses of spring training is idle time, but he had everybody working every minute. He's organized right down to a T, and the players sensed that right away." Trebelhorn had long ago learned the first rule of all substitute teachers: Keep them too busy to even think about getting away with murder.
Trebelhorn bounces around a ball yard, running laps in the upper deck, throwing batting practice, swatting fun-goes and talking, talking, talking. Still, his greatest value to the Brewers has been his ability to make the young players believe in themselves. "He's just so positive about everything," says Dan Plesac, the lefthanded, baby-faced assassin who Saturday saved his fourth game of the season. "He believes in us, and now we believe in ourselves."
It was the Brewers' youth that made it so difficult for others to believe in them, the same youth that now makes them seem so irrepressible. They began the season with 14 players with a year or less experience in the big leagues, and the five-man starting rotation had a combined four seasons in the majors. Higuera, who beat Texas 10-2 on Friday to bring his record to 3-0, accounts for two of those years himself. "On this team you're either an 8-to-10-year veteran or a rookie," Manning says. "There's no in-between here."
Only four players remain from the Brewer team that won the American League pennant just five years ago. Their steadiness and the emergence of the dazzling crop of young players account for the heady start. The streak began with a three-game sweep at home against Boston and another at Texas. Their closest call before Sunday came in the sixth game, when rookie catcher B.J. Surhoff stroked a two-run single to beat the Rangers 7-5 in the 12th inning. It was the second game-winning hit of the week for Surhoff, whose father, Dick, played for the New York Knicks. Surhoff is 22 and utterly fearless, although he did concede last week that he was afraid to change his underwear as long as the Brewers were winning. "There are hits in those underpants," Surhoff said, putting them on one leg at a time.
When the Brewers went to 7-0 by defeating the Orioles 6-3, Trebelhorn celebrated by playing a medley of standards on the piano in the hotel lobby for half an hour. Earlier that night, Glenn Braggs had pounded out some impressive music of his own, hitting a ball so hard that Orioles second baseman Rick Burleson, standing 130 feet from the plate, was unable to get his glove down before the ball hit him on the ankle. The next night, Braggs turned a pitch by Baltimore's Ken Dixon around so fast that the ball actually struck the pitcher on the foot while he was still in his follow-through. "I don't think he realizes how strong he is," says Manning of the 24-year-old Braggs. "He's going to hurt somebody out there." He hurt the Rangers in Saturday's 4-3 win with a two-run double and a sacrifice fly.
The Brewers' biggest bopper, though, is Deer, who may already be one of the great sluggers in baseball even though no one outside of Milwaukee seems to have heard of him. He somehow languished in San Francisco's farm system for seven years before the Giants finally shipped him to Milwaukee in 1985. Last year he led the club with 33 homers and 86 RBIs. "I wanted to show them they hadn't made a mistake," says the Deer that made Milwaukee famous.