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The Milwaukee Brewers resemble a classic movie character. Ah, but which one? Are they a destitute Scarlett O'Hara, vowing never to go hungry again? Or are they Norma Desmond, the faded movie queen who lived in self-delusion on Sunset Boulevard?
After a 67-94 season in which the Brewers were plundered by everyone else in the American League, it's clear that the glory days of 1982 are gone. But 14 players remain from that AL championship team, and most are trying to prove they're not gone with the wind. There haven't been this many attempted comebacks in Milwaukee since the advent of the returnable beer bottle. The envelopes, please.
Most Important Comebacks: third baseman Paul Molitor (blown-out right elbow) and shortstop Robin Yount (right shoulder), the 1-2 hitters, the left side of the infield and the heart of the team. Molitor's 1984 season ended in May (.217, six RBIs) with surgery, but this spring he hit well and, playing third base, threw crisply. Yount had arthroscopic surgery in November, but he still can't throw hard. He'll begin the season in leftfield, a position he has never played at any level, in order to keep his bat (.426 this spring) in the lineup.
Best Comebacks by Cy Young Award Winners: tie, reliever Rollie Fingers and starter Pete Vuckovich. Fingers, 38, hurt his back last summer and didn't pitch after July 23, but this spring he appeared in early '84 form (23 saves, 1.96 ERA in 33 games). When he shut down the Mariners with a 10-pitch inning in his first game, catcher Ted Simmons remarked, "He had his forkball, his slider, everything."
Vuckovich has been out for two seasons with a torn rotator cuff, but he was his old battling, snarling self, putting runners on and then leaving them stranded. After a vintage Vuckovich performance against San Diego in late March (5IP, 5H, 2R, 6LOB), Bamberger gave him his old starting job.
Comeback in Progress: centerfielder Dion James, who spent camp singing his namesake's 1958 hit I Wonder Why. Hitting .295 in his rookie season, James gave Milwaukee some of its few bright moments, but he dislocated his shoulder on March 3 when he tried to make a diving catch. He may be back this month. Meantime, an everyday spot opened for Doug Loman, a 26-year-old rookie who hit two homers against Toronto in September and followed with six more this spring.
Most Unexpected Comeback: George Bamberger, managing again after a 16-month retirement and back in Milwaukee, where he was the skipper from 1978 to 1980. "People say, 'Are you nuts, returning to that hotbed?' " says Bambi. "Maybe it's because I've been in competition all my life. I don't know what the hell it is." He considers the Brewers' return to respectability a simple matter: "If we get Yount and Molitor back, we've helped ourselves better than anybody else."
Will My Swing Come Back? That's what first baseman Cecil Cooper should be asking. The 35-year-old Cooper slumped from 30 homers, 126 RBIs and a .307 average in '83 to 11, 67 and .275 last year. Ben Oglivie, 36, is wondering the same thing. Oglivie had his second straight subpar season (12 homers, 60 RBIs, .262) and will share rightfield with Mark Brouhard. For that matter, the 35-year-old Simmons must be wondering where his swing went after '84 numbers of four, 52 and .221.
Injuries and old age have left Milwaukee in limbo. Molitor pondered his rehabilitating teammates and said, "We have to be cautious early, but we can't start slowly again [ Milwaukee lost seven of its first eight in 1984] and let somebody like the Tigers get away."
It will take award-winning performances from a large cast of Brewers to prove last season was just make-believe.