Lou Whitaker flailed away at a fastball, and Rollie Fingers punched the air once, twice, and then turned to see all 205 pounds of Ted Simmons, his catcher, rushing toward him, ready to pounce. "I hope he's not as heavy as he looks," Fingers thought.
"He danced me around like a child," said Simmons. "Like a little child. And all the time he kept saying in my ear, 'I love you, I love you.' " Before Simmons had a chance to return the compliment, the rest of the Brewers had wrapped themselves around him and Fingers.
Ted Simmons loves you, Rollie Fingers. All the Brewers love you. Harry Dalton loves you, Bud Selig loves you, Milwaukee loves you. They love you because you danced all of them around like a child. When Whitaker flailed at that fastball, away went the years of frustration, the pain of the strike and the Tigers of Detroit. Said Centerfielder Gorman Thomas, "At that moment, it was like being able to watch a flower pop open."
The Brewers defeated the Tigers 2-1 last Saturday to clinch the so-called second-season title in the American League East and send them into the quarterfinal playoff of this strange year. When the Brewers scored two runs in their half of the eighth to go ahead, Milwaukee County Stadium organist Frank Charles played the "Yanks are coming" refrain from Over There, the Yankees being Milwaukee's opponent in this week's best-of-five intradivision series. Charles wasn't being brash because Fingers had already entered the game to get the last out in the Tigers' eighth. In the top of the ninth, he induced Rick Leach to fly out to left and then struck out pinch hitter Champ Summers as well as Whitaker.
County Stadium became a bananas republic. The True Blue Brew Crew rushed out onto the field from the leftfield bleachers, while the rest of the 28,330 fans, also ignoring a plea in Friday's Milwaukee Journal to boycott the game, gave the team several curtain calls. In some quarters, the second-season championship rates Champale, but the Brewer clubhouse was awash in champagne for the first time in 12 years.
This was a very happy ending for a city that earlier in the week had raised the question: What if they gave a tight division race and nobody came? A crucial three-game series with the Boston Red Sox had drawn a grand total of 35,460. In the meantime, the fans in Detroit were coming out strong for the Tigers' three games with Baltimore: 73,958.
The teams, however, gave performances in contrast to those of their fans. The Tigers lost two of three to the Orioles. The Brewers won two of three from the Red Sox to effectively eliminate both Boston and Baltimore, and they faced the Tigers with a half-game lead.
On Friday, the evening Journal ran an editorial by Assistant Sports Editor Pete Etzel calling for the boycott in protest of the recent strike. "Now is not the time for disgruntled baseball fans to give in," wrote Etzel. "Now is not the time to return to County Stadium. Now is the time, more than ever, to boycott major league baseball."
The editorial was a big topic of conversation at the stadium Friday evening. "I was very disappointed when I read that," said Selig, the Brewer president. "I remember the five years of despair and loneliness when we didn't have a team and I was in every hotel lobby in America trying to get one back."
Selig succeeded, though for a long time it hardly seemed worth the effort. Between their debut in Milwaukee, in 1970, and 1978, the Brewers finished an average of 28 games out of first place. Dalton arrived as the general manager on Nov. 20, 1977, and in that off-season he acquired Ben Oglivie from the Tigers and reacquired Gorman Thomas from the Rangers. They now comprise one of the best power tandems in baseball.