In baseball, the t-shirt is the medium for the clubhouse message, and in Milwaukee, where the T's read 1990-IT'S A NEW ATTITUDE, the medium is the message. The message, you see, is printed on the backside, where Brewer batters were routinely deposited en route to an 81-81 finish in 1989.
Third baseman Gary Sheffield remembers that season, his disappointing rookie year, as the one in which he was ostracized by his Milwaukee teammates for saying aloud what had long been whispered around the league: Brewer pitchers wouldn't protect the plate or their own hitters. That, of course, is a paraphrase of what Sheffield said. To be specific, he called the pitchers "girls."
"I wasn't trying to prove anything," says Sheffield, who was demoted to Denver in the middle of the 1989 season and then recalled in September after spending all of August on the disabled list. "I was just saying that it's a part of the game. Guys threw at me all the time, and it made it tough to do what was expected of me—to hit .300 up here." Sheffield wound up with a .247 average.
This season Sheffield is doing what was expected of him, hitting .318 before pulling a leg muscle while running the bases on May 27. He had missed six games through Sunday, but otherwise Sheffield has been a happier Brewer this season, for several reasons: Don Baylor, 40, who was hit by a record 255 pitches in his 17-year career as a player, is the Brewers' new batting coach; Dave Parker, 39 and a one-time prodigy, has befriended Sheffield while bringing much-needed menace from the Bash Brothers in Oakland to the Brew Grew; and on the mound, that famous Milwaukee gemütlichkeit has given way to Eine Kleine Chinmusik.
By winning two of three in Toronto last weekend, Milwaukee recovered quickly from a disastrous West Coast swing and regained first place in the American League East by a half game. The Brewers blew a 2½-game lead and fell out of first when they lost the first six games—and seven of eight—on that road trip to Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle. Toronto, which won five of eight during its own West Coast trip against the same three teams, was in front by a half game before meeting up with Milwaukee.
Of course, reasons for the Brewers' 25-22 record at week's end run deeper than Baylor and Parker and the deployment of depilatory fastballs. For instance, Milwaukee's shallow starting rotation survived the team's first 21 games without losing a decision. Manager Tom Trebelhorn, who hasn't had a healthy team in his three seasons with Milwaukee, continues to have the patience of Job—and has, at last, a roster no longer filled with the patients of Dr. Frank Jobe.
But make no mistake: The primary reason the Brewers are putting their year of frustration behind them is the winning aura brought to Milwaukee by Baylor and Parker. To discover the effect these two old men—Parker and Baylor have six pennants between them—have already had, one need look no further than to the transformed attitudes of the 21-year-old Sheffield and the mild-mannered middle reliever Chuck Crim, 28.
Crim was ejected twice in eight days in April for precipitating bench-clearing fights with retaliatory knockdowns—the Texas Rangers' Jeff Kunkel and the Kansas City Royals' Frank White were the dustees. "We changed some things," Crim says of Milwaukee's pitching staff. "We had a lot of guys hit this year and last year, and we're not going to put up with it. We're doing something about it."
"Last year the pitchers thought that wasn't part of their job," says Baylor, who became an assistant to Brewers general manager Harry Dalton last September. "That gets around the league and more of our guys get flipped. A country-club attitude in here"—he's standing in the County Stadium clubhouse as he speaks—"got carried out there. I saw it right away."
In other words, says righthanded pitcher Chris Bosio, "it wasn't just the staff, it was the whole team. Now, instead of watching things being done, we're doing them. We're all playing aggressively."