Saturday, April 15, 2017

Thirty Years Ago Today

Time's passage is inexorable. It hardly seems possible that the most magic April in Milwaukee Brewer history took place 30 years ago. 
Through the magic of YouTube, we get the late Mike Hegan calling the game in full color with play-by-play announcer -- and local Milwaukee sports legend -- Jim Paschke right here:

That Nieves no-hitter remains the only no-hitter ever thrown by a Milwaukee Brewers pitcher. In fact, as Kyle Lobner pointed out today, the Brewers have gone 4,785 consecutive games without having a no-hitter. That's the thirteenth longest streak ever in MLB History.  

If you watch the game, you'll notice that Nieves hardly threw a gem -- that, in many respects, this was a lucky no-hitter. It was, definitely. Nieves was the beneficiary of a few defensive gems -- in particular the diving play by Jim Paciorek in the second inning (a far more difficult play than the one Robin Yount made to end the game). 

Add in the fact that Nieves walked five while striking out seven. Nieves had control issues during his whole brief major league career

Between the two teams, there were four Hall of Famers who took the field -- Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Cal Ripken, and Eddie Murray. Each of them finished their careers with over 3,000 hits and two of them were the rare "One-Team" players. 

On the other hand, you also get to see some lesser lights -- guys that many folks will not remember -- such as Paciorek (Tom Paciorek's brother) playing left field for Milwaukee. Nieves himself is not remembered by many these days outside of Milwaukee, and perhaps outside of the Puerto Rico, as he was the first Puerto Rican pitcher ever to throw a no-hitter. 

There are plenty of the "pretty good" guys in this game too: Cecil Cooper, Lee Lacy, Ray Knight, Rick Burleson, Greg Brock, and Jim Gantner among them.

With that being the first no-hitter by a Brewer at the time, the team's official outlets feted the occasion with a fervor reserved for MVP awards. For instance, the May 1987 issue of the official team magazine, "What's Brewing?", featured Nieves on its cover in a not-at-all awkward pose -- kneeling on a dugout holding up what looks to be a wine glass filled with plastic pellets of some sort:

Thereafter, Nieves was treated to a congratulatory pregame presentation at some point during the 1987 season after the Brewers returned to Milwaukee from Baltimore. 

After the handshakes, of course Juan got to tell the fans all about his no-no:

Juan was a very gracious autograph signer. Of course, at the time he threw the no-hitter, he was just 22 years old. Everyone thought that he had a bright future -- that he'd lead the staff as he grew into his stuff and started to command it better. 

But, as often happens in baseball, hoping and wishing and projecting success gets derailed by reality. In Nieves's case, it was a torn rotator cuff that ended his baseball career as a Brewer after the 1988 season.

The Brewers cut him after the 1990 season. Nieves hooked up with the New York Yankees organization then, signing a minor-league contract with a $300,000 salary if he made the major league squad. He never did make it back. 

Instead, by the time he was in his late 20s, he had transitioned into coaching. He started with the Yankees. After a brief comeback attempt at the age of 33, he moved on to the White Sox. He made it to the majors as a bullpen coach for the White Sox in 2008. After five seasons in that role, he was hired by the Red Sox to be their pitching coach for the 2013 season. Nieves picked up a World Series ring that season, but ended up fired and looking for a new job on May 7, 2015. He spent the rest of that year out of baseball before hooking up with the Miami Marlins as their pitching coach.

That 1987 season was a rollercoaster ride for Brewers fans. I believe it was the Sports Illustrated article about the 13-0 start that led to Brewers' and Packers' fans adopting the cheesehead moniker and taking it from what otherwise might be seen as a derisive name and turning into a term of pride. 

I recall this game well. I did not get to watch the game live except for the final out. That year was my freshman year of high school, and we had our forensic team banquet that night. My mom was driving me home and we had the game on the radio. We heard Bob Uecker say, "Nieves just needs three more outs to get there" or something to that effect, and it didn't take long to figure out what he was talking about. I walked into the house and got to see the very last out of the game: Robin Yount's diving catch that he admitted later in his career he did not need to dive for. 

It's hard to believe that this was thirty years ago. But, as I said, time moves inexorably. I hope I am around to see the game's sixtieth anniversary too. 

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. How did we watch games back then without all the infographics?!?

    1. Shocking how simple things were then. Also shocking how little guys left the box between pitches.

  2. It was 30 years ago today
    Juan Nieves told the Brewers to play

    I didn't realize that the Brew Crew was in the same boat as the Mets. I'm hoping that among all the Mets pitching, someone will throw another no-hitter so we can stop hearing about the questionable call and possible-career-ending nature of Johan Santana's gem.

    We're Juan Nieves' Lonely No-No Band
    We hope you have enjoyed the show
    Juan Nieves' Lonely No-No Band
    We're sorry but it's time to go...

    1. Yeah, that song was definitely in my head writing the post!

  3. I'm 99.9% sure I have a card of Juan Nieves as a minor leaguer in the Yankees org...

  4. They still wore real stirrups back then, too. I miss that. Very cool post, Tony.