MLB Top 5: Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers

This is the first article in a series that looks at the five best players at each position for the Milwaukee Brewers. In this installment are catchers and managers.

Baseball was first played in Milwaukee in 1859 and the fanbase grew over the next few decades. The first professional team in Milwaukee was the Grays, which went 15-45 in its only season of 1878. The first club called the Brewers was a minor league team that jumped from the Northwest League to the Union Association for the final month of 1884, but the upstart league disbanded after the season. Another team bearing that name played in the American Association during the league’s final season in 1891 and disbanded after 36 games.

The modern era began with the Western League changing its name to the American League and declaring major league status. The upstart circuit wanted to put as many teams in cities with existing National League franchises as possible, and the Milwaukee team was set to move to St. Louis to challenge the Cardinals. However, a potential sale fell through at the last minute, and the Brewers stuck around for one season in the new league before a new owner was found and the move to the Gateway City took place. Led by player-manager and future Hall of Fame outfielder Hugh Duffy, Milwaukee finished last in the American League with a 48-89 record. A new Brewers team became a member of the minor league American Association in 1902 and spent 50 years as an affiliate of the Boston Braves before they moved to Milwaukee.

The franchise that would become the modern-day Brewers got its start in Seattle, a popular minor league baseball thanks to the success of the Rainiers and later Angels in the Pacific Coast League. Athletics owner Charles Finley wanted to originally move his team to Seattle, but instead chose to leave Kansas City for Oakland. In response, baseball wanted to put teams in both the cities Finley spurned, but it took an act of the U. S. Senate to get things moving.

As a result, Seattle would have to field a team two years earlier than desired, since the American League could not have the unbalanced schedule that would result from having an odd number of teams. The major executive in charge of the team was Dewey Soriano, a former Rainiers pitcher and general manager who also was PCL president. However, he was having trouble finding financial backing locally, so he enlisted the help of William Daley, the Indians owner who had wanted to move his team to Seattle at one point.

The team suffered from a lack of financial backing in its only season in the Pacific Northwest. Sick’s Stadium, which had been the home of the Rainiers, was deteriorating, too small to host a major league team (less than 20,000 seats were in place by Opening Day) and had terrible water pressure. Soriano had promised a domed stadium to combat the city’s rainy climate, but construction hadn’t even begun before the team was sold to car salesman and former Braves minority owner Allan “Bud” Selig for $10.8 million. The site chosen for the new stadium eventually became the one used for the Kingdome, which housed Seattle’s next team, the Mariners.

Once in Milwaukee, attendance soon grew to more than one million fans at County Stadium, which hosted games for 31 years. After residing at the bottom of their division for nine seasons, the Brewers posted six straight winning campaigns beginning in 1978. The team won more than 90 games three times in that stretch but missed the playoffs despite 95 victories in 1979. The “Brew Crew” fell to the Yankees in the Division Series during the strike-shortened 1981 season but took the next step the following year.

In 1982, the Brewers went into the final weekend three games ahead of the Orioles with four to play. Baltimore won the first three games to create a tie in the standings, but star shortstop Robin Yount hit two home runs to help Milwaukee win the final game and its first division title. The club had a losing record in late May when Buck Rodgers was fired as manager and replaced with Harvey Kuenn.

The powerful lineup earned the nickname “Harvey’s Wallbangers” thanks to five players hitting 20 or more home runs and another with 19. The Brewers beat the Angels in the ALCS, becoming the first team in baseball history to come back from 2-0 down to win a five-game series in the process. Milwaukee was up 3-2 in the World Series before speedy St. Louis took the final two games at home to win the title.

After the close call, the Brewers endured a 25-year playoff drought which included eight seasons at .500 or better and two second-place finishes. In 1992, Selig became acting commissioner, replacing Faye Vincent, who was in the midst of several scandals and unfavorable decisions with the owners. In order to avoid the appearance of favoritism involving his own team, Selig transferred ownership of the Brewers to his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, while still being involved with the team behind the scenes. Selig was officially appointed the ninth commissioner of Major League Baseball in 1998.

Although the franchise has undergone relatively little movement in its history, the team has changed its position within baseball many times. The Brewers stayed in the A. L. West for two seasons after its move to Milwaukee before transferring to the East after the second incarnation of the Washington Senators moved to Texas and became the Rangers. When the divisions were realigned in 1994, the Brewers went to the Central.

Later in the decade, baseball expanded to 30 teams with the addition of the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks. Unlike today’s game, which features interleague play throughout the season, baseball then had teams from opposite leagues playing one another only at certain times. This created a scenario where one team needed to switch leagues. After the Royals declined, Selig and the Brewers agreed and moved to the National League Central in 1998, where they have remained to this day. Milwaukee was in the process of moving into a new stadium called Miller Park (now called American Family Field) when, during construction in 2000, a large crane fell over, killing three workers, causing extensive damage and leading a year-long delay of the park’s opening.

The Brewers were sold to Mark Attanasio, a founder and executive with the Crescent Capital Group investment firm, in 2005. Attanasio’s ownership group includes private equity firm magnate Tony Ressler, investment firm executive Robert Beyer and NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee has posted a record of .500 or better 12 times and has seven playoff appearances during Attanasio’s 19 years in control.

Among those playoff appearances are two trips to the NLCS. Under Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee went a franchise-best 96-66 in 2011 and knocked off Arizona before falling to eventual champion St. Louis in six games. The Brewers matched the win total in 2018 with Craig Counsell at the helm. They beat the Cubs in a one-game playoff for the Central Division title, then swept the Rockies in the Division Series before losing to the Dodgers.

Counsell left the Brewers when his contract expired after the 2023 season and, just five days later, the Cubs made him the highest-paid manager in baseball history with a five-year, $40 million contract. Milwaukee is now in the hands of Pat Murphy, a longtime coach at Arizona State. He was Counsell’s coach at Notre Dame and was a member of his staff as a bench coach for the past nine seasons.

The Best Catchers and Managers in Milwaukee Brewers History


Honorable Mentions – Charlie Moore spent 13 of his 14 big-league seasons with the Brewers (1973-86), starting in six of them and spending the rest backing up two other players on this list. Despite ranking fourth in franchise history in triples (42), sixth in games (1,283) and tenth in hits (1,029), Moore never made an All-Star team. He played three years in right field in the early 1980s before dropping into a platoon there as well.

Moore’s best season was 1983 as a right fielder when he hit .284 and set career highs with 65 runs, 150 hits, 27 doubles and 49 RBIs. In 16 career playoff games, he batted .254 with six runs 17 hits (including nine in the 1982 World Series), three doubles and three runs batted in. Moore retired after spending the 1987 season with the Blue Jays.

Defense is the key to being a desirable backstop in the major leagues, and Jason Kendall used his fielding and handling of pitchers to stick around for 15 seasons. The three-time All-Star spent two years in Milwaukee (2008-09), amassing 236 hits in 285 games. Kendall led all National League catchers in games, assists, double plays and runners caught stealing in 2008. He went 2-for-14 with an RBI during that year’s Division Series, then spent one more season with Milwaukee before ending his career in Kansas City. Kendall worked as a coach in the Royals’ system and wrote a behind-the-scenes book about what happens on the field during a game.

Manny Piña played with the Brewers for six seasons (2016-21), serving as a starter in two of those years. The rest of the time, he either backed up or platooned with Yasmani Grandal and Omar Narvaez. Piña’s last name means “pineapple” in Spanish, so it was an easy transition to make it his nickname. He was a solid fielder and a serviceable hitter who set career highs with a .270 average and 43 RBIs in 2017. Piña also had three hits in eight playoff games with Milwaukee. He was traded to the Braves as part of a three-team, nine-player deal in 2022 that landed the Brewers their current starter, William Contreras.

5. Darrell Porter – He initially was the backup to light-hitting Ellie Rodriguez (who was an All-Star in 1972) before taking over the starting role and finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting thanks to a .254-16-67 stat line the following year. In 1974, Porter earned his only All-Star selection during his six-year run in Milwaukee (1971-76). Overall, he had 224 runs, 391 hits, 54 home runs and 226 RBIs in 537 games with the Brewers.

Porter’s career was pretty much split evenly between Milwaukee, Kansas City and St. Louis. He was a three-time All-Star, played in 555 games and appeared in the 1980 World Series with the Royals and matched his Brewers total by playing in 537 contests with the Cardinals. Porter was the MVP of the NLCS and World Series (in which St. Louis beat Milwaukee) and played in the 1985 World Series for the Cardinals against his other former team, the Royals.

4. B. J. Surhoff – He was the epitome of versatility and started games at eight positions in nine seasons with Milwaukee (1987-95) but spent an overwhelming majority of his time behind the plate. Surhoff was originally drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1982 draft but decided to play at the University of North Carolina instead. The choice turned out to be a good one for him, as three years later, he was taken by the Brewers with the first overall pick.

Surhoff was a solid contact hitter who ranks ninth in franchise history with 1,064 hits. In addition, he batted .274 with 472 runs, 194 doubles, 57 home runs, 524 runs batted in, 102 stolen bases and 1,477 total bases in 1,102 games and would have put up even better numbers had he not missed most of the 1994 season with a lower abdominal strain. The following year, Surhoff had his best season with Milwaukee, batting a career-best .320 with 13 homers and 73 RBIs.

Surhoff became a full-time outfielder and saw his power numbers increase after signing with the Orioles in 1996. He earned his only All-Star selection in 1999 with Baltimore after batting .308 and setting career highs with 104 runs, 207 hits, 28 home runs and 107 runs batted in. Surhoff was traded to Atlanta in 2000, signed back with Baltimore three years later and finished his career with the Orioles in 2005.

3. Dave Nilsson – When he began his career with the Brewers in 1992, he became just the second Australian-born player in major league history, joining infielder Craig Shipley. Nilsson was a solid run-producer during his eight seasons with Milwaukee (1992-99), but he was also plagued by injuries. He is tied for tenth in franchise history with a .284 average, and he added 389 runs, 789 hits, 157 doubles, 105 home runs, 470 RBIs and 1,281 total bases in 837 games.

Although Nilsson earned his only All-Star selection in 1999, he had his best season three years prior when he hit 17 homers and set career highs with a .331 average (tied for fourth in team history), 81 runs scored, 84 runs batted in and a .407 on-base percentage (seventh). Nilsson dealt with wrist, shoulder and thumb injuries, but his biggest issue was his left knee, which required multiple surgeries throughout his playing career.

“Dingo” became a free agent after the 1999 season, but he decided to play in Japan because major league players in the U. S. were not allowed to play in the Olympics. The cause was important to Nilsson because the 2000 Summer Games were being held in his home country. A lower back injury took away most of his season, but he was the leading hitter in the Olympic tournament in September.

Afterward, Nilsson returned to Australia and purchased the Australian Baseball League, renaming it the International Baseball League of Australia. However, the league collapsed after just four seasons. Nilsson mostly managed in his home country after that but spent time in the Braves’ minor league system in 2004. Later that summer, he captained Australia to its first Olympic medal, a silver, following an upset of heavily favored Japan in the semifinals. His last playing appearance was with Team Australia at the 2006 World Baseball Classic.

2. Ted Simmons – He spent the first 13 of his 21 seasons with the Cardinals, earning eight All-Star selections and a silver slugger. The Brewers and Cardinals made a seven-player trade after the 1980 season, with Milwaukee acquiring Simmons, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and future Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers. The deal changed the future of the Brewers, with all three playing a big part in the team’s run to the pennant two years later. Simmons earned a pair of All-Star selections, Fingers won both the MVP and Cy Young in 1981 and was a lights-out closer, and Vuckovich won the Cy Young Award in 1982.

While the other two players received plenty of accolades, Simmons earned a pair of All-Star selections. His best season was 1983, when he batted .308 with 185 hits, 13 home runs and 108 runs batted in, which not only was a career-high, but it set a franchise record for a catcher. During Milwaukee’s run to the World Series the year before, “Simba” had six runs, 11 hits, three home runs and eight RBIs in 17 games.

Simmons batted .262 with 298 runs, 666 hits, 132 doubles, 66 homers, 394 RBIs and 1,016 total bases in 665 games over five seasons (1981-85). He finished his career in 1988 after three seasons with the Braves and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era Committee in 2020.

1. Jonathan Lucroy – He was solid on offense and underrated on defense during his seven seasons with the Brewers (2010-16). Lucroy was called up after injuries hit the position, and he got better over his first four seasons. He batted .320 in 2012 and had 18 home runs and a career-high 82 runs batted in the following year.

Lucroy put together his best season in 2014. He was named an All-Star for the first time and finished fourth in the MVP voting after batting .301 with 13 homers, 69 RBIs and career highs with 73 runs and 176 hits. He also smacked 53 doubles, which tied a franchise-best mark, was a career high, led the league and set a record for a catcher (topping the 47 Ivan Rodriguez had in 1996).

Lucroy is tied for tenth in franchise history with a .284 average and he had 346 runs, 806 hits, 157 doubles, 79 home runs, 387 RBIs and 1,238 total bases in 805 games. He appeared in 10 games with the Brewers during the 2011 playoffs, amassing three runs, eight hits, one home run and five RBIs.

Although Lucroy was an All-Star again in 2016, he was sent to the Rangers at the trade deadline in a five-player deal also involving Lewis Brinson, who was later sent to the Marlins as part of the trade for Christian Yelich. Lucroy played for eight teams in six seasons after leaving the Brewers and retired in 2022.


Honorable Mentions – After nearly a decade of futility, the Brewers found success under Bob “Buck” Rodgers. The former Angels catcher took over as manager when George Bamberger suffered a heart during the 1980 season. Bamberger returned, but Rodgers had a better record, so he stepped down. Rodgers led the Brewers to a 62-47 record and their first taste of the postseason in 1981, but they fell to the Yankees in the Division Series and his by-the-book approach was getting some backlash. Milwaukee started slowly the following year and Rodgers was let go after 47 games. He finished his three-year run (1980-82) with 124-102 record.

Like Rodgers, Tom Trebelhorn took over the Brewers after George Bamberger gave up his spot. This time, “Bambi” retired with nine games left in the 1986 season. Milwaukee started strong under Trebelhorn, winning the first 13 games in 1987 and 91 overall, and he finished second to Detroit’s Sparky Anderson in the A. L. Manager of the Year voting (while Rodgers won the N. L. honor with the Expos). However, that was the high point as the team’s record fell the next three years before rebounding to 83-79 in 1991. Trebelhorn was fired after the season and he ended his six years at the helm (1986-91) with a 422-397 record, which ranks fourth in franchise history.

Edgar “Ned” Yost is the all-time leader in managerial victories for the Royals, winning 746 games in 10 seasons in Kansas City. Before that, he spent six seasons in Milwaukee (2003-08), leading the team to three seasons of .500 or better and a pair of second-place finishes. Despite this, the Brewers were on a losing streak near the end of the 2008 season, so Yost was fired with 12 games left after posting a 457-502 record (the third-most wins in franchise history). Dale Sveum took over and led the team into the playoffs, but the Brewers fell to the Phillies in the Division Series. Yost was a candidate for the Astros job the following year but wasn’t selected.

5. George Bamberger – The Pilots/Brewers franchise had nine straight losing seasons before he took over. Although he was known as being a top-notch pitching coach with the juggernaut Orioles of the 1960s and 70s, Bamberger oversaw a team that relied on power and became known as “Bambi’s Bombers.” Milwaukee won 93 games in 1978 and 95 the following year but could not break through to the playoffs. Bamberger suffered a heart attack during spring training and underwent quintuple bypass surgery. He returned in June but stepped down later in the season in favor of Buck Rodgers.

“Bambi” tried his luck in the National League with the Mets, but he lasted just 46 games into his second season in 1983 before he resigned. He returned to Milwaukee in 1985 but the team floundered, and he retired for good with 10 games left in the 1986 season. Bamberger had a 377-351 record with the Brewers. He took up painting and golf after his baseball career and passed away in 2004 after a battle with colon cancer.

4. Phil Garner – Like the two managers above, Garner began his Milwaukee tenure with a winning season. The former Astros and Pirates infielder led the Brewers to a 92-70 record in 1992, thanks to a solid starting staff and two hitters who would go on to Hall of Fame careers. That would be the high point of Garner’s time in Milwaukee, as the team would not get above .500 for the rest of his eight-year tenure (1992-99).

A highlight of his time at the helm was a bench-clearing brawl during a 1995 game against the White Sox in which he had an altercation with Chicago skipper Terry Bevington, which resulted in both receiving four-game suspensions. Garner was fired during the 1999 season, finishing his Milwaukee tenure with a 563-617 record and the second-most victories in franchise history. He managed the Tigers for two-plus years immediately after, then joined the Astros. Garner led Houston to the National League pennant in 2005 before falling to the White Sox. He finished his 15-year managerial career with a 985-1,054 record.

3. Ron Roenicke – He spent eight seasons in the majors as a backup outfielder and pinch hitter then was a coach for nearly 20 years, mostly as a bench and third base coach for the Angels. Roenicke took over as Brewers manager in 2011, and he led them to a franchise record 96 wins and their fourth playoff appearance. The postseason berth was the first by a manager who lasted the entire season. Milwaukee edged Arizona in the Division Series before falling to St. Louis in six games in the NLCS.

Roenicke led the Brewers to two more winning seasons during his five-year tenure (2011-15) but was fired after a 7-18 start in 2015. He finished with a 342-331 regular season record and a 5-6 mark during the playoffs. Roenicke coached with the Dodgers, Angels and Red Sox for five years before taking over for Alex Cora in the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal (Cora was Houston’s bench coach in 2017). Roenicke went 24-36 in the COVID-shortened season and was let go when Boston brought back Cora. He is now a special assistant to the general manager for the Dodgers.

2. Harvey Kuenn – He enjoyed a 15-year playing career that included a Rookie of the Year Award, a batting title and 10 All-Star selections as an outfielder and shortstop. The Wisconsin-born Kuenn became Brewers hitting coach in 1971 and served almost exclusively in that role for more than a decade, save for a one-game stint as manager when Del Crandall was fired at the end of the 1975 season.

The next several seasons were interrupted by medical issues. Kuenn underwent open-heart surgery and had a quadruple bypass to try and correct poor blood circulation. In 1977, he was hospitalized due to Crohn’s disease, a condition which affects the stomach and intestinal tract. Kuenn’s poor circulation became worse, and after four surgeries, doctors removed his right leg just below the knee. He returned to coaching six months later with a prosthetic leg.

Kuenn replaced Buck Rodgers as Brewers manager in June 1982 and his fun-loving personality rubbed off on the team, turning them into “Harvey’s Wallbangers,” a squad that relied on power. Milwaukee went 72-43 down the stretch and finished with a franchise-best 95-67 record to reach the postseason for the second-straight year.

The Brewers became the first team to come back from two games down in a best-of-five League Championship Series when they toppled the Angels to win their first (an only) pennant. Milwaukee held a 3-2 edge over St. Louis in the World Series before the Cardinals won the final two games at home. The Brewers led 3-1 in the sixth inning of Game 7 when Kuenn surprisingly removed eventual Cy Young-winner Pete Vuckovich from the game. The bullpen would give up five runs and the Cardinals took home their ninth championship.

The following year, the Brewers faced injuries, as well as the midseason trade of Gorman Thomas, and dropped to 87-75. Despite the record, Kuenn was fired, especially after a late 10-game losing streak. He stayed on as a scout and minor league hitting instructor with Milwaukee until he passed away in 1988 due to complications from heart disease and diabetes.

1. Craig Counsell – He had a 16-year career as a player, with most of his starting experience coming as a member of the Brewers. Nicknamed “Chicken” for his unique batting stance, Counsell was a part of several clutch playoff moments. He drove in two runs against the deciding game against Atlanta in the NLCS, then scored on Edgar Renteria‘s game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. He also was on base when the Diamondbacks beat the Yankees to win the title in 2001.

Following his playing career, the well-respected Counsell was a special assistant to Milwaukee general manager Doug Melvin. He replaced Roenicke early in the 2015 season and the Brewers improved in each of the next three years. Counsell led the Brewers to 96 wins in 2018, which tied a team record. However, they ended the regular season in a dead heat with the Cubs atop the N. L. Central. Milwaukee held Chicago to three hits and scratched out a 3-1 win to take the division title in a one-game playoff. The Brewers then swept the Rockies in the Division Series before falling to the Dodgers in seven games in the NLCS.

The experience was the first of five playoff appearances in six years for the Brewers under Counsell, but they lost in the Wild Card or Division Series each of the other times. Counsell just finished his ninth season at the helm, and he set franchise bests with a 703-621 record, six winning seasons, five postseason appearances and seven playoff victories. His contract ran out after the 2023 season and, five days later, he signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the division rival Cubs, which makes him the highest-paid manager in Major League Baseball history.

Upcoming Stories

Milwaukee Brewers Catchers and Managers
Milwaukee Brewers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters – coming soon
Milwaukee Brewers Second Basemen and Shortstops – coming soon
Milwaukee Brewers Outfielders – coming soon
Milwaukee Brewers Pitchers – coming soon

Previous Series

A look back at the Miami Marlins

Miami Marlins Catchers and Managers
Miami Marlins First and Third Basemen
Miami Marlins Second Basemen and Shortstops
Miami Marlins Outfielders
Miami Marlins Pitchers

A look back at the Los Angeles Dodgers

A look back at the Los Angeles Angels

Los Angeles Angels Catchers and Managers
Los Angeles Angels First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Los Angeles Angels Second Basemen and Shortstops
Los Angeles Angels Outfielders
Los Angeles Angels Pitchers

A look back at the Kansas City Royals

Kansas City Royals Catchers and Managers
Kansas City Royals First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Kansas City Royals Second Basemen and Shortstops
Kansas City Royals Outfielders
Kansas City Royals Pitchers

A look back at the Houston Astros

Houston Astros Catchers and Managers
Houston Astros First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Houston Astros Second Basemen and Shortstops
Houston Astros Outfielders
Houston Astros Pitchers

A look back at the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers Catchers and Managers
Detroit Tigers First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Detroit Tigers Second Basemen and Shortstops
Detroit Tigers Outfielders
Detroit Tigers Pitchers

A look back at the Colorado Rockies

Colorado Rockies Catchers and Managers
Colorado Rockies First and Third Basemen
Colorado Rockies Second Basemen and Shortstops
Colorado Rockies Outfielders
Colorado Rockies Pitchers

A look back at the Cleveland Guardians

Cleveland Guardians Catchers and Managers
Cleveland Guardians First and Third Basemen and Designated Hitters
Cleveland Guardians Second Basemen and Shortstops
Cleveland Guardians Outfielders
Cleveland Guardians Pitchers

A look back at the Cincinnati Reds

A look back at the Chicago White Sox

Chicago Cubs Catchers and Managers
Chicago Cubs First and Third Basemen
Chicago Cubs Second Basemen and Shortstops
Chicago Cubs Outfielders
Chicago Cubs Pitchers

A look back at the Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox Catchers and Managers
Boston Red Sox First and Third Basemen
Boston Red Sox Second Basemen and Shortstops
Boston Red Sox Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Boston Red Sox Pitchers

A look back at the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles Catchers and Managers
Baltimore Orioles First and Third Basemen
Baltimore Orioles Second Basemen and Shortstops
Baltimore Orioles Outfielders and Designated Hitters
Baltimore Orioles Pitchers

A look back at the Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves Catchers and Managers
Atlanta Braves First and Third Basemen
Atlanta Braves Second Basemen and Shortstops
Atlanta Braves Outfielders
Atlanta Braves Pitchers

A look back at the Arizona Diamondbacks

Arizona Diamondbacks Catchers and Managers
Arizona Diamondbacks First and Third Basemen
Arizona Diamondbacks Second Basemen and Shortstops
Arizona Diamondbacks Outfielders
Arizona Diamondbacks Pitchers

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