Friday afternoon, the Milwaukee Brewers unveiled their Wall of Honor, which immortalized nearly 60 members of the organization from Hank Aaron and Bud Selig to Fernando Vina and Jaime Navarro.
When I first heard of the idea, I wasn’t sure what to think. I mean, Miller Park already has retired numbers, statues, and a Walk of Fame. What would a Wall of Honor add? Who else could you possibly bronze?
Craig Counsell, currently the Brewers special assistant to the general manager, came up with the idea – and it was a great one.
He grew up playing baseball in Whitefish Bay in the 1970s as his father worked in the Brewers organization, and you could say he was a true "fan" until being drafted by the Colorado Rockies at the age of 21.
The Brewers had some good teams from 1970 to 1992, but then from 1993 through 2006 the team wasn’t very good with its best season coming in 2005 at 81-81.
So, how do you recognize the guys who the fans attached to during those 53, 56, 62 and 75-win seasons? It’s not like they’re Hall of Famers, or even Walk of Famers. They’re not "statue" worthy.
But, as Counsell said Friday, "The Wall of Honor is the complete history of the Milwaukee Brewers."
He added: "These are the core players and the core people of the Milwaukee Brewers and your individual histories are the perfect storyteller for the history of our franchise. I think it also ties us together as players and as people to be proud of the time we spent together in Milwaukee as a Brewer."
The Wall of Honor is a perfect way to recognize those guys, players like former second baseman Fernando Vina. Vina spent five injury-plagued years with the Brewers from 1995-99, but he was an All-Star in 1998 and hit .286 while playing a scrappy style of ball.
"Oh, it’s like ‘Wow,’" Vina said Friday. "To go in that room and see the plaque it really hits home. It’s a moment, and a time now, that’s so special for me. It’s a tremendous honor to be included with these other guys, to be part of it. It’s a good feeling.
"We were fiery right? We had some good times. It was a good club. It was a good mix of guys, a good mix of fighters that went out and played hard."
By creating this Wall of Honor, the Brewers have got it right. It’s about the fans, and allowing them to celebrate the guys they grew up watching, or the guys that carried them through tough seasons.
There’s a designation for all-time greats like Aaron, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor.
There’s one for Joe Torre and Johnny Logan. Then there’s room for Dan Plesac, Ben Sheets and Teddy Higuera.
In sports, there are tiers. Always have been, always will be – the players know it, too. So why not celebrate them all?
The Wall of Honor ceremony got me thinking about the other pro sports Halls of Fame, and the standard is up in Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Now, it helps when you have so many of the sport’s all-time giants – the league’s championship trophy is named after one of your coaches, after all. The greatest defensive lineman in history played for you, and won a title. The most prolific quarterback in history played for you.
So, the Packers have the organizational right to be a bit more selective in how they honor and how they do it. But, it’s a spectacular visual display. The lockers you see in the photo above. The memorabilia. Honestly, it’s the best of the best and the standard bearer for what a team Hall of Fame can be.
Like the Wall of Honor at Miller Park, where anyone can walk by and read it, you have the highly underrated Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame on 4th Street.
The plaques are great, encompass a wide variety of sports, and it’s open to the public. But, unfortunately, I think it gets "lost" over by old Arena. It’s not a high traffic area for pedestrians or sports fans, and I think many Milwaukeeans (let alone tourists or fans for opposing teams) even know it’s there.
All of this leads me to the one proper Hall of Fame that is missing in Milwaukee … the Bucks.
I’ll let the great former play-by-play man Eddie Doucette lead us into that conversation, as he brought it up unprovoked during our conversation about the 1974 NBA Finals.
"Unfortunately, we haven't really been able to recapture how great that era of Bucks basketball has been," Doucette said.
"Yeah, we have a night or two of guys who are feted for what they did, but something as simple as a Bucks Hall of Fame, which would afford an opportunity for many new Bucks fans, people that have moved into the area, children or grandchildren of people who tell those stories but they don't really have any proof of it, would be able to walk them through a museum of that ilk, and show people exactly how good this team was, how good these players were, how bonded they were and how much they complimented one another, which is really the measure of a team in my mind."
Honestly, I think this will be rectified once a new arena is approved and constructed downtown. The smart play is to move the existing Wisconsin Sports Hall of Fame down the road to a public square of sorts, where perhaps you have a Bucks Wall of Honor recognizing the likes of Lucius Allen, Terry Cummings and Vin Baker.
Such a thing allows you to honor the "organizational great" – the B.J. Surhoff types that fans really fell for, but saves the great, proper Packers-esque Hall of Fame for the true legends.
Borrow ideas and looks from the best in state – or even around the country. Perhaps you can fit the Mecca floor in there, under a protective surface, and some mock Arena lockers for Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Brian Winters.
The Brewers have yet again created a great model for the new Bucks ownership to follow when it comes to their various honors, and constructing such places, both outside for the public, and inside as an additional attraction, would be a great addition to the sports landscape.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.