Flashback: Brewers retain Kuenn
Club drops 'interim' tag after World Series appearance
By Mario Ziino / Special to MilwaukeeBrewers.com
While new Brewers general manager Doug Melvin begins interviewing candidates for the team's managerial vacancy this week, we look back 20 years to another, albeit short, managerial "search." This article appeared in the November 1982 issue of What's Brewing, the official team magazine.
Before the World Series embers could be extinguished, Harry Dalton, Brewer Executive Vice President-General Manager, accomplished his first important off-season task, by dropping the word "interim" from Harvey Kuenn's title.
Just five days after the Brewers took the St. Louis Cardinals to the seventh game of the World Series, Dalton named Kuenn the Brewer field boss for the 1983 season, one of the easiest and most popular decisions the veteran baseball man ever made.
Kuenn, who turned 52 on December 4, was asked to take over the Brewers on an interim bases on June 1, when he was in Stockton, California to look at Milwaukee's entry in the California League (A). At that time, the Brewers were 23-24, tied for fifth place in the Eastern Division, seven games out of first.
"Really, neither Harry or I knew at the time whether I would manage a week, ten days or the rest of the year," Kuenn recalled. "Harry originally called and asked my opinion about three people he had in mind to manage the club. Then he called back and asked me if I would take it. I said 'yes' very quickly."
The Brewers responded to Kuenn like a duck takes to water, playing at a .626 clip, winning 72 of 115 games the rest of the way to finish in first place in the Eastern Division by one game when they beat Baltimore, 10-2, in the season's finale.
Milwaukee finished the regular season with a 95-67 record -- a .586 winning mark -- the best record in baseball. The Brewers then wrote their name in the record books in the American League Championship Series. Losing their first two games to the Western Division Champion California Angels, Milwaukee came back to sweep the final three games of the series at County Stadium to become the first team in LCS history to accomplish such a feat.
Milwaukee then took a three games to two lead in the World Series with the Cardinals, before St. Louis won the final two games on the artificial turf at at Busch Stadium, finishing the year with a 101-73 record and a .580 winning mark.
"I'm thrilled that the Brewers asked me back for 1983," noted the modest Kuenn at his press conference at County Stadium on October 25. "It's a tremendous organization and I owe a lot to Bud Selig and Harry Dalton. I'm also really looking forwrad to working with a great bunch of guys on the field again. They really made my job easy this past season."
"We think it is fitting that Harvey returns to manage the Brewers in 1983," said Dalton. "He played a major role in the Milwaukee Brewers' finest season ever, leading them to the American League Championship and a near miss in the seventh game of a World Series. He was just what the doctor ordered."
Speaking of the doctor, one of the reasons it took even five days for the Brewers to announce Kuenn's appointment for next season was their concern with Kuenn's health. The courageous Kuenn has overcome heart problems, stomach surgery and a leg amputation in the past seven years.
"It was very important to us to make sure Harvey wanted to come back on his own in 1983," Dalton said. "We did not want him to feel he had to come back as a favor to the Brewers. We talked with the doctors when Harvey assured us he felt fine and wanted to return next season. We are very pleased with his decision."
Kuenn, a West Allis native, has spent 12 seasons with the Brewers. Originally hired as a spring training and minor league batting instructor in 1971, he has been Milwaukee's batting coach since 1972. The most powerful offensive machine in baseball again in 1982, the Brewers became appropriately nicknamed "Harvey's Wallbangers" when the popular Kuenn took over and their offense came to life.
Kuenn led the Brewers to an 87-75 record in 1983 but finished fifth in the competitive AL East. He passed away on February 28, 1988 in Peoria, Ariz at the age of 57. His wife, Audrey, who took part in a reunion at Miller Park this season honoring the 20th anniversary of the Brewers' only World Series entry, and received one of the loudest ovations during a ceremony at the 2000 closing of County Stadium.