Flashback: It's time for B.J. Surhoff to take charge
As the Brewers build for the future in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft, we look back to B.J. Surhoff, the team's top pick in 1985.
Milwaukee had the No. 1 overall pick, and took Surhoff over players like Will Clark (Giants, No. 2 overall), Barry Larkin (Reds, No. 4), Barry Bonds (Pirates, No. 5) and Rafael Palmeiro (Cubs, No. 22). Randy Johnson went to Montreal in the second round, David Justice to the Braves in the fourth round, John Smoltz to the Tigers in the 22nd round and Mark Grace to the Cubs in the 24th round.
This story is a shortened version of one that appeared in the March 1989 edition of What's Brewing Magazine.
Every rookie should begin his Major League career the way B.J. Surhoff did with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1987.
It didn't take him very long to establish himself. In his very first plate appearance, he managed to single to right field off Boston Red Sox right-hander Al Nipper. That stroke carried him through a seven-game hitting streak, which included a pair of game-winning hits.
The first of the big blows was a leadoff home run in the eighth inning to give the Brewers a 12-11 victory over the Sox and a 3-0 start. The other came in Texas. With two outs in the 12th inning, his bases-loaded single to right field gave Milwaukee a 7-5 win and a club-record 6-0 start. The club went on to registered seven more victories and a place in baseball history.
B.J.'s early success at the plate gave him the confidence to handle the chores behind it, as he threw out dour of the first six baserunners attempting to take an extra base.
But the pendulum swung the other way in his sophomore season. The further along Surhoff got into the season, the further away he was from his rookie accomplishments. As he tried to match his '87 performance, it got him deeper in trouble. No second-year player should experience the frustrations Surhoff did in '88.
"There is no excuse for my lack of production in '88," Surhoff said. "There was never a point where I felt really comfortable the whole year at the plate. I had one good stretch."
That one good stretch came in September, which helped the club narrow the gap in the American League East pennant chase. In a 17-game span, he hit .297 with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs. That spree helped raise his final numbers to a .245 average, five homers and 38 RBIs. Not a worthy sum for someone who played in 138 games.
"If you look back at both years," he began, "I hit about the same at the All-Star break (.256 in '88 compared with .267 in '87). The difference was that in '87 I got in a groove after the break. I felt comfortable at the plate. There were times I struggled, but I made contact. I thought I did a pretty good job of driving in the runs. ...
"But in '88, I got into a rut. I was really swinging the bat well to start but then I started trying to do too much. I felt I wasn't contributing. I didn't do things to merit batting third in the order or even up in the order. I felt like Treb (Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn) gave me the opportunity, but the way I was hitting I didn't deserve it. So I started trying too hard."
Trebelhorn made a different observation for Surhoff's day-to-night comparisons.
"We didn't get the same baserunners or opportunities that we had the previous year," Trebelhorn said. "B.J. didn't get the same pitches and same situations that he had in '87. He had to make more offensive adjustments in '88, not because of what he did or didn't do, but because I think of what our offense, as a whole, did or didn't do." ...
As the Brewers prepare for their 20th anniversary in the American League, Surhoff has a better perspective of his future with the franchise.
"From a physical outlook, I'm going to try to get to a point where I feel comfortable at the plate," he said. "I reviewed films from last season and I noticed some things that I didn't do the year before. There were flaws that inhibited my style, my game.
"I want to get back to the point where I was swinging the bat which enabled me to do more things offensively."
And what about his defense? Are there any changes planned?
"Defensively, I want to continue improving and hopefully call better games," Surhoff said. "After two years now, I think our pitchers are comfortable with my pitch selections. I think I know each of them pretty well and I feel they in turn respect my judgment.
"I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to try and apply what I've learned the last two seasons. I want to take charge of the situation instead of it taking control of me."
Surhoff played a total of eight seasons for the Brewers and switched to third and first base, then to the outfield in the mid-1990s. He moved on to Baltimore and made the All-Star team in 1999, when he batted .308 with 28 homers, 104 runs scored and 107 RBIs, then moved to Atlanta. He went back to Baltimore for 2003.