By Zane Miller
On Thursday, September 28th, 2000, the Cincinnati Reds defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 8-1 in what was to be the final MLB game, as well as the final public event in general, held at Milwaukee County Stadium which had been the home stadium of the Brewers since coming to Milwaukee in 1970.
While Milwaukee County Stadium is most well-known as the home venue for the Brewers, its origins begin even further back. Opening on April 6th, 1953, it hosted the Milwaukee Braves in their first season since relocating from Boston. While the Braves had largely struggled throughout their time in the Bay State (excluding their World Series title in 1914), they immediately started to improve after the move, with the team never having a single losing record during their 13 seasons in Milwaukee. The pinnacle of this consistent run would be seen in 1957, as the Braves took down the New York Yankees in seven games for their second World Series championship in franchise history, with Milwaukee County Stadium hosting games three through five. The following year, the stadium saw more World Series action as the Braves and Yankees met in the World Series again, with the series again going seven games. However, this time the Braves would not be so fortunate, instead coming up short on their home field to allow New York to capture its 18th series title.
Despite the tenure in Milwaukee being an overwhelming success for the Braves, the team would leave for Atlanta after the 1965 campaign following an ownership change and a new stadium being built. Following the Braves’ 7-6 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 22nd, Milwaukee County Stadium would not see another baseball game for the next couple of years, and would be forced to wait for another full-time tenant to come along. Enter the Seattle Pilots.
The Pilots, who still hold a legacy as one of the most disastrous expansion teams in the history of professional sports, were desperate to move out of the Emerald City following their one and only season in 1969, in large part due to their home of Sick’s Stadium being woefully unprepared to host an MLB franchise. With Milwaukee County Stadium being relatively new and ready to take on the demands of a major league team, the Pilots were sold to officially become the Milwaukee Brewers for 1970. This decision locked in the stadium for baseball use for another three decades.
The Brewers struggled out of the gate, as they were unable to secure a winning record until 1978 and did not reach the postseason until 1981, where they fell in the first round to the Yankees. However, 1982 would be the Brewers’ best season at Milwaukee County Stadium, tying a then-franchise record 95 wins, before earning their first postseason victory over the California (now Los Angeles) Angels to advance to the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. However, despite the Brewers winning two of their three games in Milwaukee, it wouldn’t be enough as the Cardinals took their ninth championship in seven games. Following this peak, the team would never make the playoffs again for the rest of their time at the stadium, with their final winning season coming in 1992. On November 9th, 1996, the construction process began for what would be the Brewers’ new home stadium in Miller Park (now American Family Field) beginning in 2001. With no other primary tenants as the Green Bay Packers ceased their annual three-game homestand after 1994, the future of Milwaukee County Stadium was in serious doubt.
The 2000 campaign saw the Brewers continue their trend of mediocrity, coming into their September 28th matchup against the Reds with a 72-86 record with only four games remaining in the season. Meanwhile, Cincinnati was having a better year at 82-76, though they were also already out of postseason contention with the Cardinals having already locked up the National League Central title with 93 wins.
The Brewers entered the matchup looking to finish off a series sweep, as they beat the Reds 7-4 and 10-6 in the first two games of the series, and called upon starting pitcher Jeff D’Amico to take on the task. Despite his team already being knocked out of the postseason battle, there was still a lot on the line for D’Amico for his final start of the year. He was in the running for the National League ERA title with a 2.42 ERA, however, the catch is that he had to pitch at least 162 innings to officially qualify for the award. This was a problem for D’Amico, as he had only pitched 156 and a third innings to that point in the season, and any hiccups against a fairly solid Reds lineup could cost him an early exit.
The Reds, on the other hand, sent starting pitcher Elmer Dessens to the mound. Dessens was a new acquisition to the team, as he had spent the first three seasons of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, before leaving the MLB entirely for 1999 and joining the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. However, he returned to the league with the Reds for the 2000 season and had a respectable record of 10-5 going into his final start, though his 4.49 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 136 and a third innings left a lot to be desired. However, Dessens was determined to close out the year on a high note.
In the first inning, after Reds outfielder Alex Ochoa took advantage of having runners on the corners to knock in the first run of the afternoon on an RBI single, Dessens struck out Marquis Grissom and Mark Loretta in what would be a one-two-three inning, giving Cincinnati the early 1-0 advantage through one frame. Not to be outdone, shortstop Juan Castro doubled the Reds lead in the next inning with a solo home run in the second before a third inning RBI single from first baseman Sean Casey made it a 3-0 ballgame, though this wouldn’t be the biggest hit that Casey would have on the day.
After Dessens continued to be nearly unhittable with another one-two-three inning in the fourth, the Reds embarked on a fifth inning rally which saw center fielder Michael Tucker reach with a walk, promptly followed up with a single from left fielder Dmitri Young to put runners on the corners once again. This set up Casey with another RBI opportunity, though he would do much more than that with a three-run home run to right field, putting the Reds up 6-0. This would go on to be the final home run ever hit at Milwaukee County Stadium.
Although Milwaukee would avoid the shutout in the sixth inning, as a triple by catcher Raul Casanova set up pinch hitter Luis Lopez for an RBI groundout, the Reds put the game out of reach for good in the seventh as Ochoa got his second RBI of the game on a sacrifice fly, while Castro did the same on an RBI single for an 8-1 advantage. With that, the only question remaining would be if Dessens would be able to go the distance and become the final pitcher to take the mound at Milwaukee County Stadium, which he made a strong case for in the eighth by getting his sixth one-two-three inning of the afternoon. While Everett Stull would go down in the history books as the final Brewers pitcher to pitch at the stadium, setting the Reds down in order in the ninth, Dessens would indeed score the complete game win after getting flyouts from Tyler Houston and Lou Collier, before a groundout from Loretta sealed the Reds’ 8-1 victory.
Dessens ended the year with his best record of 11-5 after getting what would be his first of two complete game victories in his career, with the second being a complete game shutout against the Florida Marlins on July 28th, 2001. Though he left the Reds after the 2002 season, Dessens remained in MLB with multiple different teams before his 2010 retirement. While D’Amico went six innings in the game to make his ERA title bid official, his six earned runs bumped his final ERA to 2.66, which would not be enough to surpass Kevin Brown of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who ultimately had an ERA of 2.54 in 230 innings pitched to claim the NL title, with D'Amico placing himself third in the final results.
Before the new field’s official opening on April 6th, 2001, Milwaukee County Stadium was demolished on February 21st of that year. As American Family Field remains the home stadium of the Brewers as of this writing, Milwaukee County Stadium is still remembered today with a marker where the original home plate once stood, in recognition of the 30-year history as the team’s primary venue.
Link to stats database: https://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MIL/MIL200009280.shtml