We all love Bernie Brewer. The mustachioed mascot has been entertaining Brewers fans for nearly forty years, though he did have a brief retirement from 1984-1992 when his chalet (and the beer mug he slid into) was replaced by a new sound system in County Stadium. Inspired by Milt Mason, a Milwaukee man who lived atop the County Stadium scoreboard for 40 days in 1970 in an attempt to inspire more attendance to the fledgling franchise, the Bernie Brewer mascot was born in 1973. This original version of Bernie was more man than mascot – there was no oversized head or fabric arms; instead, it was a man in lederhosen and gloves who lived in a chalet and slid into a mug of beer whenever the Brewers hit a home run. In 1973, Whitey Herzog and the Texas Rangers accused him of stealing signs.
On Saturday, July 7, 1973, the Brewers beat the Rangers 17-2. On Sunday, they swept the doubleheader 6-4 and 7-3. During the games Sunday, Herzog noticed something fishy:
“Umpire Bill Haller ordered a man with binoculars out of the chalet and told mascot Bernie Brewer to take off his white gloves.
‘I asked Jackie Moore, my first base coach, to keep an eye up there because he had a better angle and he thought he saw a guy up there with binoculars,’ Herzog said. ‘I couldn’t figure out why that other guy had no white gloves on when we bat but put them on when they came to bat. Then he’d clap like hell every time we called for a breaking pitch. He called the right pitch six times in a row.'”
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The man the umpire kicked out of the chalet was Bernie’s assistant, who apparently filled up and shot off balloons after home runs. Despite Herzog’s claims to have caught him in the act, and despite the fact that the umpire took action, the Brewers and everyone involved maintain that nothing was happening. From the Milwaukee Journal story the next day:
“‘The second man is up there merely to blow up the balloons and make sure that they go out properly,’ [Andy Perry, assistant to the director of Stadium operation] said. ‘He’s not up there all the time, and he doesn’t use binoculars.
‘As for the white gloves, it is part of Bernie’s uniform, and he needs them to go down that 40 foot slide. Sure, he takes them off when the Rangers are batting. He doesn’t need to wear them then.'”
Were there binoculars in the chalet when the assistant was kicked out? It’s probably impossible to say, since the papers I’ve found give differing accounts (though it is fair to point out that it’s the Milwaukee paper denying the presence of binoculars).
When Bernie was brought back at the start of the 1993 season, the Milwaukee Journal wrote up a little history about the mascot:
“Dan McCarthy, a Marquette University student, was the original Bernie Brewer, selected from the ground crew in 1973. He’s the one manager Whitey Herzog of the Kansas City Royals [sic] accused of stealing signs.
‘Can you imagine a team having to cheat to beat us?’ an indignant Herzog asked.
McCarthy was startled.
‘I played in the outfield in Little League and Babe Ruth Leagues, and I can’t tell one sign from another,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t know what to look for.'”
We’ll never know if these sign-stealing allegations were true or not. The (alleged) fact that there were binoculars up in the chalet does tend to lend credence to the story, but even those could have very legitimate reasons for being up there. Still, I find myself believing that the Brewers were trying to use Bernie Brewer that weekend to steal signs – provided the binoculars were actually discovered. I don’t actually believe that sign-stealing works all that well, but that doesn’t mean a team wouldn’t try to do it. And the set-up that Herzog alleges – Bernie’s assistant uses binoculars to watch the signs, tells Bernie when a curve is called, Bernie claps hard before the pitch – seems simple enough that the Milwaukee batters might be able to make use of it.
Whatever actually happened, I love the story. I now find myself hoping that other mascots will find themselves embroiled in controversy. Maybe Wally the Green Monster could interfere with a home run ball out near Pesky’s Pole, or maybe the Philly Phanatic could throw a cheesesteak at Prince Fielder as he steps into the box, or maybe Mariner Moose could leave a moose pie on the basepath for Adrian Beltre to step in. I’m telling you, these things would make baseball better.