Faith rewarded: Lohse gets well-earned deal
Contract with Brewers a victory for one of the game's good guys
TAMPA, Fla. -- I'm one of the dozens of people absolutely thrilled that Kyle Lohse has landed in a good place. He's one of the really good guys in the sport and has had to overcome obstacle after obstacle on his way to this $33 million contract with the Brewers.
At 34, Lohse has seen the game from almost every angle. He has been traded three times and written off at least that many times. Lohse probably hit rock bottom seven years ago with the Twins, when his ERA rose all the way above 7.00 before he was dealt to the Reds.
At that point, virtually no one in baseball could have predicted that Lohse would still have a productive career. He was 51-57 with a 4.88 ERA at the time and simply didn't seem to have the control or the poise to succeed.
Two tough seasons with the Reds followed, and he went untouched in the 2007-08 free-agent marketplace. The Cardinals finally made him an offer, seemingly because they were out of better options, a few weeks before the start of the 2008 season.
And that's when Lohse caught the break of his professional life by hooking up with probably the greatest pitching coach who ever lived -- Dave Duncan.
There ought to be a place in Cooperstown for Duncan, who was joined at the hip with manager Tony La Russa and had a huge role in building all those playoff teams in Oakland and St. Louis.
Anyway, Duncan unlocked something in Lohse, just as he'd done with dozens of others, from Dave Stewart to Jeff Weaver. He was instrumental in getting Lohse to believe in himself and to harness his stuff.
In five seasons with the Cards, Lohse was 20 games over .500. In his last two, he was almost as good as any pitcher in the game, going 30-11 with a 3.11 ERA.
By the time Cardinals manager Mike Matheny handed him the ball on Opening Day last season, Lohse had been completely reborn. He allowed one run in 7 1/3 innings that night, and afterwards did a pretty good imitation of the happiest guy on earth.
After all the years and all the struggles, Lohse had arrived. To get an Opening Day assignment for St. Louis is a big deal, and an indication that he could handle pretty much anything.
This has been a long, tough free-agent waiting period for Lohse, who was the last of the elite players to land a deal. Maybe it was that his agent, Scott Boras, had very high expectations for the kind of money Lohse would get, or maybe it was that the Draft-pick compensation scared off teams.
But it was never about Lohse's ability. Every general manager, every scout, has been effusive in their praise of him this winter. They talked about Lohse's competitive fire and his ability to keep his team competitive, even on those days when he doesn't have his "A" game.
In the end, Lohse got lucky to land where he did. First, the Brewers have a chance to contend. Second, Lohse is about to discover -- if he doesn't already know it -- that Milwaukee is one of America's great cities, a place of neighborhoods and parks and a very good quality of life. He'll also find out that baseball is important in Milwaukee.
There are a huge number of people who care deeply about the Brewers, not just in Milwaukee, but all around the state. They turn out, too, in huge numbers, averaging almost 3 million in home attendance the last six seasons.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has invested those revenues back into the club to keep it competitive. His general manager, Doug Melvin, long ago established himself as one of the most competent executives in the business, a thoughtful low-key man who began as an intern for George Steinbrenner and helped construct playoff clubs in Baltimore and Texas before landing in Milwaukee.
Lohse has played enough games in Milwaukee to understand that the Brewers are important and that every game is a big deal. Players love this kind of energy. They feed off it and thrive on it.
Lohse would be the first to tell you he benefited from the atmosphere around the Cardinals, in which every home game as a playoff feel. There's some of that vibe going on with the Brewers, too.
He surely felt some frustration these last few months as he remained without a club even with Opening Day just around the corner. Thankfully, it turned out all right, both for Lohse and for the Brewers, as well as all the people who've gotten to know Lohse these last 12 years.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.