Do you know who holds the Brewers’ record for career batting average with the team? It is not Robin Yount. Nor is it Paul Molitor. It isn’t even Cecil Cooper, who hit over .300 seven years in a row. With a .307 career average as a Brewer, Jeff Cirillo has the highest batting average in team history. In this edition of Brewers Past and Present, we will look at the career of one of the most underrated players in team history: Jeff Cirillo.
Cirillo’s Minor League Career
Jeff Cirillo was originally drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 37th round of the 1987 amateur draft. He, however did not sign with the organization. Later in 1991, Cirillo was drafted by the Brewers in the 11th round of the amateur draft. One thing was clear from the beginning: the man could hit.
Cirillo played 70 games with rookie-level Helena in 1991. He finished the season with an even 100 hits and a .350/.418/.524 slash line. He added 10 home runs and 51 RBI as well. In 1992, Cirillo hit .299/.412/.429 with nine home runs and 76 RBI between A and A+ ball. 1993 saw Cirillo splitting time between AA and AAA. As always, Cirillo kept hitting. He had a slash line of .319/.398/.476 with 12 home runs and 73 RBI between the two levels. He was quickly becoming a top prospect in baseball, not just in the Brewers organization.
1994 would be Cirillo’s last season as a prospect. He hit .309/.386/.530 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI. He earned a call up to Milwaukee and played 39 games with the Brewers that season. There were growing pains, though, as there is with many new Major Leaguers. The new Brewer hit just .238/.309/.381 with three home runs and 12 RBI. However, he was in the Majors to stay.
Cirillo’s Career with the Brewers: Part 1
Jeff Cirillo was a permanent fixture in the Brewers lineup for five solid seasons starting in 1995. In those five seasons, he hit over .320 three times. In 1995, Cirillo hit .277/.371/.422 and, amazingly, walked five more times than he struck out. Cirillo was named to his first All-Star team in 1997, a season in which he hit .288/..367/.426 with 10 home runs and 82 RBI. Perhaps his best hitting season, though, for the Brewers was 1999. In that season, Cirillo hit .326/.401/.461 with 15 home runs and 88 RBI.
Unfortunately, the Brewers felt the need to trade Cirillo following the ’99 season. In trading him away, they lost a player who played at least 154 games in each of the past four seasons. In return, they got the forgettable pitching talents of Jamey Wright and Jimmy Haynes.
Colorado, Seattle, and San Diego
It is just as obvious now as it was back then that the Rockies were the winners for the Cirillo trade. During his first year in Colorado, Cirillo made his second All-Star team. He finished the 2000 season with a slashline of .326/.392/.477 with 11 home runs and 115 RBI. He had another good season in 2001, hitting .313/.364/.473 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI.
Colorado traded Cirillo to the Seattle Mariners following the 2001 season. Unfortunately for Cirillo, his career took a downward turn. In 2002, Cirillo only hit .249/.301/.328. 2003 was even worse and Cirillo faced injury challenges for the first time in his career. He only hit .205 in 87 games in his last season in Seattle.
The San Deigo Padres traded for Cirillo ahead of the 2004 season. Cirillo, though, continued with his struggles at the plate and with injuries. He only played in 33 games for the Padres, hitting just .213. The Padres released him before the season ended.
Cirillo’s Career with the Brewers: Part 2
Prior to the 2005 season, the Brewers decided to take a flyer on the former fan favorite. Cirillo responded by returning to the version of his earlier playing days. Older and limited by some injuries, he only played in 77 games. However, his batting improved and he finished with .281/.373/.427 with four home runs and 23 RBI. Once again, Cirillo walked more than he struck out, with 23 free passes against 22 strikeouts.
Cirillo’s play was good enough for the Brewers to offer him another one-year deal for the following season. In 2006, he was healthier and played in 112 games. He finished that season with a slash line of .319/.369/.414 with three home runs and 23 RBI. It also marked the first time in his career that he appeared at all four infield positions during game play.
Despite his great production in 2006, Cirillo was not brought back by the Brewers in 2007. He started that season with the Minnesota Twins. In 50 games, he was hitting .261/.327/.386, but was released by the club in late summer. He was claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks, with whom he hit .200/.273/.300 in 28 games. Jeff Cirillo retired after the 2007 season.
While not flashy with power numbers or a flair for the dramatic, Cirillo was endearing to the blue collar fans of Milwaukee. He was gritty, did whatever it took to help the team, and always got the job done. He may not be on many fans’ favorite Brewers lists, but he should be. Few have embodied Milwaukee baseball better than Jeff Cirillo.
More Brewers Past and Present
- Cecil Cooper
- Paul Molitor
- Justin Smoak
- Ben Sheets
- Bob Uecker
- Keston Hiura
- Josh Hader
- Ted Simmons
- Gorman Thomas
- Pete Vuckovich
- Rollie Fingers
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