Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club History
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53214
Telephone: (414) 933-4114
Fax: (414) 933-5474
Sales: $60.8 million
NAIC: 711211 Sports Teams and Clubs
Commitment--That one word captures the essence of the Milwaukee Brewers' mission on and off the field. The Miller Park era is beginning soon, and with it a renewed vitality for Major League Baseball in Wisconsin. Accordingly, we are committed to bringing a championship to Wisconsin. Our fans will enjoy a world class ballpark, and also deserve a rewarding game experience. We are fortunate to live and work in a giving, caring community. Our region is recognized for its philanthropic spirit, and it is the Brewers' privilege to be a component of this regional partnership. We are proud of our community accomplishments, and are committed to the club's tradition of proving positive impact for young people and those less fortunate. The Greater Milwaukee area and the state of Wisconsin have supported and encouraged the Brewers for thirty years. We take pride in that special relationship, which serves to grow the Brewers' resolve in sharing our unique resources to make Wisconsin a better place. Key Dates:
- Teams, Inc. is founded to bring a new Major League Baseball team to Milwaukee.
- The Brewers are born when the Seattle Pilots franchise is purchased.
- Brewers change from Western to Eastern Division in the American League.
- First season with more wins than losses.
- The Brewers win their first pennant, but lose the World Series in the final game.
- Attendance reaches an all-time high of nearly 2.4 million.
- Brewers move to the newly created A.L. Central Division.
- Ground is broken on a new $250 million stadium.
- Brewers switch from A.L. to the National League; Wendy Selig-Prieb is named CEO.
- An accident kills three workers at the new stadium, delaying its opening until 2001.
The Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club oversees the operations of the Milwaukee Brewers, a Major League baseball team competing in the National League's Central Division. The Brewers have been searching for the right combination of players and coaching to field a consistently winning squad, but have only once made it to the World Series, which they narrowly lost in 1982. The privately held team is headed by President and CEO Wendy Selig-Prieb, the only woman to hold such a position in the majors. Her father, team founder Bud Selig, stepped down from those roles in 1998 to become Commissioner of Baseball. The team is scheduled to move into newly built Miller Park in 2001, which will offer a domed roof to protect against the chilly Wisconsin weather, as well as luxury skyboxes for use by corporations.
The Milwaukee Brewers' beginnings can be traced to 1964, when the Milwaukee Braves announced that they would be moving to Atlanta. Attempts to prevent the move failed, and in 1965 four prominent Milwaukeeans founded Teams, Inc. to bring Major League Baseball back to their city. Among the four were one-time Braves director Edmund Fitzgerald and car dealer Allen 'Bud' Selig, who was named president of the company. Attempts over the next several years to purchase expansion teams in both the National and American leagues, and even to entice the Chicago White Sox to move to Milwaukee, failed. Teams, Inc. did secure 21 regular season White Sox games and several exhibition games for Milwaukee's County Stadium, the former home of the Braves.
In 1969 the American League announced that it was sanctioning new franchises for Seattle and Kansas City, leaving Milwaukee in the lurch yet again. The newly formed Seattle Pilots' 1969 season was a disappointing one, however, hampered by a weak team, a 25,000-seat stadium (about half the average size), and a disinterested fan base, which never once sold out the stands during the year. At the end of the season a group of 15 Milwaukee businessmen, led by Selig and Fitzgerald, made a $10.8 million offer to buy the franchise. As had happened with the Braves, a number of measures were taken to stop the team from moving.
In the spring of 1970 the Pilots declared bankruptcy, which enabled the purchase to finally go through. Just one week before the regular season was to start, the players were told that they would be moving to Milwaukee. The season was so close to starting that there was not even time for new uniforms--they simply had the word 'Pilots' removed and 'Brewers' sewn on. The new name was chosen as a tribute to the city's long association with beer production. Although the first season in Milwaukee was only slightly more successful than the one in Seattle had been, attendance improved by 38 percent, and the fans showed great enthusiasm for their new team.
Following another lackluster season in 1971, newly appointed General Manager Frank Lane made a major trade with Boston, getting six new players in exchange for four Brewers. The team also shifted divisions, moving from the Western to the more competitive Eastern. The move was occasioned by the relocation of the Washington Senators to Texas, but Brewers management also felt that ticket sales would be boosted by the increased number of games against that division's powerhouse teams. These included the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Baltimore Orioles.
Personnel changes continued in 1972, when original manager Dave Bristol was fired and replaced by Del Crandall. G.M. Lane himself was subsequently replaced by Jim Wilson. By this time, only one of the original Brewers players was left. The year 1973 saw a slight improvement, with a final tally of 74 wins and 88 losses, culminating in fifth place in the division. Attendance went back up, topping a million. After another losing season the following year, the struggling team hired baseball legend Hank Aaron as a designated hitter, a move that brought out more fans but did not produce a significant improvement in the standings. Aaron, who had started with the Braves in 1954, finished his playing career in Milwaukee after two seasons.
In 1976, following a loss of player confidence in his leadership, the team replaced Del Crandall with Alex Grammas, assistant coach of the Cincinnati Reds. Grammas imposed strict rules that limited hair length and banned beards, mustaches, and other 'facial adornments.' His tenure was also to be short. In November of 1977 Selig fired Grammas, new General Manager Jim Baumer, and several other members of the coaching staff. Grammas was replaced by Baltimore pitching coach George Bamberger and Baumer by Harry Dalton from the California Angels. Dalton immediately secured several new players, including free agent Larry Hisle for a six-year, $3 million deal.
Success at Last in the Late 1970s
The changes brought about a turnaround in fortunes. The 1978 season saw the Brewers, now sporting new uniforms and a new logo, finish above .500 for the first time. They led the American League in home runs and six other offensive categories, and one of the team's key players, infielder Paul Molitor, was named Rookie of the Year. The final tally of 93 wins and 69 losses was only good for third place in the tough division, however. A record 1.6 million tickets were sold for the year.
The next season was even better, with 1.9 million in attendance, and a second place finish to the Baltimore Orioles. Gorman Thomas's 45 home runs led the league, and the team racked up more multiple base hits of every type than the previous year. These statistics improved again in 1980, although the season was hampered by injuries to several key players as well as by Manager Bamberger's mid-season heart attack. The team installed a new, high-tech scoreboard during the year and also completed a postseason trade that brought in much-needed pitching strength, including famed Oakland A's reliever Rollie Fingers. He delivered the goods in his first season, leading the majors in saves and being named both the Cy Young award winner and Most Valuable Player.
In 1981 came the first Major League Baseball players' strike, which occurred in the middle of the season and resulted in the year being divided into two halves. The Brewers won the second half-season, but lost the division title to New York in the playoffs. Despite new coach Buck Rodgers's winning ways, he lacked the support of many of his players. In early 1982, with the team off to a lackluster start, Dalton replaced him with batting coach Harvey Kuenn. The Brewers quickly caught fire, finishing the season on top of their division and then taking the pennant. Although they lost the World Series in the seventh game, they were greeted as heroes upon their return to Milwaukee. The following season saw the team's best attendance ever, with nearly 2.4 million tickets sold.
Unfortunately, the Brewers' fortunes began to slip after their pennant win, with a fifth place finish the following year, then 67 wins against 94 losses in 1984, last place in the division. Kuenn had been fired before that season, and his successor Rene Lachemann was replaced by George Bamberger within a year. Rebuilding with a number of new, younger players, the team's record slowly improved, reaching 91 wins for 1987, and third place. By this time Bamberger, too, was gone, having given way to Tom Trebelhorn.
For once the Brewers stuck with a manager; Trebelhorn stayed at the helm for the next four seasons. The team's performance was still only fair, however, with final rankings during those years between third and sixth place. Trebelhorn ultimately was dismissed in October of 1991 and replaced by Phil Garner. The next season was the best since 1983, with the team taking second place in the division. The next year, however, the Brewers dropped to last place once again.
At this time the Brewers were one of only four teams in the majors with no cable broadcasting contract, and one of only three without corporate 'skyboxes' in their stadiums. An attempt to form a sports cablecasting venture with the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team in the mid-1980s had gone under after only one year. The Brewers' ticket sales and broadcast revenues were now both second worst in the majors. A primary reason for the Brewers' lowly status was the team's inability to compete in terms of player salaries, which had been rising steadily since the early 1970s. The team's $15 million payroll was the lowest in the major leagues. The biggest problem for the team was the limited size of its market area, which had a population base of only 1.3 million.
In 1994 the Brewers were moved into the newly created American League Central Division. The strike-shortened season served to lessen the team's misery, as it found itself in the cellar once again. A fourth place finish in 1995 gave way to a third place result in 1996, but the team was back in fifth the following year.
New Leagues and Stadiums in the Late 1990s
At the end of the 1997 season, the Brewers made an historic move from the American League to the National, a switch necessitated by the uneven number of teams in the two leagues. Research by the team showed fan preference for the move, as the Braves played in that league and Milwaukeeans still had fond memories of their years in the city. The Brewers' first game after the switch was in fact played against them in Atlanta. The team's new division was the N.L. Central, home to the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs. These teams fielded top sluggers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, respectively. The sizable number of games the Brewers would play against them was expected to boost ticket sales.
Since the team's founding, Bud Selig had gradually acquired majority ownership. In 1992, following the forced departure of Fay Vincent, he started to work part-time as interim commissioner of baseball. When he was officially appointed to serve in that role six years later, he handed ownership duties to his daughter Wendy, putting his own shares of the club in a trust. The well-respected Selig was able to help the Brewers and other struggling teams by creating a revenue-sharing plan that required the more successful teams to share their broadcasting income with the rest of the league. Thirty-seven-year-old Wendy Selig-Prieb, who was married to the Brewers' vice-president of corporate affairs, had grown up with the team and had gone to law school before hiring on as the Brewers' general counsel in 1990. Her work on the negotiating team during the 1994 players' strike had earned her the respect of her peers, and her move to the role of owner was a natural one.
During the mid-1990s the team began seeking municipal assistance in building a new domed stadium that would keep the cold Wisconsin weather from hampering attendance. The new park would also feature luxury skyboxes in which corporations could entertain. The $250 million project was set to receive $90 million in funding from the Brewers and Miller Brewing, whose name would be given to the facility in exchange for a $41.2 million investment. The remainder was to come from taxpayers. After a number of hurdles were overcome, including a close vote in the state senate, public funding was approved. Ground was broken in November of 1996, with a projected completion date of spring 2000. A 1999 crane accident killed three workers, however, raising the stadium's cost and delaying its completion by a year.
The months following the accident saw several major personnel changes. Selig-Prieb fired Manager Phil Garner near the end of his seventh losing season with the club, replacing him with Davey Lopes. G.M. Sal Bando also was given a different assignment within the organization and replaced by Dean Taylor. Once again, new uniforms were designed, this time in preparation for the move to Miller Park.
As the Brewers completed their last season in County Stadium, they were still searching for the right combination of elements to field a championship team. The new domed stadium was expected to give a sizable boost to ticket sales, and the anticipated upward spike in revenues would facilitate increasing player salaries to a competitive level. This, along with Bud Selig's inter-team revenue sharing agreement, was the team's best hope to date for a return to winning form.
Principal Competitors: Chicago National League Ball Club, Inc.; Chicago White Sox Ltd.; Cincinnati Reds; Houston Astros Baseball Club; Minnesota Twins; Pittsburgh Baseball Club; St. Louis Cardinals, L.P.
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- Thorn, John, et al., eds., Total Baseball (6th ed.), New York: Total Sports, 1999.
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Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 37. St. James Press, 2001.