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What's better than this?
Still enthusiastic as ever, Mark Attanasio has led the Milwaukee Brewers for 10 years. What’s in store for the future?

By MARK CONCANNON
Photos by Scott Paulus

June 2015

Mark Attanasio thinks of his team as custodians of Miller Park, respecting the fact that fans have paid for the facility.

The Milwaukee Brewers have earned a playoff berth and added a division title to their rich history since Mark Attanasio took over ownership 10 years ago, and the owner is showing no signs of slowing down. Despite a few set backs (Ryan Braun’s suspension and a frustrating 2014 season), his enthusiasm has not waned as he continues to push forward toward greatness for the baseball team.

His positive attitude toward his team stems from his lifelong love for the sport. Like most people, Attanasio’s childhood dream of playing Major League Baseball ended pretty quickly. "I was a really mediocre high school player," Attanasio told Fox Sports. "And that’s stretching it a bit."

But while Attanasio moved on from his teenage disappointment, the Major League dream lingered and was realized in 2005 when he purchased the Milwaukee Brewers.

Attanasio, one of the finalists bidding on the team, was sitting at home waiting for a call from the firm handling the sale, a call that was several hours past due.

"They said they’d call by 4 or 5 p.m. West Coast time. I was in my office at 7 p.m. and there was still no call." Attanasio had his concession speech ready when the phone rang with the good news.

"I let out a scream you could hear all through my house," Attanasio recalled when being declared the winning bidder after an agonizing stretch of waiting for the final decision.

He had never owned a baseball team, but as a successful businessman and money manager, he knew a bit about high-stakes acquisitions. "If you want it, you need to put out a high number," Attanasio told Fox Sports. "A lot of folks were bidding in the $150 million to $180 million range at that time. I said, ‘$200 million.’ The next thing I know, I’m in the finals with three or four other bidders. At that point, I thought, ‘When are you ever going to get an opportunity to buy a Major League Baseball team? You’d better get it done.’"

Attanasio’s excitement was tempered by the reality of taking over a small-market team that had a tiny payroll and little success on the field.

"He struck me as someone who was a fan and knowledgeable about the game," says Milwaukee Brewers Chief Operating Officer Rick Schlesinger, who had joined the club after the 2002 season, about meeting Attanasio for the first time. "He was an impressive guy but approachable."

New owners of any business routinely stage a wholesale house cleaning of personnel. That didn’t happen with the Brewers. "The one thing Mark brought to the organization was a willingness to let folks prove themselves," Schlesinger says. "Mark came in and he kept the business and the baseball staffs and the senior leadership intact."

"He let us supplement on the baseball side and the business side with additional personnel and resources and gave us a lot of confidence that we could prove to him that we were worthy of staying in the organization," adds Schlesinger.

Through a combination of an intelligently increased payroll to reward the team’s home-grown young stars and a steady stream of improvements to Miller Park, the Brewers broke a 26-year playoff drought in 2008, won the division in 2011, and have hovered around the 3 million mark in attendance the last eight seasons.

"When Mark took over the franchise the payroll was a fraction of what it is now," Schlesinger says. "We’ve also invested multiple millions into the physical plant. And we’ve been able to hire and dramatically increase our staffs."

Team employees, old and new at all levels, appreciate Attanasio’s trust in their abilities. "He gives us the responsibility and authority, and we take ownership of our decisions," Schlesinger says. "He’s always challenging us in a positive way, always asking how we can do things better, but he’s not going to micromanage us."

"He’s always pushed us to think big and be bold," Schlesinger adds. "To take educated and calculated risks because he’s got our back. Sometimes we’re not going to succeed, but he’ll be supportive."

Attanasio, an astute observer of every facet of the club’s operation, talked about scenarios for a more hands-on approach. "I don’t know that you ever know when the right time is," Attanasio told Fox Sports. "When I insert myself into the process a little bit, it’s a function of two things: Passion, and in some cases, I was too inexperienced to know better, but it turned out to be the right move. Now I worry because I have experience to draw on, and I’m more patient — I don’t know that (General Manager) Doug (Melvin) would think I’m more patient — that I don’t insert myself the way I might have before."

While Attanasio has been positive and supportive, he has also been brutally honest during two of the most difficult stretches of his tenure — Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing drug use in 2013, and the team’s late season collapse in 2014.

"He made a terrible mistake, but America is founded on giving people a second chance," Attanasio says of his decision to keep Braun on the roster. "But Ryan needs to make the most of his second chance. He knows that."

As far as the late season collapse last year, Attanasio said, "I was disappointed in the team, disappointed in the guys. They’re better than this and they didn’t show it."

"He’s a very successful, very wealthy individual, but at his heart, he’s a regular guy who loves baseball," Schlesinger says. "I think the fans in Milwaukee appreciate that kind of sentiment and personality and excitement when we win and disappointment when we lose."

Attanasio recognizes that Brewers fans have paid for Miller Park and considers the team as custodians of the ballpark. He wants to reward that fan commitment with a state-of-the-art baseball experience and multiple championships going forward. He knows it won’t be easy competing with bigger markets’ vast payrolls, which he calls "mind-boggling and frustrating," but feels the rewards are greater leading a team in Milwaukee to baseball glory.

"If you’re a baseball fan, what’s better than this?" Attanasio told a New York Times reporter at Miller Park while a sellout crowd celebrated a home run. "You can talk about Los Angeles or other cities, but what’s better than this?" M

 


This story ran in the June 2015  issue of: