The sudden exit of Brewers president Ulice Payne Jr. has made it
clear that the team--30% of which is owned by baseball
commissioner Bud Selig--has found a level below last place in the
NL Central, where it finished last season. Payne, 49, agreed
Friday to a buyout of his contract, a move forced by a Nov. 9
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, in which he revealed that the
team's board (chaired by Selig's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb) had
ordered a payroll cut from $40.6 million to about $30 million in
2004, and admitted the cut made it difficult for the club to be
The Brewers have squandered the goodwill and the financial
windfall that surrounded the opening of Miller Park in 2001.
Attendance has dropped from 2.8 million to 1.7 million, and the
team's string of losing seasons has grown to 11. The new payroll
means the Brewers will most likely trade first baseman Richie
Sexson ($8.6 million salary) and outfielder Geoff Jenkins ($8.25
million). The club is reportedly $110 million in debt, and state
legislators want an independent audit. Says an executive from
another team, "It's a nightmare, top to bottom."
Though Selig's share of the team is held in a trust and he denies
participating in baseball decisions, he is seen to be influencing
the club through Wendy, 43. In the early '90s, Selig insisted
that a publicly funded stadium was essential to fielding a
competitive team. The legislature passed a sales tax that will
provide $562 million for stadium expenses by 2014. In 1996 Selig
said revenue sharing among teams would bring competitive balance
and that small-market clubs could not merely pocket their slices.
The Brewers received $15 million in revenue sharing in '03 yet
will slash payroll and hold the line on other expenses. "We are
not going to do short-term, cosmetic patching to make 2004
better," says Brewers executive vice president Rick Schlesinger.
As he bid farewell on Friday, Payne said he hoped that the
Brewers, who last made the playoffs in 1982, "will return to the
top of the baseball world." As the more polite Milwaukee fans
might say, dream on. --Daniel G. Habib
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: MORRY GASH/AP (PAYNE AND SELIGS) BYE Wendy and Bud's team let Payne go. Is Sexson next?
COLOR PHOTO: GENE J. PUSKAR/AP (SEXSON) [See caption above]