Watching Attanasio

Baseball is never ending. There is a rhythm and flow that predates rock and roll. It is part of past, present and future. It is there for us, on demand, as regular as running water. We know it is there and when we want it, it comes out. It is, after all, our heritage. It is an American legacy.

The temples where the game is played of green grass has a look all its own. There, the gods of the sport, now and before, play the game. Their ghosts are everywhere. Aaron and Banks. Williams and Mantle. Spahn and Mathews, Musial and Koufax. Jackie and Robin. Through the turnstiles, past the concession stands, into the venue itself, the opening is there and passing through, there it is…it is the place where magic will happen today.

Hope for the season ahead is ever present. This is the season when the heavens will open up and victory in the form of a World Series pennant will be ours.

For many of us, it is a way of life, passed down to us from our grandparents, parents or relatives. It is our legacy. When remembering the past, it is the time we spent with our grandfather and grandmother, Mom and Dad at the ballpark. For those who grew up in Wisconsin, the home team, our home team is the Milwaukee Brewers. So much had been seen there; the great players like Roger … ‘The Rocket’, perhaps the greatest pitcher the game has ever seen, or Reggie and Yaz, Cal and Randy Johnson, as well as Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro, the greatest hitter the game has seen in our lifetime. ‘The Brewers Win The Pennant’ with Simba, Robin, Pauly, Gimby, Stormin, Rollie, Vuch, Coop, Benji and the Harvey were all witnessed with family and friends, Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. CC and Sheets, Prince and Braun, Greinke, Weeks and Nyjer, K-Rod and AxMan, brought the feeling back but fell ever so short.

This was a team that was brought to Wisconsin after the first great heartbreak of our sporting life, on a loan from the Schlitz Brewing Co. family to a car dealer’s son who would become the Commissioner of Baseball (after he was involved and found guilty in the collusion between the owners to keep players from earning their fair share through free agency) to fill the void left by the carpetbagger who moved the beloved Braves to that city down south.

We live in a world of globalization. We live in a world where the game is played by athletes everywhere. Milwaukee is a community that has diversified over the past half century as well. Today 39% of Milwaukee County is made up of Black Americans, 13% Latinos, 5% Asian Americans. It became a majority minority dominated city in 2000.

Today’s baseball team in the Cream City no longer reflects that diversity. Of the 40 man roster, there are only two Black Americans, one an aging Weeks nearing the end of his career and Davis, a young man just beginning his career. The Latino contingent is well represented, with some sixteen team members. There is one Asian, a Taiwanese pitcher who is yet to make it to the Bigs.

We no longer live in a Jim Crow era. Yet the team that is in Milwaukee has just two Black Americans. When they made a run for the pennant, the starting first baseman, second baseman and center fielder were black. Prince was beloved since he came up through the minors and would, fans thought, forever be an All-Star Brewer. Rickie was the college educated, All-Star second baseman. Nyjer was the center of joy. And he did get THE HIT. Together with Braun, Hart, Lucroy, Grienke, Vonnie, K-Rod and Axford they made their run which would be only the first of many to come. Today there is no Prince, no Nyjer, no Grienke, no K-Rod nor Axford. And there is no Hart. Rickie is waning, Vonnie is struggling and Braun is coming back from the unknown.

The team has no minority manager or coaches with the single exception of John Shelby who begins his third season on the coaching staff after joining the organization as outfield coach/eye in the sky, whatever that is; no upper management who are minority. Yet this is the governing body of the team that represents a majority minority city in the great Midwest. ‘A team is a reflection of the community it represents.’

The owner is from Los Angeles. There is little that is the same on Wilshire Boulevard or Pacific Palisades as compared to Pigsville or Lincoln at Kinnikinnick. In the City of Angels, Brats (with Secret Stadium Sauce) and beer are as foreign as sushi and wine are in Bayview. Brookfield is not Beverly Hills and Racine has kringle. Try finding that at Gilsons. This is a town where there are bubblers and kids wear rubbers on their feet when it rains. There is a separation here. It is not just distance, but a cultural misunderstanding that Milwaukee is the same as it was or the same as everywhere else. It is not. The Packers and Brewers, Badgers,  Bucks and Marquette belong to Wisconsinites, not Californians. Curley, Uecker, Crazylegs and Chones are our guys. Spencer Tracy, Fred MacMurray and Gene Wilder are our guys. They all, uncommon individuals and brilliant in their craft, who have all played at one time or another in California, are Wisconsinites through and through. The Brewers, every last one of them who ever played in the Cream City, belong to us.

If there is one thing a person from Los Angeles knows, it is star-power. They know that if you have a star for your program or movie or team, people will come and fans will pay in record numbers to see them. It is as eternal as Cary Grant, Bob Hope or Babe Ruth. They don’t call Yankee Stadium ‘The House That Ruth Built’ for nothing. Mark Attanasio lives and works in Los Angeles. He occasionally shows up in Milwaukee as the owner. He should know more than most what a star does to propel a team and make money. The present team looks like a fragment of their former self. Yes, the payroll is manageable and the team will make money…a lot of money. What is our VORP? Who gives a crap. Enough with Keith Wollner. We want a PENNANT. We want to be competitive. We want it NOW.

A former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers in the old American Association, Bill Veeck, said, “Baseball must be a great game because the owners haven’t been able to kill it.” The fans will fill the stands. And records will be broken. But we need a Prince or a Price, a Tanaka or, hell, a first baseman who can play first base. It is time for change. It is time for an owner to get in touch with the city his team represents and a management who represents a constant path to victory. We are watching Attanasio.

We will be heading to Maryvale in February and again the gates will open and warm, brilliant sunshine will illuminate the field. The lines will be chalked and fans will press for autographs. The smell of brats and beer will fill the air and the boys from the team representing Milwaukee will take the field. Will this team have a chance to win the pennant or will this owner be like so many before him, make money on a fan base who will support them regardless of the outcome. He will earn it on the millions who will go through Miller Park. He will earn it from broadcast and telecast, mobile and digital rights. He will earn it from the advertising in the stands and on merchandise that is sold. He will make it from those over the limit teams who will spend monies to try to win the pennant and pay the  tax. He will earn it by paying for mediocrity on the field, in the dugout and in upper management. Can you spell Masahiro? David? Or, even Prince?

It is time to …

Play Ball!

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Mr Baseball

For 42 years, he has been trying to have us all forget his less than stellar major league performance as a player. When examining his career on the field, he is on the same level as Tom Nieto, Bob Davis, Ron Tingley, Bill Plummer and Walt Tragesser, surely names that ring in the lexicon of baseball everywhere. Imagine, for those who struggle with the thought of never making it to The Show, here is a guy who was 27 before he came into the light of a major league park. During his six-year playing career, he hit .200 with 14 home runs and 146 hits in a career 843 plate appearances. He said, “It is dangerous for an athlete to believe his own publicity, good or bad.”

Number 8, 9 or 12 on his uniform, but number one in your hearts, Robert George Uecker, the legendary voice of the Milwaukee Brewers, signed with his hometown team the Milwaukee Braves before the 1956 season as an amateur free agent. His life would never be the same after he was traded by his hometown nine on April 9, 1964 to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jimmie Coker and Gary Kolb.

For most people from Wisconsin, this time of the year is not really spring until his voice comes over the radio, from that far away place called Arizona, where it is sunny and warm. The crack of the bat, the murmur of the crowd, the polite applause for the home team players coming to the plate after he is announced, all are signs that summer is coming and the land of beer and cheese will be in full bloom shortly. (Yes. Beer and cheese are flowers in the Badger State.) But it is Uecker’s voice that assures us that all is well and the routine of our lives is back in rhythm. We can now move forward assured of normalcy…of a certain confidence that all is well…and will be.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, he is the pope…he is the vicar…he is the voice of assurance. Good or bad, his voice is familiar and comforting, win or lose. Sure it is his usual calls of ball and strikes and even mildly criticizing the umpires call against the home team (“Although it seemed a bit outside to most in the stands, many of us understand that Tom could have eaten just one too many ‘wurst’ last night after that extra innings game.”). But the real winds of the spring come when one of his friends from the past stops by to share a few moments with him and with us.

My favorite time is when Bob Costas stops by and starts by sitting in for a half inning which always last for many, many innings that include stories that rekindle the life and times of one Mr. Uecker. A typical banter usually begins with an inquisitive question from Costas such as “How does a catcher handle a knuckler like Dickey?”, to which Ueck snaps back with “The way to catch a knuckleball is to wait until it stops rolling, Bob, and then pick it up.” and we are off to the races. “How did you know when your playing career was over, Bob?”. “Well in my case, there were a couple of things I noticed. When I came up to bat with three men on and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, I looked in the other team’s dugout and they were already in street clothes. Then when I turned to look at the third base coach for a sign, he turned his back on me. Those were signs.”

“But the real sign was when I led the league….number one….numero uno in the National League in….errors (1967 led the league with 11 errors) and our general manager, Paul Richards told me the Braves wanted to make me a coach for the following season. And that I would be coaching second base.”

These are the real signs of hope to come. It is spring. Mr. Baseball is here for his 43rd season. Let us all enjoy and understand that all hope begins with renewal and renewal begins in the spring.

Play Ball!