Owner Mark Attanasio's Bold Move Paid Off for the Milwaukee Brewers

Ken RosenthalAnalyst ISeptember 29, 2008

This article was originally published on FOXSports.com.


Brewers owner Mark Attanasio was taken aback by the criticism.

Attanasio, a senior partner in a money-management firm, comes from a world of risk-taking and bold action. In his view, the Brewers' firing of manager Ned Yost was necessary, even if only 12 games were left in the season atthe time.

Little did Attanasio imagine that the move would jolt baseball's conservative sensibilities and trigger speculation that he might lose his highly-regarded general manager, Doug Melvin.

Attanasio only imagined the potential outcome—the outcome that sent Milwaukee into a frenzy on Sunday, when the Brewers won the National League Wild Card and reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years.

The Brew Crew needed help from the pathetic Mets, the inspired Marlins, Big CC (Sabathia), and little CC (Craig Counsell). They also needed a series of dramatic home runs—Prince Fielder on Tuesday, Ryan Braun on Thursday, Rickie Weeks on Friday, and Braun again on Sunday.

But here they are, preparing to face the Phillies in the Division Series—a testament, in part, to the outside-the-box thinking encouraged by their owner.

Melvin didn't follow a traditional course for a mid-revenue team when he traded four prospects for Sabathia, a potential free agent, in early July, or when he signed closer Eric Gagne for $10 million last offseason. But those were baseball moves; one worked, one didn't. Firing Yost crossed a line that Melvin probably did not know even existed—until Attanasio drew it in the management sand.

The GM might never be comfortable with what happened; he hired Yost in October 2002, two years before Attanasio bought the club. Some in baseball were so disturbed by the timing that they are now rooting against the Brewers.

The shock therapy, though, achieved its desired effect: The Brewers went 7-5 under interim manager Dale Sveum, winning six of their final seven games after starting 3-11 in September under Yost.

Their season is made. Their season is saved. Their season could end no other way, for Sabathia and Ben Sheets are certain to depart and the team might not be as competitive again anytime soon. Could the Brewers have accomplished the same thing if Yost had remained manager? It sure didn't look like that way after they loss four straight in Philadelphia.

The players, while careful not to criticize Yost, praise Sveum for his decisiveness and his direct, honest approach. Fielder says Sveum told the players right away that he didn't care if they made errors or swung at pitches in the dirt. Those words, at least to Fielder, were liberating. From that point on, Fielder says, all he had to do was worry about playing hard.

The Brewers were tight in their final days under Yost, almost paralyzed. They remain a significantly flawed team. Their closer, Salomon Torres, suddenly looks as if he belongs in the Mets' bullpen.

Their offense is feeble, except when their hitters are making like Roy Hobbs. Still, don't be surprised if the Brewers give the Phillies a scare, or even pull off an upset.

Sabathia can start Game Two on three days rest—what, you think the Brewers are going to ease up on him now?—then come back on normal rest for Game Five, if necessary.

Yovani Gallardo, who pitched four impressive innings on Thursday after missing nearly five months with a knee injury, could be the Brewers' not-so-secret secret weapon. Melvin often compares Gallardo, 22, to the Yankees' Mike Mussina. After catching him once, the veteran Jason Kendall predicted that Gallardo will one day win a Cy Young.

Then again, the Brewers should be nearing their point of expiration, particularly with the way they're riding Sabathia. At some point in the near future—almost certainly before the World Series—the giddiness will end and normal business will resume.

Sveum is a good bet to return.

"He is putting his own stamp on the team without going overboard," one veteran says. "Not once have I thought, 'This is his first time as a (major-league) manager.'"

Melvin, meanwhile, has one year left on his contract. Attanasio speaks highly of him, but they probably will need to have a long talk before they discuss an extension.

A major retooling awaits. Melvin will need to trade shortstop J.J. Hardy and maybe even Fielder for pitching this offseason.

Losing Melvin, even a year from now, would be a major blow. Attanasio needs to recognize that. He needs to understand that one charmed decision does not make him a genius, not in a sport that humbles even the smartest of men.

If not for the Mets, which will award GM Omar Minaya a reported four-year contract extension at the risk of their fans burning down the new Citi Field, the Brewers never would have had their opening for the wild card.

One round of shock therapy is enough.

May the Brewers live happily ever after.

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