As expected, there’s been no white smoke regarding the rumoured investment in Norwich City from a group of US businessmen led by the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers MLB franchise, Mark Attanasio.
All we’ve had is a missive on The Athletic that suggests initially Attanasio and co will just be looking to buy Michael Foulger’s existing 18 per cent stake in the club.
We hope, of course, that no news is good news and that detailed discussions are taking place that will produce a desirable outcome for all parties, but until then all we can do is speculate.
So, in the meantime, who is Mark Attanasio? How does he operate? And what impact has he had on the Brewers since he bought them in 2004?
Luckily for us, Milwaukee journalist and writer for the Brewers, Jack Stern was happy to talk to MFW to tell us all he knows about the man, how he operates and the impact he’s had on the Milwaukee organisation.
Without further ado…
Attanasio took over the Brewers in 2004 I believe … what did the team and organisation look like before he arrived?
Jack: Bud Selig was the first owner of the Brewers, and he transferred ownership of the team to his daughter Wendy after taking over as commissioner of Major League Baseball. When Attanasio purchased the team from Selig’s family in 2004, it was in the midst of the darkest era in club history. The Brewers had not made the playoffs since 1982, had not finished with a .500 record since 1992, and lost at least 94 games in four consecutive seasons.
Did he go in and make sweeping changes, or did he take time to assess what he had inherited?
Attanasio did not initially make any significant public shakeups to the front office. Doug Melvin remained general manager and stayed in the position until he stepped down after the 2015 season. However, they began to produce homegrown talent like Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, and Corey Hart right around the time that Attanasio purchased the team, indicating that they were some internal changes that improved their player development system.
How long before the changes he introduced started to produce results?
The Brewers made their first post-season appearance in 26 years in 2008, and they won their division in 2011.
What type of management structure did he put in place?
Most baseball teams use a similar management structure, and the Brewers have been no different. Attanasio typically gives his general manager the freedom to pursue any acquisitions that he thinks would help the team, assuming they fit in the budget. This process also features input from the assistant general manager and other executives and analysts working in the front office. These executives also communicate with the manager to ensure that the approach to building and handling the roster is consistent throughout the organization.
A couple of years ago, the Brewers altered the structure of their front office by promoting David Stearns to President of Baseball Operations and assistant general manager Matt Arnold to general manager, but the day-to-day operations have remained largely the same.
Are we right to believe that he’s a pragmatic owner and a strategist rather than one who spends big?
The Brewers have set a franchise record for the highest payroll under Attanasio, that season was followed by a lower payroll the following year. The Brewers generally finish with payrolls in the bottom third of the league. Attanasio has maintained that he is open to signing any player, but there seems to be a fairly low cap on the budget. However, he has invested some of his wealth into helping the organization build new player development facilities, so he appears to prefer internal development rather than spending on big-name athletes.
How different is the Brewers’ organisation now compared to the one he took over?
They’re in a much better place. Much of that credit should go toward the minds in the front office who have restructured the team’s approach to developing and acquiring talent, but Attanasio does deserve some credit for authorizing the hire of Stearns in 2015. The Brewers are in the midst of their most successful era of franchise history, and they are positioned to continue that success for the foreseeable future.T y
Is he perceived as a good owner in the US and, more importantly, by Brewers fans?
It depends on who you ask. Attanasio portrays himself as more down-to-earth and passionate about the team than many other baseball owners do, and it’s hard to complain with the results during his tenure as owner, especially in recent seasons. However, others criticize him for being unwilling to increase the payroll and go all-in for a chance to win a World Series. The news that he is looking to invest in Norwich City has not gone over well with some fans, who see it as evidence that he has the money to spend more on players but instead chooses to use it elsewhere.
After some lean years, you’ve made the playoffs for the last four consecutive seasons. Anything specific around why this upturn has happened?
As I mentioned previously, the upturn coincided with the hire of Stearns. He cleared out much of the existing front office and replaced them with executives of his choosing. The Brewers have since embraced a more analytical approach and have built one of the best pitching development systems in baseball. This is where much of their recent success stems from.
In terms of the size of the organisation, are we right in thinking the Brewers are one of the smallest in the MLB?
Yes, the Brewers are one of the smallest markets in Major League Baseball. Attanasio typically cites the fact that the Brewers do not generate as much revenue as other teams as a reason why they cannot spend more.
Finally… if the deal with Norwich City comes off, do you think he would be a good fit for us?
Depending on how involved he becomes with the team, I think he would be an improvement from the current ownership group. If he manages Norwich City similar to how he does the Brewers, he’ll make an effort to improve the direction of the organization. However, he has a line when it comes to spending, so I would not expect him to put too much of his own money into the team.
Thanks very much to Jack for his time and that insight into someone we hope to get to know better over the next few seasons. Appreciated.