Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio was ecstatic Thursday about having his team in the postseason again but took time to pay tribute to the group – on and off the field – that finally broke through to October baseball 10 years earlier.
That 2008 club snapped a 26-year playoff drought by capturing the National League wild-card berth – there was just one in those days. Attanasio paid tribute to former general manager Doug Melvin for making the midseason trade for pitching ace CC Sabathia, who put the team on his shoulders with an incredible performance.
“That was really the seminal turn for this franchise,” Attanasio said. “He brought a complete winning attitude, which everybody saw. He’s obviously a Yankee, a New Yorker, but he’s still very fond of his time here, and we talk about that.
“So, I think that was a shift. And then that group of players, that entire group of players, we still have one of them in Ryan Braun, but Prince Fielder and Corey Hart and the whole group of guys who grew up together. We had that terrific team (NL Central champs in 2011) and now we have a third terrific team to embrace, and that’s really fun.”
The Brewers thought they would be back in the playoffs in 2014 when the team was 73-58 in late August with a 1½-game lead in the division. But the team collapsed, going 9-22 the rest of the way to finish 82-80.
“Losing 22 out of 31 games doesn’t feel good to anybody, so it stung a lot,” Attanasio said. “We brought that whole team back in 2015 because we did believe in the team, and we thought that group of players deserved the opportunity to try to show that the last month was a mirage.”
Unfortunately, it was not a mirage. The Brewers staggered to a 5-17 record in April and the decision was made to fire manager Ron Roenicke and replace him with Craig Counsell, who moved out of the team’s front office. After the season, David Stearns, then 30, replaced Melvin as general manager.
It’s safe to say that no one expected the Brewers to be back in the playoffs three years later, but here they are.
“It was time to say we’re going to move in a completely different direction,” Attanasio said. “But we needed to see that was the case.
“A lot of my mentoring in sports, frankly, came from Doug Melvin. The reason I’m so fond of Doug is, you know, I thought I knew a lot about baseball before I bought the team. And when I bought the team, I found out how little I knew about baseball.
“We would talk a lot about how hard it is to win and how hard it is to get back. You can break things down but it’s not easy. Just because you break them down doesn’t mean you’re going to get back to where you want to get. Plus, I just hate to lose.”
Attanasio didn’t have to worry about losing this year, and he gave Stearns and Counsell credit for making it all work so quickly.
“I sort of like getting something custom made,” he said. “This was custom made for the Milwaukee Brewers, what (Stearns) and Craig have done. We needed not only a terrific manager, a terrific general manager, we needed them to be able to work together.”
Decisions, decisions: The Brewers’ 25-man NLDS roster includes only 11 pitchers, which allowed them to keep extra outfielders Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana. Broxton is coveted for defensive ability and pinch-running, and Santana has been the team’s best pinch-hitter.
The pitching staff excluded Chase Anderson and Zach Davies, who had been members of the starting rotation as the season came to a close. Left-handed relievers Dan Jennings and Xavier Cedeño also were omitted because righties are preferred against Colorado’s right-handed power hitters.
“One of the tougher decisions for us was not keeping Xavier Cedeño on the roster, who’s pitched very well for us in September,” Counsell said. “But we feel like with (erstwhile starters) Gio (Gonzalez) and Wade (Miley) that they will be used out of the bullpen in games, in addition to probably being at the start of games.
“You can’t necessarily think like that during the regular season, but I think a playoff series with off-days allows you to think a little differently.”
First baseman Eric Thames also did not make the roster after slumping badly in the second half and being relegated to bench duty.
“With Eric, the left-handed bat is always something that is tough to leave off, for sure,” Counsell said. “But it came down to as much as anything as Domingo has just played so well over the course of this month and done this job so well. That ended up being the bigger factor.
“Broxton, to me, he’s a versatile player. He’s a player that he can steal a base. He’s a very good defender in a really big outfield, in Coors Field, that could be valuable There’s the threat of the home run there, too.
“So to me, it’s probably kind of niche roles, but there’s a possibility that we feel like there’s going to be games where those skill sets will fit.”
In the playoffs, teams can update their 25-man roster for each round. So changes could be made if the Brewers advance to the NLCS and World Series.
Late roster addition: The Stearns family added a third member to their roster Wednesday evening when David’s wife, Whitney, gave birth to baby daughter Nora Ann. The new addition checked in at 7 pounds, 5 ounces, and 20 inches long, according to analytics supplied to Attanasio.
“As we try to do here with the playoffs, I advised him to embrace the moment and really have it soak in,” Attanasio said. “You never forget the birth of your first child. I hear Whitney is doing great, which is important, and David seems really happy.
“I will say that only David Stearns could figure out how to get a team back to the playoffs in two years and then have a baby come right in between clinching a division spot and the first game. Congratulations to the Stearns family.”
Counsell, who has four children, said, “It’s absolutely unbelievable. He’ll look back at this time in his life, I’m sure, and just be like, ‘Wow. That all happened in the same week?’
“Pretty cool. He’s got to be on cloud nine. Hopefully, with a pillow, too, up there. He’s probably a little tired.”
Nos. 9 and 10 in attendance: Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred was in attendance for the game and was asked if he’d be sitting with his predecessor, Bud Selig.
“I think it’s important for the current commissioner to be neutral,” Manfred said with a smile. “So, I’m putting a little distance between myself and my predecessor today. (Neutrality) is hard for Bud, and everybody in Milwaukee should be glad about that.”
Many clubs experienced drops in attendance this season, but the Brewers weren’t one of them, going from about 2.5 million to 2.8 million. A winning team was a huge factor, obviously, but Manfred said it doesn’t hurt to have the House that Bud Built, Miller Park, with its retractable roof.
“We have a couple of markets that would give their eye teeth to have a facility like this,” Manfred said. “It’s a credit to Bud, to the people that owned the Brewers, to government officials to have the foresight to get this done in an economic way and have a real asset for the community that will last for decades.”