Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio knows a good thing when he sees it.
Actually, two good things.
Attanasio announced Wednesday that he rewarded David Stearns and Rick Schlesinger for their success, on and off the field, respectively, with promotions, raises and contract extensions.
Stearns, 33, who led the club from a large-scale rebuild to within one victory of the World Series in a mere three years, was promoted from general manager to president of baseball operations and general manager.
Schlesinger, who completed a new 15-year ballpark naming rights deal with American Family Insurance that was announced Tuesday, was promoted from chief operating officer to president of business operations.
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The Brewers never revealed the length of Stearns’ original deal when he was hired in 2015 but a source indicated it was a five-year contract, with two years remaining.
Attanasio’s promotion of Stearns was both reward and smart business move. Teams were showing interest in hiring him to lead their baseball operations, including the San Francisco Giants, who were denied permission by Attanasio to interview Stearns earlier in the off-season. The Giants later hired Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi to fill that role.
Stearns became a hot commodity by leading the Brewers through their rebuilding process in a mere three years. After falling one game short of a wild-card berth in 2017, the Brewers roared to the NL Central crown last season, winning a Game No. 163 showdown with the Cubs at Wrigley Field, then swept Colorado in the NLDS and took Los Angeles to Game 7 of the NLCS before bowing out.
Stearns set the stage for that last breakthrough last Jan. 25 by acquiring outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on the same day. Yelich went on to win National League most valuable player honors.
“David and Rick have developed processes and standards of excellence that are embraced by everyone in our organization,” Attanasio said in a statement.
“David’s approach to acquiring, developing and retaining talent has been instrumental in our success, both on the field and in the front office, and we believe it has created a strong foundation that will continue to pay dividends in future years.”
While flattered by any interest from other clubs, Stearns said he eagerly and enthusiastically agreed to an extension after talks with Attanasio.
“Mark was very upfront that he and our ownership group wanted me to stay and I was very upfront that I wanted to stay,” Stearns said. “Once we got that on the table, it was an ongoing conversation and I think we’re both very pleased we were able to work this out.
“As (my wife) Whitney and I talked about this, and it was a family decision, there were so many factors that pointed to staying in Milwaukee. There was the support from the community, the support the ownership group has given us during my time here. The front office staff and coaching staff we’ve assembled are people with whom I feel really close.
“These are people I hope to work with for a long time. This made so much sense on both sides. I can’t overstate the impact that the postseason run had on me, and experiencing it in Milwaukee, as well as the aftermath. There was genuine enthusiasm and excitement from our fan base. It had an impact on me. I want to experience that again. I’m glad this gives me the chance to do so.
“I don’t know if there are a whole lot of markets and cities that respond to their teams the way this market and city did to this team. It was remarkable and impactful for me to experience and my family to experience. That will stay with me a long time. It made us very committed to experiencing that again. It’s very cool and it makes you feel good about what you do, and why you do it.“
Schlesinger is entering his 17th season with the Brewers and has spent the last eight years as COO. He oversees the club’s business affairs, including finance, human resources, information technology, legal, sponsorships, marketing, ticketing, communications, broadcasting and non-baseball special events.
In 2018, more than 2.85 million fans attended games at Miller Park, representing the 11th time in the last 12 seasons that the organization has exceeded the 2.5 million attendance mark. The team has sold in excess of 2.3 million tickets for 13 consecutive seasons, making the Brewers one of just eight major-league teams to reach that level each year since 2006.
“The foundation of our business operation is the quality of the fan and partner experience, and I’m grateful to Mark for giving us the resources to enhance those areas every year,” Schlesinger said.
“I also have the highest appreciation for the work that David and his baseball operations team does to put a high-performing team on the field. David and I both understand the importance of our two disciplines working together as one, cohesive unit, and we embrace that approach throughout the organization.”
The most significant investment for the team in 2019 is the renovation and complete rebuild of the Arizona-based training facility, Brewers Fields of Phoenix. The $60-plus million project includes a new clubhouse building with locker rooms and vastly improved facilities for all of the baseball operations functions.