The article I'm glad I never had to write
A decade and a half after the fact, the decision to not build Miller Park remains one of the greatest fiscal decisions ever made in state history.
With government budgets cutting everything and with all of the infighting in Gov. George Petak's administration, the last thing Milwaukee would have needed was a silly baseball stadium. After all, this year at County Stadium, the Brewers were third in the league in attendance by drawing just over 8,200 per game. Lehigh Valley actually led the Class AAA International League with almost 9,300 per game, followed by Columbus, then Milwaukee.
This month marks the 15-year anniversary of the Miller Park stadium bill being shot down once and for all in the state legislature, preserving the 1/10 of 1 percent sales tax for the five counties former Gov. Tommy Thompson so famously told his northern constituents to "stick it to" back when the debate was raging on.
"Yep. It's a extra $11 back in my pocket every year," Wauwatosa resident Warren Bloom, 76, said while spending $3.59 of that eleven dollars at the George Webb on State St., four blocks from his home. "That's three extra breakfasts those thieving millionaires won't ever be getting from me!"
For some, it seems like yesterday when the Brewers pulled up stakes and moved to Louisville. "I'll drive past the stadium some nights when the minor league guys are in there," Pewaukee resident Jeff Walters, 44, says. "From the outside, with the lights on, you forget it isn't the same. Then you see only a few hundred cars in the parking lot and it hits you in the face."
Walters grew up going to games with his father, who passed away three years ago. "We were sitting in the upper grandstand, section 17, just down the first base line, when the Brewers won the 1982 pennant," Walters recalls. "I was 15. It was just me and my dad. It was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. We talked about that game until the day he died."
In the 12 years since the re-named Sluggers moved into new Taco Bell Stadium along the shores of the Ohio River, Milwaukee's former franchise has seen its most successful season, winning the National League Central Division by six games over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Young superstars Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are leading contenders for the National League MVP Award, and a healthy pitching staff has them on the brink of eliminating the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Divisional Series. Braun's Triple-A career was too short to have ever played here in Milwaukee, while Fielder, the son of former Major Leaguer Cecil Fielder, only played here for one series as a 21-year old back in 2005.
For some, hope springs eternal that some day Milwaukee will be big league once again. When the Brewers became the Sluggers, new owner David C. Novak, President and CEO of Yum! Brands, agreed to leave the "Brewers" name and records behind.
"I'm confident that we can attract another Major League team to Milwaukee," Mayor Tom Barrett says. "We have a lot to offer." Others disagree.
"Who are they kidding?" Fox television baseball insider Ken Rosenthal says. "It's a nice city, but let's be realistic. A tiny media market with no prospective ownership group, no stadium, and a history of losing franchises? In this case, for Milwaukee, two strikes and they're out."
"Milwaukee has a better shot of getting the Vatican to relocate there than another Major League team," baseball historian and political pundit George Will says. "The Brewers were their second chance. After the stadium deal fell through, fans stopped coming to the games, just like they did in the early 1960's after the Braves banned carry-in beer. Milwaukee just isn't going to get a third team."
While bitterness lingers among baseball fans that still congregate at Kelly's Tavern (formerly Kelly's Bleachers) on Bluemound Road, most fans, while hating the move to Louisville, at least understand why the Brewers left.
"They were getting clobbered by other teams on the field and in the stands," Herbert Grover, 50, says while nursing a Miller Lite. "No one wanted to go see a loser, but a new ballpark at least might have helped them raise enough money to try to compete."
Sitting next to Grover is John Grant, 46, of West Allis. He didn't support the stadium project 15 years ago and remains steadfast in his belief that it was a boondoggle today.
"They never would have turned it around whether this Miller Park thing was built or not," Grant says. "In Louisville, they got a whole new fresh start. There was a stench of losing that never would have turned around, new stadium or not. I'm glad they shot it down."
Common sense dictates, of course, that Grant is right. The circumstances of the Sluggers' success this season is in no way tied to their former life as the Milwaukee Brewers. The stadium, after all, wouldn't even be paid off yet, 15-years after shovel hit dirt. Add it up, and the residents of the five-county proposed stadium district have saved a total average of $165.
That's an extra $165 for half of a car repair; an extra $165 for a nice dinner at one of the seven remaining downtown restaurants; an extra $165 for a 20-game pack at Brewers minor-league games.
Someday, County Stadium will have to be replaced. In the last several years, the scoreboard finally gave out once and for all, the plumbing needed to be completely gutted after three pipes burst freezing water onto fans on Opening Day in 2009, and the original wooden seats had to be replaced when they began falling apart. But County Stadium still has some life left in it.
The last Triple-A stadium that was built was the $70 million Huntington Park in Columbus. Comparing that to the $290 million they wanted to fleece us out of for Miller Park and it's a drop in the bucket.
As we watch the Sluggers advance in the playoffs, it's okay to root for them if you so choose. After all, they used to be your Milwaukee Brewers. It's okay to wish them well and not feel like they abandoned us, because the success they have enjoyed over the last five or so seasons never would have happened here in Milwaukee, Miller Park or no Miller Park. The fact that they have drawn over three million fans in four of the last five seasons is of no consequence, because fans just tuned this team out here years before they moved to Kentucky. Milwaukee just was never meant to be Major League.
Woah. I just had the weirdest nightmare...
Excellent story and your timing couldn't be any better since the State Senate approved the new ballpark package by a single vote following an all-night session (and three votes) on October 7, 1995. And let's not forget what a new ballpark has down for the economy and for the many establishments in the area, not to mention the hundreds of people who work at the stadium.
Nice piece. Well done. I still miss County Stadium, though. I loved that nasty, stinky pile of sheet metal and concrete.
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