When I was a kid, I thought the Milwaukee Brewers liked me. I was in the Pepsi Fan Club and got to attend between five and ten games a year, but it always seemed like they were playing the game for me. I wanted to be like the players (even if cocaine was a hidden perk at the time) and I wanted to go to every game. Just as my kids were getting interested in the Milwaukee Brewers, the team seems to have decided it’s stopped liking kids.
Maybe it started when I was just about done with being a kid myself, a good decade before my daughter was born. I sat in a car, listening to Brewers fans, radio personalities, and politicians unite in a propaganda marathon that brought tears to my eyes, even though I had no personal memory of events as depicted by Bob Uecker being able to watch some of the game through an opening in a fence. I did have my own memories of sneaking popcorn in so my parents could avoid outrageous concession prices. Eventually, as I waited to deliver the newspaper that reported it, the vote came in, and someone had spent enough money to get George Petak’s support (ending his career in politics).
Honestly, being a poor college student, I could see the other side. Why were we giving money to millionaires? Partially because of those stories everyone had been telling on the radio. We all had some kind of story, even if it involved `crying and ripping up posters of the ‘82 team after the defeat to the Cardinals. And we were all willing to pay a mere .1% in taxes to support a new lease on mediocrity. We were certainly willing to spend that same % from folks in Racine and Kenosha. I was probably more Republican than Democrat and more in favor of a new stadium than against it, but I knew that something was wrong. Baseball wasn’t supposed to be about secret deals (and you can bet there were a few). It wasn’t supposed to be us vs them, either, but that’s what was happening. When I asked my friends why it was wrong to have wealthy investors pay for a downtown / lakefront option or Potawatomi pay for a bingo-funded version, they barked at me like I’d gone to the side of minorities and tax-and-spend democrats. But it was fine to tax all of us, even folks from Kenosha (who everyone knows never attend Brewers games) and spend it to support millionaires and their millionaire employees who play a game for a living?
After twenty years of a stadium tax, the low end of my contribution, based on very rough estimating, would be about $250. The linked article estimated more in the range of $1500 per household. The fact that some of us might purchase ½ of our goods online is probably a contributing factor in the longevity of the tax, now with us nearly twice as long as the Braves played in Milwaukee. So why would I say the Brewers don’t like kids? Well, just as my kids were finally both out of diapers, costing us a bit less, the Brewers needed a new $11 million scoreboard. This was after they’d already hit taxpayers up for an extra $20 million in salaries and amenities like whirlpool tubs and steam baths.
Not to worry: memories are worth a million bucks. Since I live in the tax district, I get to attend games at a $0 discount over Cousin Jason, who lived in Jefferson County and bought season tickets every year since the new stadium was built. Maybe that’s part of the bitterness. I want life to be fair, and it’s not. Like pro baseball, where most of the teams in the playoffs each year have the highest payrolls, and it’s been that way since before 1982, when the Brewers had the SECOND HIGHEST payroll. Would it help our chances to charge more tax? Maybe an extra $100 million for a pitcher. Let’s just have Milwaukee’s working class pay for it in local stores while wealthy folks move outside of the 5-county district boundaries or shop online. Fair.
And that leads to my own family and our memories of the games. I have two kids. One is interested in the games. She wrote a letter to the Brewers in October. Not a peep in return. I had a student back in 2008 write a letter to the Cleveland Indians and get a promotional fan pack for his efforts, but my 9 year-old gets nothing for a fun letter. She’s bummed about it, but I can reassure her that the Brewers appreciate her and her money whenever she gives them a penny from her allowance, and I’m sure she looks forward to supporting the Bucks for most of her adult life in a similar manner. As I read over some of the news from 1995 and beyond, I found that the Brewers were at one time slated to pay $2-$3 million in rent per year, but it looks like they only paid $900,000 for the first decade of the new stadium, increased to $1.2 million in 2010. At the same time, all of us were paying around $24 million a year to help out, $28 million in 2014, meaning we might get it all paid off by 2021, just in time to hear proposals on publicly-funded renovations. Looking at things another way, if the 5-county area has a population of about 2.5 million, that’s about $10 per person per year. Maybe that makes you feel better or worse. We fund other public endeavors like schools, parks, and roads, so maybe paying the Brewers is no different. I guess it’s just surprising, since the games are mostly boring to me, the team needs even more money if it will ever legitimately compete, and there isn’t a whole lot there for kids. Maybe there never was a lot there for kids, and maybe my parents were much better at hiding it and playing along so I could have passions and dreams, but I’d rather my kids dream about real possibilities that make a difference in the world (and still make money), like getting excited about engineering or medicine.
Milwaukee is probably around the 5th least successful Major League Baseball franchise in terms of postseason appearances and wins. As a city and five-county area, we’ve paid a lot of money to support a perennial loser, hearing for years how our versions of good players are just as good as the best players at half the price. Honestly, I’m fine with smoke and mirrors if I am provided with some entertainment and the feeling that the franchise and players care at all about the city that pays for them to play a game for a living, and since we’ve all paid our fair share for that respect over the years, the Brewers organization (not some blogger) needs to find out how the team will demonstrate some appreciation, especially since we all know it’s not coming as a World Series win.