Paper calls for audit of Brewers' books

MILWAUKEE -- Ulice Payne Jr. and the Milwaukee Brewers are expected to officially part ways Tuesday, bringing to a swift conclusion his tenure as president and chief executive officer of the team less than two weeks after he questioned the Brewers' future.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel weighed in Tuesday on the state of the Brewers and the plight of their fans on its editorial page -- a space normally concerned with the major issues of the world -- for the fourth time since Payne expressed his concerns.

The Brewers, who have had losing records for 11 straight years and last made the playoffs in 1982, moved into Miller Park three seasons ago, promising taxpayers that the new stadium they had funded would allow the team to be a contender.

Instead, the board of directors recently recommended a 25 percent cut in player salaries. The cut could leave the Brewers with the lowest payroll in baseball and without Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins, who are due more than $8 million each in 2004 and could be traded.

The budget cutback didn't rest well with Payne, who was hired 14 months ago as president and CEO to succeed Wendy Selig-Prieb. Selig-Prieb, who remained chairman of the team's board, is the daughter of Bud Selig, majority owner of the Brewers. His 30 percent ownership share is held in trust to avoid appearances of a conflict of interest with his job as baseball commissioner.

The Journal Sentinel called Tuesday for the Brewers to open their books to state auditors.

"Because of the state-enacted sales tax to build Miller Park and the promises made by the Brewers at the time, the state has a clear interest in the team's financial direction," the Journal Sentinel editorializes.

The newspaper also writes that Payne's successor should get a "contract that spells out several things in exquisite detail." That detail would include "precise authority to hire and fire," Selig-Prieb's role and responsibility for player payroll and budget.

Notes the paper, "If the eight-person board effectively serves as co-CEO, with veto power over financial decisions and de facto responsibility for the vision thing, the new hire ought to know that in advance ... "

The Brewers board apparently hopes to cut payroll from approximately $40 million to $30 million, following two years of attendance decline. The new park, a centerpiece of Commissioner Selig's expressed belief that new stadiums can save struggling franchises, opened to 2.81 million fans in 2001, followed by 1.96 in '02 and 1.7 this year.

Citing industry standards, the Journal Sentinel equates $2 million in revenue with each 100,000 in attendance. Thus, the Brewers' yearly ticket revenues have dropped more than $20 million in two seasons.