Brewers must give fans reason to buy tickets

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Michael Hunt
Friday, July 31, 2009

Recent fire sales aside, the Milwaukee Brewers would welcome the chance to feel the contemporary heat generated by the Cleveland Indians.

Between 1995 and 2001, the Indians won six division titles and finished second once. Twice they were in the World Series.

But as recent events reflect, a cautionary tale accompanies the Indians’ success story, one the Brewers cannot ignore.

Time was, you couldn’t get an Indians ticket. Now, they’re next to last in AL home attendance with their white-flag stance.

Along with the recession, there are a lot of irritated baseball fans in Cleveland, a market like Milwaukee in many ways. For the second consecutive season, the Indians have traded the reigning AL Cy Young winner, including the guy who assured the first playoff appearance in 26 years for the Brewers. And now Cliff Lee could get Philadelphia back to the World Series.

We could argue whether the 2008 Brewers were a one-hit wonder, but what they can’t afford right now is to allow the attendance numbers of these two years to become an anomaly. After drawing more than 3 million last season, they have sold 2.8 million tickets this year and are fifth in NL attendance, having eclipsed the 2-million mark Thursday with a stunning gate of 39,890 at Miller Park for an afternoon game against the worst team in baseball.

Per capita, the Brewers are still the game’s best draw. In the face of a lot of obstacles, they have remained recession resistant.

If the Brewers aren’t a playoff team this season, and a reasonable person would agree they’re not, prudence demands not selling the future for a player who wouldn’t make a difference. But they’ve also got to give the people a reason to come back, which is the best incentive for remaining largely intact until the offseason.

Then they could look at rearranging the roster, perhaps moving J.J. Hardy out for Alcides Escobar and investigating whether Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks or Mat Gamel might have trade value. Such asset management is a way to go in small-market baseball, especially if it becomes apparent that the core group is stagnant.

Then again, the Oakland Athletics, the self-proclaimed leaders in nerd-ball roster maintenance in a salary cap-less game, have managed to trade themselves to the bottom of the AL standings, as well as the cellar in big-league attendance.

The Indians might rise again with all the prospects they have gathered for Lee and CC Sabathia, but the only thing that’s presently certain is they’re struggling in ways no franchise can afford right now. The only selling point Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro can offer is that his team might re-emerge as a Florida Marlins-type story. But, Shapiro conceded, “Everything would have to go right.”

The Brewers just can’t go down that road again. They’re lucky to have Ryan Braun locked up long-term and shouldn’t even think about moving Prince Fielder until the 2011 trading deadline. Of course, Yovani Gallardo is the other unmovable piece, for reasons above and beyond that he helped the Brewers to an unsatisfying split against the Washington Nationals.

So that’s what, two in a row?

“The water’s calmed down,” manager Ken Macha said. “We’ve been in that boat with it bashing around.”

While we’re at the nautical metaphors, the Brewers are neither sinking nor sailing smoothly, awkward ballast for this time of year. As such, the offseason would seem to present the best opportunity to convince the still somewhat satisfied customers that the franchise has the means to maintain competitiveness.

Michael Hunt is a spots columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Last updated: 10:49 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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