Brewers fire Selig-Prieb, Taylor

By Don Walker and Drew Olsen
September 26, 2002

For the first time in Milwaukee Brewers history, a Selig will not be president of the franchise.

Signaling a need for new leadership and direction, the Brewers announced Wednesday that Ulice Payne Jr., a prominent Milwaukee attorney, would be the team’s new president and chief executive officer.

At a hastily called news conference at Miller Park that had been scheduled for Thursday, the Brewers also announced that Doug Melvin, 50, a former general manager with the Texas Rangers, would replace Dean Taylor, who was fired after nearly three seasons.

Payne, 47, replaces Wendy Selig-Prieb, who was the team’s president and CEO.

On Wednesday, Selig-Prieb said she made the decision to step down and told the team’s board of directors of her decision a few weeks ago. She will remain with the ballclub as chairman of the Brewers’ board of directors, and she will continue to work with the team in charitable efforts and issues related to major-league baseball.

Selig-Prieb had been with the team as an executive since 1990. Prior to that, her father, Bud Selig, now commissioner of baseball, had been president of the team since he brought the club to Milwaukee from Seattle in 1970.

Payne, the first African-American to be named president of a major-league baseball team, was given a five-year contract, with a salary to be determined at a later date. Melvin, who was given the job with Payne’s approval, was given a four-year contract at an undisclosed salary.

Mitchell Fromstein, a member of the club’s board of directors, a group that rarely speaks publicly about the team, said the decision to hire Payne was an easy one.

“The only question was, would he take it?” Fromstein said, adding that Payne had full authority to make decisions on the future of the team’s operations, in addition to the full support of the board.

“The changes reflect a new era of leadership,” said Fran Croak, another board member who spoke at the news conference. He added that the changes were made to make the team stronger and the fans happier.

Under Major League Baseball bylaws, Bud Selig had to sign off on the team’s changes, as he does with every major appointment among major-league baseball teams.

In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Selig confirmed that he approved the appointments in an official capacity, but added that he distanced himself from the Brewers’ deliberations.

Fromstein acknowledged that Selig had to tread lightly, largely because he continues to hold a sizable interest – believed to be 28% – in the team. While he is commissioner, a three-person trust votes Selig’s shares in the ballclub.

“This is what they wanted to do,” Selig said, referring to the Brewers’ board. “I’m pleased for everyone involved.”

Asked his reaction to his daughter stepping down, Selig said it “was her decision right from the start. I believe in people charting their own course. I believe that very deeply.”

Payne said he was honored by the appointment and acknowledged that the job would be a challenge. He conceded he had reservations about leaving his job as managing partner of the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner, a law firm with strong ties to the Brewers. But he said he had received assurances that he would have full authority to make changes.

Payne said he learned about baseball and the business through his work as a former member of the Miller Park stadium district board.

“I’ll bring my efforts and my experience as a business person to the business of the club,” he said. “Clearly, the business of baseball (and) on-the-field decisions have to go hand in hand.”

But Payne was careful not to make promises. “I don’t have all the answers,” he said. “We’re going to find the answers.”

And, motioning toward Melvin, Payne added: “He’s my partner in crime, going forward.”

Selig-Prieb, 42, said she had reached a point in her life where she felt “I cannot continue to do what I am doing without making personal sacrifices that I will later regret.”

On a personal note, Selig-Prieb said the season had been trying and issued an apology to fans who have not seen playoff baseball since 1982, have gone through 10 straight losing seasons and have experienced more than 100 losses this season.

“The season has been tremendously disappointing, painful and embarrassing,” she said. “The season met no one’s expectations.

In his remarks, Payne gave three reasons why he felt that Brewers fans had something to look forward to besides faith and hope, a sentiment often expressed in baseball by fans who follow losing teams.

Payne said he was buoyed by the fact that a new collective bargaining agreement reached by baseball and its players gave small-market clubs such as the Brewers a “fighting chance.”

“It will take some time to see the full effect” of the deal, he said.

Second, Payne said the Brewers would try to emulate the success of the Oakland A’s and the Minnesota Twins, two small-market teams that have developed young players and talent within their organizations.

Third, Payne cited probability, the fact that good times must be ahead for a franchise that has been accustomed to losing for so long. The University of Wisconsin football team wasn’t very good until Barry Alvarez arrived, and the Green Bay Packers began to win after years of losing, Payne said.

“Our time is coming,” Payne said.

Payne said he wanted to develop a plan for the franchise that would capitalize on the new labor agreement, and he said he would review the franchise’s personnel at all levels, help Melvin make decisions on players for next season and study the effects that baseball’s arbitration rules will have on the roster.

Payne said increased capital in the team was not the only answer to the team’s problems. At the news conference, Croak and Fromstein disclosed that $12 million more had been invested in the ballclub in the past 60 days to address cash-flow issues that might have arisen if players had gone on strike.

Asked what would constitute a success for the Brewers, Payne said the team needed to offer an “affordable, enjoyable family experience” at the ballpark and that the team would sign players who will give it a chance to win.

Prior to Wednesday, Payne was managing partner of the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner, also the former home of Bob DuPuy, baseball’s president and CEO.

Payne is currently the chairman of the Bradley Center board and has been directly involved in talks with the Wisconsin Center District board to seek some kind of shared governance agreement. He also sits on a number of corporate boards, including Journal Communications Inc., which publishes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Taylor, 51, was hired as general manager on Sept. 21, 1999, and has a contract that runs through the 2003 season.

In Taylor’s first two seasons, the Brewers posted records of 73-89 and 68-94. The Brewers lost to Houston Wednesday night, dropping their record to 55-103.

Melvin, 50, served as general manager of the Rangers from late 1994 until he was fired on the final day of the 2001 season. He has worked this year as a special assistant to the Boston Red Sox.

After being involved in three division championships in six years at Texas, Melvin was fired after the team regressed in 2001.

Among other things, Melvin will be expected to hire a manager. Jerry Royster, who has presided over much of the Brewers’ first 100-loss season, will get a perfunctory interview on Monday but is not expected to get the job.