Figure less than $2 million reported, team contends

Updated: February 26, 2004, 11:04 PM ET
Associated press

MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Brewers and Major League Baseball are disputing an HBO report that said three members of the Selig family were drawing more than $2 million in combined salary while the club was seeking funds to build Miller Park.

"That's obscenely inaccurate and outrageously inflated," said Rick Schlesinger, the team's executive vice president of business operations.

A baseball source with knowledge of the Brewers' finances, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press on Thursday that Bud Selig, his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, and son-in-law, Laurel Prieb, earned approximately $700,000 in combined annual pay during the 1995-96 period when the team was pushing for a taxpayer-funded stadium.

HBO spokesman Ray Stallone said: "We have no additional comment and we stand by our reporting" on the story that aired on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel" this week.

Selig, the team's controlling owner, hasn't drawn a salary from the club since becoming commissioner full time, which occurred in 1998.

The commissioner's office forwarded a telephone call seeking comment from Selig to Carl Mueller, a Milwaukee-based public relations executive who represents Major League Baseball in Wisconsin.

Mueller said two reviews of the club's finances currently under way will show that the Seligs earned far less than $2 million at the time they were pushing for a new ballpark to replace County Stadium.

Those figures won't be made public, however, because Wisconsin's Legislative Audit Bureau and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce agreed not to reveal executive salaries when they release their reports this spring.

HBO cited an unidentified "senior state official who worked on the Miller Park project" as its source for the $2 million figure. Mueller called that figure way off base.

"I am confident that the financial reviews will document that the combined salaries were far less than $2 million amount reported and are even less today with the commissioner no longer drawing a salary from the club," Mueller said.

The Brewers also took issue with other aspects of the report: a sports economist's contention that the executive salaries were above the industry norm and that the Brewers paid the least amount toward ballpark construction of any baseball team that has a new ballpark.

The Brewers committed $90 million toward the approximately $400 million needed to construct Miller Park, which opened in 2001. Taxpayers in a five-county area are paying the remaining cost through a one-tenth of a cent sales tax.

In the HBO report, Cleveland State sports economist Mark Rosentraub argued that because of questions over how the Brewers spent revenue generated from Miller Park, the team is subverting the intent of baseball's revenue sharing, which Selig pushed for.

"Rather than fulfill the promise of revenue sharing, what he (Selig) has done is to underscore the concerns, the fears, the objections, that every large market team has. So the argument, eloquently articulated for several years, was then simply trampled on by the very family that made the argument," Rosentraub said.

Schlesinger disagreed, saying the Brewers, whose major league payroll will be about $30 million this season, will spend $20 million on minor league operations this year, "which is above the major league average."

"The Brewers are obligated to use revenue sharing to improve the team on the field," Schlesinger said. "We're using it in our minor league system to improve our team, just as the Athletics did it, just as Minnesota did it and just as the Kansas City Royals are doing it."

Selig owns 26 percent of the team. His daughter has served as the club's chairman of the board of directors since stepping aside as president in late 2002.

Ulice Payne Jr., who replaced her, resigned in November over differences in the team's plan to reduce player payroll. The search for his replacement was suspended when the club was put up for sale this year.

Last month, the club agreed to separate reviews of its finances over the last decade to satisfy a public that was angered by the front office turmoil, 11 consecutive losing seasons and the club's failure to live up to its pledge to field better teams with higher payrolls in a new ballpark.

"Let's let them complete their reviews," Schlesinger said, "and then we'll be happy to let those reports be the basis for a dialogue about the Brewers' finances."

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