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MILWAUKEE -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio characterized as a calculated gamble the decision to let general manager Doug Melvin push payroll to record levels for 2012.
"I think it's a function of our confidence in this team," Attanasio said. "If we didn't feel as confident as we feel, we wouldn't be spending money like this. For example, when K-Rod accepted arbitration [reliever Francisco Rodriguez eventually signed for $8 million], Doug and I were actually excited. ... There's always $8 million in the budget for a really good pitcher."
The Brewers fielded a $27 million team in 2004 before Attanasio's purchase was unanimously approved in January 2005. Seven years later, the Brewers' payroll is at or above $100 million, depending on your accounting, boosted by free-agent investments like third baseman Aramis Ramirez and pitcher Randy Wolf, and in-house extensions for Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and others.
Pegging payroll is an inexact science that depends on how one counts deferred salaries, insurance policies, past buyouts and plans for in-season acquisitions. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel put the Brewers' Opening Day figure at $101.2 million, up from $88.4 million at the start of 2011. USA Today, which annually tallies team payrolls, put the Brewers at $97,653,944 -- 10th highest of the 30 Major League teams. The difference from the Journal-Sentinel figure may be the $2.5 million posting fee paid before the Brewers signed Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki.
Whatever the precise number, it's a big one, considering Milwaukee is Major League Baseball's smallest media market.
"We're going to do everything we can to maintain payroll," Attanasio said. "But we focus on our ability to compete, and that often dictates the payroll. ... If you look back two years ago, we had a real pitching problem, and we were looking at what our budget was going to be, and all of a sudden we were able to get Shaun Marcum and Zack Greinke. I wasn't planning on a $96 million payroll [by the end of] last year. It's opportunity-driven."
Attanasio tied the Brewers' payroll increases to the steady attendance at Miller Park, where more than three million fans have passed through the turnstiles in three of the past four seasons. The club is also entering its new television rights deal with FS Wisconsin that Attanasio said would cover the next eight seasons.
The Brewers' next big expenditure could be for Greinke, who is in the final year of his contract. The sides have been talking about an extension that could more than double the current record contract for a Brewers pitcher -- Jeff Suppan's four-year, $42 million deal.
"Star players command increasingly high compensation averages," Attanasio said. "You have to look at how you set your team to address that."
Uecker receives much support after loss of son
MILWAUKEE -- Friends and colleagues rallied Saturday around legendary Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, who was back to work at Miller Park the day after his son, Steve, passed away.
Ryan Braun put an arm around the popular Uecker, who is in his 42nd season calling games for his hometown team. Randy Wolf whispered a message in Uecker's ear. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, a former Brewers player, asked to meet Uecker on the field for a chat. Others offered handshakes and messages of support.
"This is where I belong," Uecker told well-wishers.
The Brewers announced late Friday that Steve Uecker, whom his dad called "a true cowboy," had succumbed to Valley Fever. The disease occurs in the southwestern U.S. and Central and South America when a fungus enters the body through the lungs.
Saturday should have been Steve Uecker's 53rd birthday. A private memorial is scheduled for Monday morning, and Bob Uecker plans to continue working his full schedule. The Brewers begin a four-game series in Chicago on Monday night.
"His loss is our loss, and we share his sadness today," Brewers chairman and principal owner Mark Attanasio said in a statement Friday night.
Steve is survived by his father and mother, Joyce, brother Bob Jr., sisters Sue and Leann, and several nieces.
Roenicke awed by Moyer's longevity
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers manager Ron Roenicke marveled on Saturday that an old opponent is still toiling between the white lines.
Forty-nine-year-old Jamie Moyer made his Colorado Rockies debut on Saturday, jogging Roenicke's memory to June 16, 1986. Roenicke was the 29-year-old Phillies leadoff hitter. Moyer was a 23-year-old making his big league debut for the Cubs.
Nearly 25 years later, Moyer is still going.
"There's no way I could step on this field and play for probably the last 10 years, and he's out there playing," Roenicke said. "It really is incredible. I can't imagine it. I'm throwing batting practice from 50 feet, and sometimes I'm worried about whether I can throw strikes or not. Pretty amazing."
Moyer won that debut, by the way, though Roenicke was 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and a run scored.
Brewers closer John Axford was presented with his 2011 Rolaids Relief Man of the Year Award and general manager Doug Melvin with his Baseball America Executive of the Year Award in a pregame ceremony on Saturday. The next such ceremony will come April 22, when Ryan Braun is presented his National League MVP Award.