What’s Brewing? Something different.

As expected, the Brewers fired manager Ron Roenicke this week, despite a two-game winning streak.

Roenicke was fired, of course, because of the epic 2014 collapse, which has carried over into this season. That shouldn’t be that surprising, because all the 2014 collapse did was prove that, over a 162-game season, the Brewers were at best an average, mediocre team.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman explains what happened and what’s next:

Brewers GM Doug Melvin acted decisively to fire manager Ron Roenicke and hire well-respected neophyte Craig Counsell. Melvin was so sure about the switch he sent club owner Mark Attanasio an 18-point email detailing why Counsell had to be the choice to lead the suddenly underachieving team – they’d been 16-40 over their last two months of regular-season baseball.

Now Melvin is being proactive about his next possible step. He’s already sent out feelers to other teams about a possible sell-off, in case Counsell can’t play quick miracle worker with the 9-19 team (2-1 since he took over).

And while Melvin painstakingly laid out his 18-point argument for Counsell – just a few of the reasons were about what a long and successful career he had (a plus was sitting on the bench half the time in 16 years, giving him extra time to study the game), how hard he’s worked in the Brewers front office, how smart he is, how respected he is and what a great teammate he was considered to be – at the moment it is hard to imagine a quick enough turnaround to avoid at least some retooling.

Milwaukee, a team that’s used to being in the middle and in the mix, somehow has managed to fall 11 1/2 games behind to the first-place Cardinals in exactly a month. Melvin and Co. have kept Milwaukee competitive – they’ve won in the 80s seven of the last 10 seasons – but he acknowledges there’s always a time to reboot.

The Brewers have gone for it in recent times, trading Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escibar,Michael Brantley, Jake Odorizzi and many others to take their shots, and while there can’t be regrets now, Melvin says they could have had a young $47-million team had they played for the future earlier. If the Cubs can take a pause, no reason that their far-less-rich neighbor to the north can’t, too, he figures.

Word is, Melvin, after playing counsel on behalf of Counsell, is planning to consider just about anything in terms of trades, though the two players he is most reluctant to deal are star catcher Jonathan Lucroy and young shortstop Jean Segura. Lucroy is the closest to untouchable, it seems, followed fairly closely by Segura.

“Those are two tough positions to fill,” Melvin said. “I guess you have to be open to everything. But you’d have to be overwhelmed. We have some pretty good shortstops in the system. But they are doing well in the minors (and Segura) is doing well in the majors. Those are positions that can take years to fill. We’ve got two young ones who are making (little) money.”

Rival GMs suggest they’d be shocked to see Milwaukee part with Lucroy, one of the best two-way catchers in the game, and maybe just a little less so with Segura. The Pirates,Mets, Mariners and Padres look like teams that may need shortstop help, where Segura might fit. But as Melvin suggested, it would have to take a haul.

Assuming Lucroy and Segura stay, the most coveted Brewer in trade would thus become multi-talented center fielder Carlos Gomez, who’s a free agent after the 2016 season.

“That’s the guy,” who’d be of interest, one rival GM said.

“That’s a quality player,” another rival said.

Kyle Lohse, who’s even closer to free agency (after this year he’s free), could be of interest, as well, despite a slow start (7.01 ERA). Rival GMs could see the Cardinals, where he used to play, the Astros, where he knows GM Jeff Luhnow from St. Louis days, and the Dodgers, who’ve lost Brandon McCarthy for the year and will be without Hyun-Jin Ryu for a while (more on that later) as players for Lohse.

Matt Garza is another veteran righthander who could help someone, but with $35-million-plus to go through 2017, one rival exec says, “I’m not sure anyone would want him.”Aramis Ramirez is only solid these days, but third base is a tough spot to fill, so he too could draw interest.

Gerardo Parra, who seemed slightly miscast there as a fourth outfielder, is a useful player and excellent defender. Closer Franicisco Rodriguez looks as good as ever in his fourth go-round in Milwaukee, and big Jonathan Broxton could help someone in the pen.

Of course, Ryan Braun would be interesting as a trade target. While the Brewers expected some dropoff post suspension, it’s been pretty stark, despite some moments (.667 OPS compared to .913 for his career). There’s still hope for a rebound, but as one rival pointed out, “You don’t know what player you’d be getting.” That makes things dicey.

Young second baseman Scooter Gennett is reasonably priced, and Milwaukee turned back at least the Angels‘ winter overture, but there are still some teams with second-base needs, so you never know.

Melvin, though, feels certain about Counsell after seeing him operate the past couple years in the front office. Though he understands there will be critics, who reasonably point out that Counsell has never managed or coached at any level.

“What kind of message does this send to all the coaches and managers in their system?” one rival executive wondered.

Melvin countered, “I think game management is a small part of what a manager needs to do. I think it is all about preparation and passion for the game. He’s always been well respected. He’s an intelligent guy who had a good understanding of analytics, and an understanding about younger players.”

Attanasio bought the 18-point reasoning, but just in case, he interviewed Counsell for three hours himself. There’s no denying at this point that they needed something different.

The Brewers began 7-18 after finishing last year in a 9-22 nose dive after spending 150 days in first place, so something was amiss. Roenicke wondered why he was fired right after the team had won two of three games. But Melvin said he talked to the team about that.

“I apologized for making a change when we had played well the last three games. But I had to look at the last 100 games. And we were 28 games under,” said Melvin, who has been in discussions with Attanasio about his own future and is expected to stay on in some key capacity beyond this year.

If anything was wrong with the timing, perhaps it should have been done after last year’s collapse – it’s tough to change the story following such an implosion. Plus, Brewers higherups compounded that choice by picking up Roenicke’s 2016 option for $1.4 million in advance, a generous but unnecessary March move. Melvin said they all agreed to give Roenicke – who had a winning record overall with the Brewers – another chance. And one of those votes of support came from Counsell.

But soon into this season, it became apparent a change needed to be made, as whispers started to go around that Roenicke had “lost the clubhouse.” Although, Melvin puts little stock in that, saying, “I am not always in the clubhouse, and I am not one to have a spy.”

Roenicke is the fall guy for Melvin’s failures as GM. That’s not surprising, because most Brewers fans overrate the talent level on this team. Chris Davis and Logan Schaefer are major league players only because they’re on a major league roster (or at least Schaefer was until he was sent down when Carlos Gomez returned). Braun will never be the player he was before his, well, substance (ab)use. Gomez has the outfielder equivalent of the old baseball saying “a million-dollar-arm and a 10-cent head.” He is the type of player you put on a good team so you can live with his screwups.

There are three specific players from the 2011 Brewers that were never replaced. One was Prince Fielder, though the Brewers made the right decision to let him go, unless you think a 300-pound player is likely to have a largely injury-free career. But only this year with Adam Lind do the Brewers have an actual left-handed-hitting power threat. The other two are maybe more surprising — Jerry Hairston Jr., who was a great utility player and good in the clubhouse, and, of all people, Nyjer Morgan, who may have driven team management (and perhaps his teammates) crazy, but he was a very valuable addition to the 2011 team.

Assuming Melvin is replaced, either by his choice (retirement) or not, the next GM needs to have one priority: Pitching. As you know, the Brewers have largely failed to develop their own pitching largely during their entire history. The 1982 World Series team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Moose Haas. The 2011 National League Central champion team had one home-grown starting pitcher, Yovani Gallardo. Both teams imported most of their other starters (in 1982’s case, Pete Vuckovich, Mike Caldwell and, late in the season, Don Sutton; in 2011’s case, Zack Greinke, Randy Wolf and Shaun Marcum) and their closers (Rollie Fingers in most of 1982, John Axford in 2011).

The Brewers have a depressing history of having one good starting pitcher who then burns out. Teddy Higuera becomes Cal Eldred, who becomes Ben Sheets, who becomes Yovani Gallardo, who becomes either Wily Peralta or Jimmy Nelson. The Braves had an embarrassment of wealth in starting pitching in the 1990s, all except for Greg Maddux developed within their own system. (The Braves traded for John Smoltz, but he was a minor-leaguer at the time.) The Dodgers have had plenty of starting pitching for decades. Bench coaches are hired for in-game strategy, so a manager doesn’t necessarily need to do that himself.

Accordingly, I’m not sure Counsell was the right choice to replace Roenicke. (Given that Counsell worked with Melvin, maybe he should have, or should, replace Melvin.) Position players are relatively easy to find. (Where was Lind last year?) The Brewers need a manager who can develop his pitching, such as it is — whoever might be 2015’s answer to George Bamberger, who turned a bad pitching staff into a pretty good staff in the late 1970s, whether or not the Staten Island sinker was a legal pitch.

Related to that, it might be worthwhile for the Brewers to replace all of their minor league managers, coaches and instructors, and find managers, coaches and instructors who can actually teach their players fundamental baseball. Brewers losses are a traveshamockery of bad baserunning (this means you, Carlos) and bad defense (Braun will never remind anyone of Garry Maddox, wherever you put him), in addition to poor pitching and insufficient hitting.

The Brewers face a bad choice of either hanging on to overrated players (everyone except Lucroy, Nelson and Segura should be available), or having players who are not ready for the major leagues playing in the major leagues. It’s a good thing Miller Park is a great place to watch a baseball game. There won’t be good baseball played at Miller Park for years.

 

It’s Photo Friday!

Time (because I decided it was) for some family photos, beginning with the newest member of the family …

young Max

… Max, who is either the World’s Biggest Basenji (they are supposed to be the size of beagles; he certainly is not) or what we call a PitBasenHerd. He appears to mostly be Basenji, though he is supposed to be part pit bull and, we think, part German shepherd. The combination makes him this fierce:

Max and Dylan

Max asleep

We got Max from his original owner across the street, in part because Max kept letting himself out of the house. It turned out Max wasn’t supposed to be in the house at all (lease conditions can be such a pain). We heard his owner was looking for a new home for him, so on Sunday we left a note on the door. We heard nothing until Saturday when I was on my way out the door for a basketball game, when she came up and asked if we were still interested in the dog (then named Peanut). I told her to talk to the people inside. I left, and we had one dog and one cat, and when I returned, we had two dogs and one cat. (Now just two dogs, but you knew that.)

Max is a challenge. We were, shall we say, misled about his age and the degree of his housebrokenness. He also chews everything in sight, including, last night, a baseball. He has helped himself to food on the kitchen counter, and he helped himself into our bed at night, where he defines the word “inert.” And yet he’s cute and he’s very affectionate, he displays most of the characteristics of the unique Basenji, and he angers the fat chihuahua, so he’s got that going for him.

As for the human children …

fire explorer Michael

… this is Michael the Fire Explorer, which means he hangs around the busiest unpaid people in town, the Platteville Fire Department.

Shaena and Dylan at Steve's

This is Shaena and Dylan, during the last college basketball game of the year. I’m sure you’re shocked that Dylan is into acting.

vice terminator announcer

You may recall I spent most of the winter announcing basketball. UW-Platteville had a White Out Night against UW-Whitewater (Whitewater 65, Platteville 64), and so in that spirit I figured out how to wear all white — white jacket borrowed from someone (I used Marty Robbins’ “A White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation” as bumper music), white shirt, white tie, white pants and black and white basketball shoes — to participate. The season included the last endless road trip to Superior, which as you know is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s alma mater, so of course I had to go into one break saying “Ah’ll be bock,” later saying that Superior was going to say “hasta la vista, baby” to the rest of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference when it moves into a new conference. When Superior came to Platteville it was Alumni Night, so I thought about what I was doing when I was in college, and reused the white blazer to achieve this sort of Miami Vice/Terminator look, I guess.

(You may notice the scar on my forehead, the result of my finding out that a bridal shop’s diagonal bars, on which to hang dresses, was the perfect height for my head. The doctor who put my face back together has been very pleased with his work.)

Up next …

old guys at baseball game… this disreputable looking quartet is your non-humble writer (second from right) and his father (far left) and his two friends since approximately grade school. (In fact the two wearing Brewers stuff were born in the same hospital within days of each other.) For the second year in a row we went to a Brewers game (remarkably we got let into Milwaukee County), but unlike last year, the Brewers won, prompting some wit in the parking lot to note that we had seen one-third of their wins that day. (Now it’s down to one-fifth, I believe.)

 

When a franchise depends on a game

Readers will recall my prediction last week that there was no way the Legislature would approve a financing plan for a new Bucks arena.

My source for that prediction, Right Wisconsin, may have changed its mind, or something:

A new poll … suggests that majorities of Wisconsinites could be persuaded to support public financing for a new Bucks arena if – and it is a big if – they are given the issue “in context” and hear the strongest arguments of proponents.

The poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group and commissioned by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, is clearly intended as a counter-weight to a recent Marquette University Law Poll that found overwhelming opposition to the arena deal. …

In a memo accompanying the numbers, Tarrance noted that “These numbers stand in contrast to the recent Marquette Poll,” and explained the two major differences between the polls:  “First, the ‘context effect’ of having asked about other budget proposals immediately prior to this question, setting up a contest with other budget items in respondents minds. These other budget proposals included cutting money from public schools, the UW system, and borrowing money for roads.

“Second, the question in the Marquette Poll about the proposal only focused on one specific aspect, borrowing money, and not providing voters that complete picture of the proposal.”

Critics are likely to note that the wording of the poll is clearly designed to elicit positive responses, but its significance may lie in the fact that it demonstrates that there are, in fact, arguments that can be made that can win majority public support. Politically, this might make GOP legislators more comfortable with a “yes” vote than they would have been after the MU poll.

In other words: the arena deal remains a very heavy lift politically, but it may not be as toxic as the earlier poll had made. The poll also suggest how supporters will go about selling the public on the deal – emphasizing the public/private partnership, the economic benefits of the ancillary development, and the payoff from the state’s “investment.”

In that sense, the poll is a road map for selling the Bucks’ deal in the coming weeks.

One interesting tidbit: the poll tests the question of borrowing $150 million – rather than a larger number sometimes floated in Madison. It does not test options for closing any remaining fund gap.

So how did we get to this point? Like this:

“The National Basketball Association, or NBA, says that if a new arena is not built in Milwaukee, they will force the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team to leave by 2017. If the team leaves, the state of Wisconsin will lose more than $730 million dollars in revenue over 30 years, and will be forced to pay over $100 million to keep the Bradley Center open, hurting Wisconsin’s ability to fund other priorities like education and economic development.”

Knowing this, fully 64% of Wisconsin voters think it would be better for Wisconsin if the Milwaukee Bucks stay in Milwaukee, while only 18% say it would be better if the team leaves to go to another state.

Support for keeping the Bucks crosses party lines, with 69% of Republicans, and 65% of Democrats alike agreeing that is better if the Bucks stay.

Regionally, agreement that it is best to keep the Bucks holds at 67% in the Milwaukee and the Green Bay media markets.  Majorities elsewhere prefer to keep the Bucks as well.

Next, respondents were provided with a full description of the proposal:

“There is a proposal to build a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. The Milwaukee Bucks and Herb Kohl have committed to spend $250 million of their own money, half of the cost. The city, county and state would raise the other half. As part of this 50/50 public/private partnership, there would be no new statewide taxes, and revenue generated by the NBA team will more than repay the public investment.”

Knowing this, 67% of voters support building a new arena in downtown Milwaukee, while only 21% oppose. …

Next, respondents are provided some more information about the benefits of the development:

“Total public investment of $250 million dollars for a new arena would attract up to $500 million dollars in additional development beyond the arena itself, creating a sports and entertainment district in the heart of Milwaukee. The total development would create over 10,000 jobs over the next decade, many of them permanent. All of the development and jobs will generate tax revenue for the state that benefits everyone statewide.”

With this additional information, support for building a new arena climbs to 71%, while 20% remain opposed. …

“All told, under the proposal, the state would borrow $150 million dollars, which is only $50 million more than the state will owe on the Bradley Center if they do nothing. Borrowing the $150 million dollars will generate $750 million dollars in additional investment from the private sector and create thousands of jobs, while doing nothing will cause the Milwaukee Bucks to leave Wisconsin and cost the state more than $730 million in lost tax revenue.”

Given that $150 million figure, 64% of voters say that “Wisconsin borrowing money to help fund this arena project is a good investment for the state.”  Only 28% say it is not. …

Finally, respondents are given a little more information about the nature of the proposal for the state to borrow money:

“As you know, under the arena development proposal, the state would borrow $150 million dollars, which will be repaid by tax revenue generated by the Milwaukee Bucks. The loan would come from a state run trust fund, so the state would be borrowing from itself, and NOT from Wall Street. By law, all interest paid back on the loan would go directly towards state education funding.”

Knowing this, 67% say they support “Wisconsin borrowing money from itself to fund the arena development proposal, with the interest paid back going directly towards state education funding?” Only 26% oppose.

There are at least a few dubious assumptions in the poll questions, including all the estimates of economic impact if the arena is built and the negative economic impact if the Bucks leave.

There is a more dubious assumption that these poll results will move Democratic legislators, none of whom have spoken in favor of a state-financed Bucks arena. As with Miller Park in the mid-1990s, it is apparently up to Republicans to get a financing package through the Legislature to benefit primarily Democratic Milwaukee County.

(You would think Republicans would point out to Milwaukee Democrats that it is Democrats’ constituents, the workers at Bradley Center events, who would lose their jobs if the Bucks left Milwaukee. Those people don’t get rich working at the Bradley Center, but what they get paid is far more than unemployment. Or maybe that task of persuasion should be left to Bucks owner Marc Lasry, a well known big-dollar Democratic owner, or former Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, former owner of the Bucks.)

Whether the Legislature approves a new Bucks arena may depend, perhaps ironically, on the Bucks themselves. The Bucks presently trail their NBA first-round playoff series to Chicago three games to two, having unexpectedly won game five of their series in Chicago Monday night. Game six is at the Bradley Center Thursday night, and tickets were sold out not long after the Bucks’ Monday night win.

This could be analogous to the 1995 Seattle Mariners, who won their first division title and playoff series while the Washington Legislature was considering a replacement for the Kingdome under threats of departure without a new stadium. The Mariners won their series, galvanizing the Northwest in the process, and got Safeco Field.

On the other hand, the Brewers managed to get Miller Park despite their inept play (and, worse, management) through nearly all of the 1990s. The Brewers stayed in Milwaukee because Gov. Tommy Thompson simply refused to have the Brewers leave on his watch. (The Braves’ departure from Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1965 cost the state Supreme Court chief justice his job in the next election. The Braves announced they were leaving in 1964, and in Lyndon Johnson’s landslide election year, Democratic Gov. John Reynolds lost his bid for reelection.

It is also possible that both polls are correct — that a majority of Wisconsinites want the Bucks to stay in Wisconsin, but a majority of Wisconsinites don’t want their tax dollars, directly or indirectly, going to a Bucks arena for a less-than-statewide team. I’m not sure how you get around that, but attitudes might change if the Bucks are able to make an unexpectedly deep playoff run, as they did for the 1995 Mariners.

 

10 … 9 … 8 …

The Score has bad news for Bucks fans:

The clock is ticking on the Milwaukee Bucks’ plan to unveil a new $500 million downtown facility.

The arena financing plan must be completed in 10 days in time for the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee’s consideration.

“This has to be wrapped up in the next 10 days,” urged Bucks president Peter Feigin on Tuesday. Feigin admitted to challenges within the politics associated with finalizing a plan, but expressed cautious optimism, reports Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel.

A meeting is expected to convene on Wednesday between representatives from the Bucks, the city councilors and legislative leaders. The Bucks’ current timeline calls for groundbreaking in the fall of 2015 but there would need to be agreements with the city and county as well as a go-ahead on the financing plan.

The Bucks have billed the plan as a 50-50 public-private partnership on the $500 million facility. However that plan has faced some opposition and uncertainty.

The original plan headed by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker called for the state of Wisconsin to provide $220 million in bonding. But that proposal has failed to generate sufficient political backing. Instead, an alternative for $150 million in backing has been put forth by Senate Majority leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Should the $150-million proposal go through, the Bucks would be short $100 million of their goal of $500 million.

The Bucks are facing an NBA-imposed deadline by the fall of 2017 to have a new arena in place. Should the Bucks fail to meet the deadline, the league reserves the right to buy back the team for $575 million.

Charlie Sykes gives the reasons why this is bad news for Bucks fans:

1. Public opinion.
The numbers in last week’s Marquette University law poll were brutal, with 79 percent of registered voters statewide opposing public financing. That was bad enough, but the numbers out state were even worse: 87 percent of out state voters opposed the plan. That’s a huge problem because any package has to have out state GOP backing to make it into the budget. Milwaukee Democrats won’t lift a finger.

2. Tom Barrett.

Not a new story, but it is getting worse with every passing week. Barrett’s lack of engagement on a major project in his own city has both puzzled and annoyed legislators and his apparent refusal to increase the local share — by, for example, creating a TIF for the new private-sector ancillary development — may be a deal killer. This would be bad enough, but legislators contrast his hands-off approach to the arena project to his fervent backing of the $124 million streetcar. Behind the scenes, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is floating some ideas, but his ability to get anything through a hostile county board is problematic at best.

3. Tom Barrett’s mouth.

If possible Barrett made things even worse last week, when he lashed out at Governor Scott Walker and the GOP legislators, suggesting that they had passed gun laws that contributed to the city’s explosion of violent crime. Barrett’s comments were cited by both co-chairs of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. “Politics is about relationships,” [State Rep. John] Nygren said Friday. “You poke a finger in our eyes, it makes it a little harder.”

Senator Alberta Darling was even more direct:

Darling accused Barrett of “appalling leadership,” saying he was shifting the blame for crime without taking responsibility for what’s happening in the city. Last week, Barrett called on Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature to devote more resources to public safety in Milwaukee, saying the state’s gun laws have resulted in more guns on the street.

“He never is at fault for anything,” Darling said. “He’s never the key player.”

4. Marc Lasry.

Some insiders think that Lasy’s public commitment to raise $270,000 in a week for Hillary Clinton could leave a bigger mark than the polling numbers. Lasry has every right to support the candidate of his choice, of course, and he has made no secret of his fealty to the Clintons. But the timing of his all-in-for-Hillary announcement raised eyebrows, given that in order to he has to get his financing package approved, he needs to support of a GOP legislature and a GOP governor… who also happens to be running for president.

Lasry is evidently either tone-deaf, or simply has decided that he wants to be ambassador to France more than he wants a new arena in Downtown Milwaukee.

5. Scott Walker.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the governor has a lot on his plate lately and he is trying to appeal to different constituencies. How much political capital is Walker going to devote to a project that could easily be cast as corporate welfare for billionaires? How will that play in Iowa, or New Hampshire? As we saw in the fight over Miller Park, a political lift this heavy needs an engaged, aggressive, high profile push from the governor. Don’t expect Walker to use the Tommy Thompson playbook here.

Nygren asks:

Currently, the city and county of Milwaukee have committed $50 million, a mere 5% of total costs related to this project. To put that into perspective, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett committed $64 million of city funds to build a 2.5 mile streetcar route, which is 50% of all streetcar costs. If Mayor Barrett is willing to front 50% of the costs for a streetcar, but only 5% for an arena in his city, it begs the question: how serious is the Mayor about keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee?In comparison to what other cities have contributed, Milwaukee’s contribution is considerably less. Most recently, in Sacramento, the city is giving $255 million, nearly 53% of all costs to build a new NBA stadium. The city of Brooklyn is also planning a $1 billion arena; however, the city has committed $205 million, 20.5% of costs. In fact, going back to 2001, no city has committed less to build an arena than Milwaukee. If we want to seriously move forward with keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, we need the city and county to get serious about funding.

Clearly, Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are not serious about funding a Bradley Center replacement. The Bucks’ owners need not sell the team back to the NBA; they need only ask the Washington state Democrats to come up with taxpayer goodies for Seattle Sonics 2.0.

What legislator interested in reelection would go against 87 percent of his or her constituents? As stated here before, the statewide following for the Bucks is nowhere near the statewide following of the Brewers, and Miller Park was far from uncontroversial. (For that matter, 47 percent of Brown County voters voted against the 0.5-percent Brown County sales tax for the early-2000s Lambeau ield improvements. It’s one thing to buck 47 percent of your constituents, but 87 percent?)

Enjoy the NBA playoffs (game three of Bucks vs. Bulls is Thursday night), Bucks fans. You don’t have long to watch the NBA in Milwaukee.

 

From the Cost Is No Object Arena in Milwaukee …

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel shows off the work of Populous, which has been hired to design the Bradley Center replacement, wherever it ends up, and if it’s built, in Milwaukee:

If we want to understand the stakes for a new downtown arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, we only need to refer to the playbook of the massive international architecture firm recently hired to lead the design process.

“They can shape our towns and cities more than almost any other building type in history, and at the same time place a community on the map,” states the second chapter of “Stadia,” essentially a textbook for professionals about sports architecture from Populous.

These expensive, monumental and highly complex projects have changed a great deal in the last 20 years, and Populous is one of a handful of firms that have revolutionized and dominated the increasingly specialized field of sports architecture.

Brad Clark, the design principal with Populous on the Milwaukee project, wasn’t at liberty to offer specifics about the plans for the Milwaukee arena, including the site where it will be built, in an initial interview, though he did say those details would be revealed soon. …

It has designed 15 NBA or NHL arenas and is the only firm in the world to have designed three Olympic main stadiums, including London, Sochi and Sydney. It often refers to its arenas, stadiums and ballparks as “the new cathedrals” of our time, echoing the ambitions associated with the museum building boom of 15 or 20 years ago, language that stands in contrast to the more austere architectural trends of the moment.

Populous, which changed its name from HOK Sport in 2009, was the firm behind the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the arena the new project will effectively replace. The Bradley Center, completed in 1988 to replace the much maligned MECCA arena across the street, is one of the oldest functioning NBA arenas in the country.

“Our hope is that we are looking at a building that is extremely forward looking,” Clark said of the new arena, “that’s about the incredible future of what is a really vibrant Milwaukee today and really taps into that energy and that spirit but does respect what’s come in the past.”

Populous is capable of architecturally distinctive and telegenic projects, such as the undulating, glassy Aviva soccer stadium in Dublin, but it’s not a given.

Tom Dyckhoff, the architecture critic for the Times of London, for instance, called its Olympic Stadium for the 2012 Summer Games in London “tragically underwhelming,” echoing a common refrain. Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic for the Los Angeles Times, wrote in 2011 that selecting Populous for a facility there showed “limited imagination.”

With such detractors, Populous, despite its size and dominance in the field, has much to prove, and that may be a good thing for Milwaukee. Might they be in a position to up their design game?

It does seem that the firm’s design ambitions are on the rise. On Tuesday, the firm was chosen as the architects for the high-profile Bristol Arena based on a dramatic design with an illuminated, adaptable, high-tech facade that promises to be the “most sustainable” arena in England.

Some more recent projects such as the Quebecor Arena in Quebec City, a swirling sculptural form inspired by snow drifts slated to be completed in fall of this year, and the zoomy Las Vegas Arena, expected to be done next year, appear to be decidedly more design minded. It is hard to tell at this stage whether these projects will live up to their promise.

The question then becomes: How might that square with the aspirations of the Bucks? In recent weeks, Peter Feigin, the Bucks’ new president, has said he’d like the multipurpose arena, expected to cost between $450 million and $500 million, to look like it “embraces Wisconsin” and be “ingrained” into existing architecture.

This had some wondering, myself included, if this might lead to banal historicism, a riffing on old forms. …

We’re not likely to see another design misadventure such as Miller Park or the Wisconsin Center, projects with many fine qualities that fail architecturally because they are boilerplate homages to great architecture.

They lacked the courage to be of their time.

Still, one question that remains after talking with Clark and looking at images of the many projects that Populous has done in recent years around the world is whether the Milwaukee project will emphasize the sculptural form of the building, a structure that will be an ambassador for the city on TV screens around the world, or whether the Bucks might place greater emphasis on the arena’s interior, on the engagement of the fans and luxury spaces, for instance.

This was not written by Whitney Gould, the pretentious former Journal Sentinel architecture critic (ask yourself why a newspaper needs an architecture critic) who hated anywhere except downtown Milwaukee, particularly the Milwaukee suburbs and the Fox Cities. One could be fooled because of the writer’s beating on Miller Park, which has done nothing other than to raise the financial fortunes of the last Major League Baseball team Wisconsin will ever have, principally by ensuring that someone driving from Madison or Green Bay or Eau Claire to see a Brewers game will actually get to see the game.

Populous’ current work can be viewed here. I am not especially interested in how the building looks from the outside. (Though it should be pointed out that one of the most popular tourist attractions in Milwaukee is the Calatrava addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum, which certainly looks like nothing anywhere else in Milwaukee.) I am much more interested in how those paying good money to see a Bucks game can see. Having seen games in the Bradley Center (which is a bad place to watch anywhere other than in the lower bowl inside the basketball court end lines) and recently at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon and the Kohl Center in Madison (which are terrific places to watch), I find it much more pertinent to examine how the building will work, not how it will look.

“Will work,” of course, depends on whether it’s built.

 

State, week two

I wrote about my experiences at the WIAA state basketball tournaments in this space last week. (Including, of course, my junior-year experience that ended with a big gold trophy and bigger plaque on the wall at my high school.)

After last week’s excellent experience (two teams, two state titles), I get to add another today and perhaps Saturday, because I am covering undefeated Mineral Point at 7:45 tonight on www.superhits106.com. (And Saturday if the Pointers win.)

This will be the first time I’ve announced the boys tournament since 1989, when the Class C field included three unbeaten teams, the first of which won when a 60-foot shot at the buzzer rimmed out. My game was a wild 81–79 win for Glenwood City over Iowa–Grant.

I also did a Class B game the same day featuring Cuba City and Clintonville. I didn’t know this at the time, but I would later end up living in Cuba City, getting to know the all-time-winningest boys basketball coach in Wisconsin history (whose memories of state can be read here), and covering Clintonville as an opponent of Ripon later. (In the space of a few days last week I interviewed said all-time-winningest boys coach, the all-time-winningest girls coach, and the coach who has the most gold trophies at Cuba City High School.)

Cuba City and Iowa–Grant are answers to a strange trivia question — in which tournament were all the state champions from Grant County. The answer is 1981 — Iowa–Grant won Class C, Cuba City won Class B, and Class A was won by … no one. Milwaukee Madison beat Wausau West to win the Class A title game, but Madison’s title was vacated for use of an ineligible player. The WIAA chose to not award the title to Wausau West, so officially there was no 1981 Class A champion.

(I just remembered the first time I’d ever heard of Cuba City, and it wasn’t at state. In the late 1970s I was part of an Explorer post hosted by WHA-TV. One of the things we did was to push a WHA float in a Madison Christmas parade the same year as Fidel Castro’s emptying of his prisons into boats for Jimmy Carter to deal with. Behind us was the Cuba City band, which spent much of the parade chanting: “Gimme an R! Gimme an E! … What’s that spell? REFUGEES!” Really funny, and of course you could not possibly do that today.)

The 1989 games (and 1981, and all of them between the move from the Big Red Gym and the move to the Kohl Center) were at the UW Fieldhouse, great for atmosphere and little else. The radio broadcast positions were at the front of the upper deck, great for visibility except for those with vertigo. The Kohl Center was built to follow the Fieldhouse’s sight lines as much as possible, which is why it’s a great place to watch basketball, though much larger than the Fieldhouse.

Mineral Point is making its first appearance since 1974. The Pointers that year won their first Class C game but lost to another unbeaten team, McFarland. If the Pointers win tonight, their next opponent is either third-ranked Eau Claire Regis or, more likely, three-time defending Division 4 champion Whitefish Bay Dominican, led by the state’s most sought-after senior, Diamond Stone. (Rumored to be choosing between Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut or Oklahoma State for college.) If Dominican and Mineral Point play Saturday, I will have to learn how to pronounce the last name of one of Stone’s teammates, Kostas Antetokounmpo, brother of the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Wisconsinites might remember Gary Bender, who went from WKOW-TV in Madison to CBS-TV. He announced this state tournament, in addition to the Badgers and the Packers: When I was an intern at WKOW-TV, there was a black-and-white photo of Bender and some other people at state. Bender wore a white turtleneck, a blazer, plaid polyester bell-bottoms, and white shoes. I wonder if channel 27 still has that photo.