By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Sep 23, 2003 at 5:50 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1} If Brewers CEO Ulice Payne fills the organization's role as the energetic leader, and skipper Ned Yost is the gritty overachiever, then first-year General Manager Doug Melvin can best be described as quiet, methodical and determined to build a winner.

Melvin, who had success as GM of the Texas Rangers, brought with him to Milwaukee the knowledge of how to win games -- an understanding that's been forgotten by most familiar with the organization.

On paper, the 2003 Brewers were just a little better than the 2002 squad, but they did show improvement, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

We caught up with Melvin the morning after a come-from-behind victory against the St. Louis Cardinals. Near the end of the season, the Brewers were playing for pride -- but still playing hard. The final Milwaukee Talks in a series with Payne and Yost, we think Brewers fans will agree -- Melvin is steering the team in the right direction.

OMC: You're one year into your first full season as general manager in Milwaukee. Is this where you expected the team to be at this point?

DM: We wanted to have improvement, obviously, to do better. We did accomplish some things this year. When I first took over this job at my press conference, I said we need to have either a comeback of the year type or find someone who is going to step in here who no one knows about. And that might be Scott Podsednik. We had to do things that were different, and that might be Brooks Kieschnick. He's a pitcher who's a pinch hitter who's won two big games for us with his hitting. The attitude change with Ned Yost and his coaching staff was a huge step, and now we have a lot of other things to do with developing our younger players and preparing them for the big leagues.

OMC: So here's the big question that everyone's asking these days: What's the status of re-signing Richie Sexson and Geoff Jenkins?

DM: Those are baseball/business decisions that we have to make at the end of the year. Obviously, "Plan A" would be to have them both be a part of what we're doing here. The baseball plan drives the business plan and vice versa. We'll sit down and visit with their representatives and their agents and see if can work out that we have them both stay and be a part of it. If not, you have to have a "Plan B" and a "Plan C." I think that doing what we've done this year, I hope is encouragement enough that they have an interest in staying here. It always works better when you want somebody and they want to stay so it can be a good marriage.

OMC: Will signing them or not signing them set the direction for the ball club in the next two years?

DM: We have similar decisions to what Pittsburgh had with Brian Giles. We will weigh the factors with our minor league players coming up. We have one of the top minor league players in Prince Fielder. He's a first baseman, and we can't move him to the outfield. That will probably play into our decision to a long-term contract with Richie. We'll have to make some hard-core decisions, but to have them both on the team allows you to have the veteran player without having to go out an acquire new veterans. It's still a tough sell for us to go out to the free agent market and bring players into Milwaukee market -- for now. We'll turn things around and show we want to keep players. We have to show we want to win.

{image2} OMC: But won't you have a lot of salary freed up next year? Will you try to make a splash in the free agent market this off-season, or will you wait until after next year?

DM: To think that there's extra money because of players who aren't here, I think that people don't totally understand that, because of how salaries increase. Geoff Jenkins' and Richie's salaries increase by almost $3.5 million each. Ben Sheets' salary will increase by a minimum of $1.8 to $2 million. Right there, that $9 or $10 million for three players. But that's part of the system. While we lost the salaries of Eric Young, Jeffrey Hammonds and Glendon Rusch, we've been playing without some of those players most of the year, anyway. To get a big-name player, I said this year wouldn't be the year, and I'm not sure next year is the year. Maybe once some of our younger players start making an impact, that's probably the time we will try to surround them with veterans.

OMC: Tell me about the decision to call up Rickie Weeks, especially when we've been told all the minor league players will come up together.

DM: As you know, he's not playing a lot. Rickie didn't sign until about Aug. 2, so he missed a lot of the summer. In some sense, you could say he was rewarded for signing late, which is the one part you don't like about it. But if he is our future, we have to put that aside and do the right thing for the development of his career. For him not play until next year, that's a long period of time. Now that he's up here, he's still in the baseball environment. And he will play in the Arizona Fall League, (and we called him up) because we felt it was important to stay in baseball shape.

{image3} OMC: Did you see the game between the Beloit Snappers and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers here at Miller Park?

DM: No, I was on the road at the time, but I heard a lot about it, and it seemed to be quite a hit.

OMC: There were a lot of people here, and they were very excited. Is that encouraging to you as a GM?

DM: Very much so. It shows that the fans have a real passion and desire to see the Brewers build from within. The Minnesota Twins' model is what I look at more than any other team. Look at the number of players that they brought up together. That's what we have to do here. But the fans want to see the Brewers' consecutive season losing streak end, and they're hungry and thirsty for good, hard-nosed, blue-collar baseball. Our message has been heard, but it's our job to back it up.

OMC: Let me throw out the names of a couple of minor league players, and please say a few words about them. Start with Mike Jones.

DM: Mike's got a good arm. He had to shut it down due to an injury to his elbow. We're a little bit overprotective of our pitchers, but we hope that the injury won't require surgery. He's a pitcher who could be in here in the next couple of years.

OMC: Nick Neugebauer?

DM: Nick will start throwing here real soon, and there's a chance that he might play some winter ball. I've never seen Nick throw, since he's been hurt most of his career. I still think there is some developmental time in the minor leagues before we rush him back.

OMC: Ben Diggins?

DM: Ben is the same way. We've had a rash of injuries with our pitchers this year. Elbow surgery means were not going to know much about him next year, but he has a good arm and good movement on his fastball. If he wasn't injured, there would have been a good chance he'd make our club next year.

OMC: And what happened to JM Gold?

DM: He's been hurt pretty well from year one. With the number of players who have been hurt, you really have to rehab them but also move forward. You can't wait for them, and if they come back and become available, it's almost like a bonus. It's the risk of being a pitcher. He's off our roster now and has a long way to come back.

OMC: Baseball guys tell me we're very fortunate to have a general manager here who knows how to win. Yet, you were still fired from Texas. What's it like to come to Milwaukee with a second chance and have almost a "carte blanche" opportunity to rebuild the Brewers?

DM: I like this part of it. I've been involved in rebuilding in Baltimore, where I was assistant GM and player personnel director. We had a couple star players like Cal Ripken, like we have Jenkins and Sexson here. I like putting good scouting and player development staff together. In fact, we're going to sit down and have a two-hour session going over a lot of players while the kids are in town. In Texas, I was fortunate that we had a good group of star players like Rodriquez, Gonzales and Kenny Rogers. We had a better support staff of veterans, but then I had to fill in the gaps. But (in Milwaukee) it's not from the ground up, because Dean Taylor left us a couple of good drafts here. He made a couple of good trades. But we're bringing an attitude of trying to win more games. As all general managers do when you leave a place, I look back at Texas now and see that they're doing what I wanted to do after we had a winning session -- to rebuild again with some young players.

OMC: What's it like to work for a team president like Ulice Payne?

DM: Ulice has a lot of energy, and he's a great listener. He says he has a lot to learn on the baseball side. Fortunately, he leaves the baseball decisions to us, but it's still my responsibility to run things by Ulice for his approval. But part of that is helping him learn about the baseball side, and then he can help me learn about the business side.

OMC: At first glance, one might not think that Ned Yost has been a very successful manager, since his win-loss record is not exactly impressive. But people, including you, have been extremely supportive of him. Why?

DM: It's because of the way he goes about his work and his passion for the game. It doesn't always result in a win, but always in a good effort. We want more wins, but we know we're undermanned, talent-wise. In anything you approach, you go out and do the best you can, and you hope the results are there. We have shown improvement, and it's part of building an attitude, a perception and reputation in the clubhouse. When you go down there, you are ready to work. And Ned has done all those things. You have to manage people before the game, and if you manage them the right way it will make your game decisions easier. He's a fighter, a gamer. He can get better at those other things. It's harder to groom someone to have the leadership and management skills that Ned has.

OMC: People in Milwaukee don't really know a lot about you as person. Maybe that's because you can stay a little under the radar in this job in this town. Do you find it strange not to get noticed everywhere you go?

DM: Ulice is taller, that's why he gets noticed. I don't do a whole lot except come to the ballpark and do my job. I spend time with my family and go to my son's baseball games. I have a daughter at SMU in Dallas, and my son goes to Homestead High School in Mequon. I live a pretty simple life in that regard. We go to restaurants and movies, and I went to Hall and Oates at Potawatomi. I'll go some Bucks games. I think I'm a normal fan who goes to the games, who's fortunate to run a baseball organization. I don't have a college degree. I signed a minor league contract after high school in Canada. I played six years in the minor leagues and life has just gone on from there. I'm enjoying my job and Milwaukee. I've only been through one winter, but I'm Canadian, so it doesn't bother me.

OMC: A friend of mine worked at the Starbucks in Mequon and gave you your coffee every morning. She always said you were so upbeat and friendly. And I heard you filling in for Bob Uecker on the radio, and you were actually quite funny. How important is it to have a good attitude and remain optimistic in your position?

DM: People have told me that I'm approachable. Sometimes I need private time, but I think in the management level, you can't put a wall up and separate yourself. I didn't see any of the games during our 10-game winning streak. I was traveling, and I didn't see any reason to hop on the plane and walk around the field. My mentor, (long-time White Sox GM) Roland Hemond, always told me to be around the team when they're not going well. There are too many people who show up when the team is winning. But Roland said be around when they're losing. When I started in Baltimore, we lost our first 21 games. But we had to be around at that time to let people know we were supportive.

OMC: What do you like about Milwaukee?

DM: I've been in Baltimore and Texas, and Milwaukee reminds me a little of Canada. My son says all the restaurants here are old houses, like Ferrante's and the Centennial Inn. The weather here is nice, after living in Texas. The people have been nice. But I'm the kind of person who could adjust to any city.

OMC: One more question. Should Brewers fans be excited for 2005, and why?

DM: Our plan is for 2005, but there are always setbacks, and you have to be guarded against that. We're hoping that in '05 we get a chance to see what we've been talking about. The younger players should start to have an impact at that time. I've been in this business long enough that players and can go by the wayside with injuries, so you can't rely on one part of it. You still have to go out and find the Scott Podsedniks and Brooks Kieschnicks and Wes Helms and Matt Kinneys.

This car runs on a lot of different parts. But we've made decisions based on the fact that '05 will be the year, and fans should feel good about the future of this organization.

- Dave Roloff contributed to this report.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.