Home-brewed Talent

Marti Wronski grew up about 60 miles south east of Green Bay, Wis., in Neenah--deep in the heart of Packers country. Those who live in that part of the state don't care too much about baseball. They certainly don't care that much about the Brewers, which for years have languished at the bottom of the NL Central. But in 2004 Wronski underwent a conversion--one that in Packers country is considered treason. Wronski renounced her love for the Packers and became a diehard Brewers fan.

This conversion happened when the Brewers hired her in December 2003 to handle all of the team's legal issues, from negotiating player contracts and sponsorship agreements to overseeing real estate issues relating to Miller Park and licensing the use of the club's trademarks. Before joining the Brewers as general counsel, Wronski taught legal writing at Marquette University for a couple of years, and before that she was an associate at Foley & Lardner's Milwaukee office.

It is not easy to convert a Packer Backer into a Brewers fan. In fact, it would probably be easier to convert Dick Cheney into a Democrat. But Wronski's conversion has been eased by the fact the Brewers, which the Selig family recently sold to Mark Attanasio, went into the All-Star break in first place--7.5 games ahead of the defending World Series champions, the St. Louis Cardinals. For the first time in years, Wisconsinites have something to talk about in the off season other than whether Brett Favre will return for another year.

Q. Were you a baseball fan growing up?

A. No, I was a huge Packers' fan. I didn't become a Brewers' fan until I started here. We lived north of Milwaukee, so it was a big trip for us to go to see the Brewers play. We watched them from time to time, but really football was what it was all about.

Q. Why did you leave Foley to teach legal writing at Marquette?

A. I decided that two law firm lawyers [Marti's husband, Andrew Wronski, is a partner in Foley's Milwaukee office] wouldn't make for a great parental unit. We looked at the lifestyle, and because we are both litigators, we had heavy travel schedules.

Q. How did you end up at the Brewers?

A. They called some of the senior partners at Foley. They gave them my name, and Rick Schlesinger, the executive vice president of business operations, left a message on my voicemail. I told my husband I didn't think it was worth interviewing there because I assumed I would be working really long hours. My husband thought I was crazy.

Unlike me, he grew up on the south side of Milwaukee and is perhaps the greatest Brewers fan ever. He convinced me to talk to Rick.

Q. What was your biggest concern when you first joined?

A. I think negotiating player contracts with agents. But then I realized this was no different from negotiating any other contract. But boy, did I study. I remember my first player contract. I distinctively recall sitting at my computer typing a multiyear player contract. I made a million calls to Major League Baseball to make sure I knew what every word meant and every T was crossed and every I was dotted. I am sure I drove them crazy with all my questions.

Q. Who was the player?

A. Geoff Jenkins [plays in left field and has a .273 batting average.]

Q. Do you negotiate every facet of a player's contract?

A. Not really. Doug [Melvin, executive vice president and general manager] does the dollars, years and bonuses. He then sends me a memo with that information on it. It cracks me up because it is just bullet points. I then put it together and deal with the agent or the agent's lawyer. And it's up to us to go over the nitpicky stuff--like "I want my guy to be able to water ski." And I will tell them that if he gets hurt water-skiing then I don't have to pay him. I have never permitted an exception to a contract, and I am pretty adamant about that.

Q. Do these negotiations usually go well?

A. They do. Once in a while we will get these New York or L.A. lawyers who think that because I am a lawyer in Milwaukee they can walk all over me.

Q. What are the agents like?

A. Some are a little challenging. We try to play good cop, bad cop with these guys. Doug is always the good cop. The bad cop is me. Some of the agents are fabulous guys. But when an agent gets on the phone and says, "How cute, a lawyer from Milwaukee," you know it won't go smoothly.

Q. Is it harder because you are a woman working in such a male-dominated industry?

A. Not really. I don't think I've ever been treated differently within our organization. Who knows what goes on behind my back, but that's my perception. On the outside, I think the bigger hang-up people have is that I am only 34. Some have a tough time accepting that they will be negotiating with a 34-year-old.

Q. Does your job change between the season and off-season?

A. It does, though not as much as it used to. It used to go in phases. I actually used to be a lot busier in the off-season because we were getting ready for the season--the draft, spring training and sponsorship agreements--that kind of thing.

Q. What do you send to outside counsel?

A. I don't handle any litigation.

Q. What kind of litigation do you have?

A. Well, we have slip-and-fall cases, but our insurance company deals with most of those. We sometimes get sponsors who refuse to pay us. We have the occasional employment issue.

Q. What is the toughest legal challenge you have had to deal with?

A. It's the player contract negotiation because there are so many considerations to take into account. You really have to understand where your limitations are. You don't want to screw the club or negotiate against a guy who in a week is going to be your guy. There is so much politics involved.

Q. Do you deal with player discipline?

A. I do. I will write the letter and send out the proper notices. Doug and Gord [Ash, the assistant general manager] are the ones who actually talk to the players, though.

Q. What kind of discipline issues do you face?

A. Almost nothing. I can't think of the last time we had anything on the major league level. In the minor leagues we may have a player who is late for training or rehab or something like that. We do have the drug- and alcohol-related situations we have to monitor, but those are infrequent. One issue we are dealing with now is the Mitchell [steroid] investigation.

Q. Has that touched the Brewers?

A. A lot of our people have been interviewed, and we have had to provide a lot of documents. We are not a party. They haven't spoken to any of our players yet. But it has been a pretty intensive process and a highly sensitive one.

Q. Are your kids impressed that you work for the Brewers?

A. They were. But it was a sad day when my son was old enough to realize I didn't actually play and that I just sort of did the boring legal stuff.

Q. What is the mood like at the club right now [the Brewers were in first place when this interview took place--leading the second-place Cubs by 4.5 games]?

A. People are literally giddy. Everyone has a little spring in their step. I was in Starbucks the other day and someone congratulated me. I am getting credit for stuff I deserve zero credit for.

Q. Is this your dream job, or would you rather be the GC of the Packers?

A. I am much more of baseball fan now than I could ever be a Packers fan.

Q. You can get kicked out of Wisconsin for saying that.

A. I am not so sure. The tide is changing. I mean everyone is into the Brewers right now.

Staff Writer

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