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Milwaukee alderman proposes ban on smokeless tobacco at sports venues

Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy has proposed an ordinance that would eliminate the use of smokeless tobacco products at Miller Park and other sports venues in the city.

An announcement from Murphy’s office said public health advocates would  join him at a Milwaukee Common Council hearing on the ordinance Nov. 10.

His proposal applies to all sports facilities at all levels — professional, collegiate, high school and amateur — within city limits and would cover everyone in the venues, including on the playing field, benches, vendor areas, spectator stands, parking lots and tailgating locations.

Murphy said Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco have enacted similar prohibitions. And a measure awaits the  mayor’s signature in Washington, D.C.

Also, next year, a law in California will take effect that would make 11 of the 30 Major League Baseball stadiums will be tobacco-free.

Public health experts, including at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Surgeon General, U.S. National Cancer Institute and World Health Organization, have concluded smokeless tobacco use is dangerous, containing at least 28 known carcinogens and causes oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer.

The product also causes nicotine addiction and other serious health problems like gum disease, tooth decay and mouth lesions. 

“For too long tobacco has been a stain on the great game of baseball and it’s time to get tobacco out of baseball once and for all to set the right example for the millions of kids who watch the sport and emulate their favorite players,” Murphy said in a statement. “When they are on the job, major league players have a responsibility to set the right example. Let’s make Milwaukee a shining example for the rest of the game.”

The CDC has reported that high school athletes use smokeless tobacco at nearly twice the rate of non-athletes and smokeless tobacco use among athletes increased more than 11 percent from 2001 to 2013, even as smoking rates dropped significantly.

Among male high school athletes, smokeless tobacco use is at 17.4 percent in 2013.

“Our national pastime should be about promoting a healthy and active lifestyle, not a deadly and addictive product,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Milwaukee is sending the right message that baseball players are role models for our nation’s youth and that chewing tobacco is dangerous and should not be an accepted part of sports culture.”

In 2013, manufacturers of smokeless tobacco spent more than $500 million on marketing.

On the Web

For information on the Knock Tobacco Out of the Park campaign go to tobaccofreebaseball.org.

Scott Walker OKs Bucks arena deal that would cost taxpayers more than $400 M

Taxpayers would pick up half the cost of a $500 million arena for the Milwaukee Bucks under a financial deal approved by Gov. Scott Walker. Curren and former team owners would pick up the rest of the costs, under Walker’s plan.

Walker, who plans to announce his presidential candidacy within the month, has argued for months that it will cost the state more in lost income-tax revenue if the NBA team leaves Milwaukee than it will to pay for a new downtown arena.

Standing behind a podium with a sign that read, “Cheaper to Keep Them,” he announced the long-awaited deal on June 4 surrounded by Republican legislative leaders, along with the Democratic leaders of the city and Milwaukee County.

“The price of doing nothing is not zero. It’s $419 million,” Walker said, one of repeated references to the estimated lost revenue and growth over 20 years if the team moves. “It’s not just a good deal. It’s a really bad deal if we don’t do anything.”

Walker, team officials, state lawmakers, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele have been negotiating behind closed doors for weeks.

The plan Walker spelled out includes $250 million already committed by the Bucks’ current and former owners. The other half will come from taxpayers, a contribution capped at $250 million, with the team bearing any responsibility for cost overruns. The taxpayer cost would grow to an estimated $400 million over 20 years with interest.

But there are numerous hidden costs associated with the arena that could turn the project into a financial boondoggle for taxpayers, just as the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park has become. Some state lawmakers might be reluctant to give $250 million to a small group of wealthy people who would become even wealthier from the deal, at a time when higher education in the state is being cut by $250 million. That could have much worse consequences on the state’s economic future than losing a basketball team.

The Legislature’s top two Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, both said they weren’t certain yet whether the plan would win enough support in their chambers to pass. “What I’d like to focus on are the benefits of having this go forward,” Vos said.

Without a new arena by 2017, the NBA has said it will buy back the team and move it. The Bucks currently play in the 27-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center.

The Bucks issued a statement, calling the plan “a big step forward in our collective effort to build a transformative economic and cultural asset in downtown Milwaukee.” The arena has been pitched as part of a larger $1 billion entertainment district in the Park East district, in downtown Milwaukee near the Milwaukee River.

Under the proposal, the state would issue $55 million in bonds, which paid back over 20 years would cost $80 million. The city would contribute $47 million, including building a new parking structure. The county would also issue $55 million in bonds and the Wisconsin Center District would issue $93 million in bonds.

Republicans who control the Legislature criticized parts of the plan reported during negotiations, raising questions about whether there are enough votes to approve it. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity, founded by billionaires Charles and David Koch, called for rejecting the deal.

“Government shouldn’t be in the business of financing private sports stadiums,” AFP Wisconsin state director David Fladeboe said. “The current deal is based on fuzzy math, complicated accounting and millions of taxpayer dollars.”

A majority of Republican state senators don’t want the arena financing plan to come under the two-year $70 billion state budget. An alternative route could be introducing the plan as a separate bill, where Democrats could join with Republicans to get enough votes in support.

Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca withheld judgment on the plan, saying he wanted to carefully review it and discuss it with others. The Milwaukee Common Council must also approve the deal.

Current Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens bought the team in April 2014 from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl for $550 million. At the time, Lasry and Edens pledged to contribute $100 million toward arena funding, but have since increased that to $150 million. Kohl also has pledged $100 million.

Feds won’t pay for pork-barrel highway project that’s based on inflated WisDOT data

A federal court has halted a major highway expansion due to inflated traffic projections by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, prompting a land-use group to call for an immediate halt to all such projects in the state until they can be proven justified by traffic audits.

The U.S. Eastern District Court upheld the claim of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin that the proposed expansion of Highway 23 between Fond du Lac and Plymouth was based on overblown traffic forecasts. The ruling makes the project ineligible for federal funding.

According to the group’s executive director Steve Hiniker, actual traffic along the corridor is only one-third of WisDot’s projection. Last year, 1000 Friends studied traffic projections used to justify 11 state highway projects and found that WisDOT’s average traffic over-count was 75 percent.

“Faulty planning at (WisDOT) has likely cost taxpayers billions of dollars in unjustified projects,” Hiniker said in a statement. “This is a huge win for taxpayers.”

Critics of DOT building plans have questioned the need for a number of projects, including the proposed almost billion dollar expansion of the I-94 corridor near Miller Park in Milwaukee. Gov. Scott Walker wants to issue $1.3 billion in bonds to pay for those projects. 

Political leaders nearly always support massive road construction projects, because highway contractors provide them with generous donations. For the public, however, the projects drain funds that would otherwise help municipalities maintain their local roadways, which have become obstacle courses of potholes in recent years.

Republican lawmakers have suggested allowing municipalities to vote for new property taxes in order to maintain their infrastructures, because there’s so little money left over from the gas taxes and registration fees that Wisconsin citizens pay. That money is diverted to unneeded highway expansions, Hiniker says.

According to Hiniker, unneeded highway spending also drains the general fund, reducing the amount of state money available for everything from school funding to fire and police protection.

Hiniker believes the Highway 23 ruling could have a dramatic effect on other highway building plans in the state.

Money ball | Public financing for the Bucks arena entails hidden costs

Polling shows that voters strongly oppose public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena complex. Yet elected officials forge ahead with the project, which could put taxpayers on the hook in myriad ways that lie buried beneath piles of hype and denial.

New Bucks owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan have pledged $150 million to the project and former owner Herb Kohl has pledged $100 million. The new owners now are pressuring elected officials to contribute at least $250 million from taxpayers to complete the complex, which will cost at least $500 million, according to estimates.

But throw in financing costs, tax incentives, property-tax exemptions and other freebies, and the public could be on the hook for up to $1 billion in subsidies.

While the owners promise Milwaukee residents pie-in-the-sky rewards in the form of  increased economic activity and more jobs, the payoff equation is lopsided. The new venue would handsomely reward the Bucks, a for-profit business, with free rent and a large percentage of every dollar collected from all enterprises located within the expansive proposed complex (in 2014, the Bucks received 41.6  percent). But the taxpayers, who would bear the lion’s share of expenses, would receive no ownership stake in the team — a detail that belies the project’s billing as “public-private partnership.” This “partnership” entails  taxpayers investing in a rapidly depreciating asset (a building) that supports a greatly appreciating asset (a major-league franchise). 

City, county costs

The Bucks want the city and county to kick in from $50 million to $100 million in direct cash, free land and buildings and other subsidies. The county has indicated it would donate vacant Park East land. The proposed arena site, which is due north of the Bucks’ current home, is on vacant BMO Harris Bradley Center land, which already is owned by the public. (The Bradley Center owns almost all the land between North Fourth and Sixth Streets and State Street to Juneau Avenue.)

Mayor Tom Barrett recently proposed giving the Bucks additional land — the former Sydney Hih site — at Third Street and Juneau Avenue, valued at $1.1 million. He’s also proposed providing infrastructure support worth $17.5 million through a tax-incremental financing district and a block-long, multi-use parking complex.

That 980-space parking structure generated $920,000 in parking revenue last year for the city. It’s in a prime location — directly across from the new arena site and next to the tony Moderne residential high-rise and a dining/nightclub district. It includes two large storefronts. The city built the structure in 1988, reportedly for $25 million, and officials say it’s meticulously maintained and debt-free.

But a proposed Bucks plan shows the parking complex demolished and redeveloped. Replacement parking facilities would be built elsewhere, adding to arena costs.

The city would forgo the nearly $1 million in annual income that it currently receives from the existing facility.

The parking garage offers an excellent case in point of how ever-increasing taxpayer subsidies have crept into the project. The Bucks proposal encompasses 27 acres, nearly twice the Bradley Center’s current footprint. But the city-owned parking complex is not needed for an expanded arena footprint, when there’s vast undeveloped acreage both west and north of the proposed arena site, much of it already publicly owned by the Bradley Center. The value of that public land is not even mentioned as part of taxpayers’ contributions.

Gov. Scott Walker wants the new arena to follow the model of the Bradley Center — a state-owned facility managed by a  tax-exempt authority. That would cost an estimated $450 million over 30 years in  lost property taxes, according to a report by Bruce Murphy in Urban Milwaukee. The public also may well end up covering ongoing management costs and maintenance shortfalls. The city currently pays the Bradley Center $175,000 annually for its upkeep and state taxpayers have paid $10 million for arena repairs since 2009.

Lease terms give the Bucks a share of every concession, along with catering, suite leases and merchandise sales for all arena events, not just Bucks games. In fiscal 2014, the Bradley Center paid the Bucks $4.7 million on gross revenues of $11.3million. The Bucks also receive any Bradley Center surpluses, while the public authority struggles to cover deficits (and has not kept up).

As a mechanism for funneling state money into the project, Walker has proposed issuing $220 million in state bonds. Legislators believe the governor’s plan ultimately will cost $380 million after tacking on interest. They propose limiting bonding to $150 million.

‘Stars in their eyes’

Even when subsidies are disguised and direct taxes avoided, economists say that public financing is nearly always a losing proposition. Nonetheless, for myriad reasons, municipalities continue the handouts. 

Hope and hype that an arena will spur more nearby development were expressed when the Bradley Center was built in 1988. Mostly, that did not happen, although downtown development has been booming since the recession ended. 

Now Lasry and Edens, who are big-time real estate developers, say they will invest in private development, including a nearby team practice facility. A 2013 City of Milwaukee report noted that sports economist Andrew Zimbalist warns “professional sports have been historically unreliable when it comes to making such local investments.”

Although cities often provide tax incentives to businesses to encourage redevelopment, subsidies often take many years to be recouped. In contrast, huge sports-venue footprints exempted from property taxes deplete a budget permanently. And, it’s not uncommon for taxpayers to pay much more for a sports venue than is initially negotiated (as, famously, with Miller Park). Some cities are still paying for sports palaces when they’re being pressured to replace them.

Journalist Neil deMause, co-author of Field of Schemes, a book and website about sports-venue funding, reports that one reason governments keep giving sports teams sweetheart deals is that public officials are completely outmaneuvered when negotiating with pro-sports reps. Basically, teams ask for the moon, knowing they can always backtrack.

However, public officials often simply acquiesce, surprising even hard-bargaining owners. Jim Nagourney, a 30-year negotiator of sports-venue deals, told deMause that cities are “always poorly represented” and often “get stars in their eyes.”  In the “most scandalous” deal Nagourney helped negotiate, he told deMause, “We put in all these ridiculous things and the city (St. Louis) did not have the sense to say no to any of them.” Nagourney says this always happens, because cities use in-house attorneys to negotiate these deals. Team officials understand all the issues and where the money is — concessions, advertising, TV rights and so on — while city attorneys do not. 

Teams threatening to leave town has become a routine bargaining chip, even though teams rarely follow through with the threat, according to deMause’s decades-long research of sports venues. DeMause calls it extortion and says the gambit works very effectively, since cities do not call team owners’ bluffs.

In Milwaukee’s case, Bucks owners keep dangling the NBA’s threat of relocating the team. Seattle is reportedly eager to get another NBA team. DeMause says that politicians’ fear of losing a team usually trumps public opposition and empirical data by economists.

Politicians often go to great lengths to get new sports venues financed. For example, in a deal negotiated in 1996 by former Brewers owner and MLB Commissioner “Bud” Selig, the City of Milwaukee agreed to give $1 million annually to Miller Park. This payout continues, even though the city receives no property taxes from the stadium, the Brewers or any ancillary enterprises, including parking and franchised restaurants. 

Many economists assert that team owners should finance their own new digs. The owners of several teams, including the San Francisco Golden State Warriors, are doing just that.

Some NBA teams are now valued at $2 billion and stratospheric TV deals will reportedly make every NBA team worth at least $1 billion within a decade. With those numbers, why aren’t government leaders demanding that Bucks owners invest much more, if not the full freight? And why not ask Herb Kohl to donate more? He bought the team for $18 million in 1985 and profited from free rent and eye-popping revenue shares before selling it last year for $550 million. Other arena tenants, including Marquette University and AHL’s Admirals, pay hefty rent — in MU’s case, it’s $20,000 per game.

Mayor Barrett has offered to relinquish at least $1 million a year in parking and ownership of prime real estate. However, that lost revenue may soon be forgotten (out of sight, out of mind), and thus not become a source of annoyance to city officials who have to make up for it. As long as public subsidies are not paid outright in cash, they’re easier to rationalize and accept. But the public costs are the same.

A 2013 report by the City of Milwaukee’s Legislative Reference Bureau noted “proponents of public financing for sports venues have often abandoned the ‘economic impact’ argument and contended the value of sports venues is the added prestige gained by the host city from having a professional sports team in town.”

Just don’t try to take that warm-and-fuzzy feeling to the bank.

Thumbs-down on state arena funding

Only 17 percent of Wisconsin voters back proposed state funding of $150 million to support a new arena complex for the Milwaukee Bucks, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll. In the Milwaukee metro area, opposition to the funding stands at 67 percent, compared with 88 percent of residents outside of Milwaukee.

For the record

“The highest-cost (stadium) deals include Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium, where the National Football League’s Colts play; Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, home of the Bengals; and the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park in baseball. In those cases, the public share of costs, once ongoing expenses are included, exceeds 100 percent of the building’s original price tag.”

— Aaron Kuriloff, quoted in Bloomberg News reviewing Public/Private Partnerships for Major League Sports Facilitiesby Judith Grant Long.

Joe Torre inducted into Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll

There can only be one first, Joe Torre said Thursday at Miller Park. Milwaukee has provided him with several:

• His first big-league hit (“My legs were shaking so bad,” he remembers).

• His first big-league hit (“My legs were shaking so bad,” he remembers).

• His first home run (“I think I went 0-12 after (that)”).

• His first suspension (“I bumped the umpire, but I didn’t mean to.”)

Torre played the first six years of his 18-year major-league career as a ballplayer in Milwaukee. He was called up in 1960, before going on to manage teams, including the New York Yankees, which he led to four World Series championships.

“(Milwaukee) will always be home for me, based on the fact that this is where it started for me,” Torre said at the small ceremony on May 8 in which he was inducted into the Milwaukee Braves Honor Roll, a wall of plaques near home plate. His brother Frank, who played on two World Series teams in Milwaukee, preceded him as a Brave and onto the Honor Roll.

Torre will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer.

Bob Uecker shredded Torre about their time as teammates with the Braves in the 1960s.

“I remember how helpful you were to me, shouting, ‘Over there, it’s over there,’ Uecker said of balls that Torre passed.

Current Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said he most admired Torre’s managerial mien, which is low-key, not excitable.

“It’s just the way he carries himself,” Roenicke said.

At the ceremony, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio recalled first meeting Torre in 2005 at Miller Park, being introduced on the field in batting practice by Uecker. 

Fan-boy flummoxed by meeting baseball royalty, Attanasio said he had a hard time thinking of just what to say until Torre broke the ice, saying he had heard “good things” about the new owner.

“Joe Torre knows who I am?” Attanasio recalls thinking.

After the ceremony, Attanasio was asked whether he envied Torre his world championships.

Winning one, Attanasio said, “Is all I think about.”

Brewers unveil new statue of iconic announcer Bob Uecker

It didn’t take long for Bob Uecker to make a lap-dance joke about the newest statue unveiled of him at Miller Park.

This was after Hall of Famer Robin Yount, speaking to a pre-game crowd of guests and press gathered on the infield, looked around the stadium and said, “This is unbelievable. 50,000 empty seats. What a ceremony.”

The play-by-play announcer of the Brewers since 1971, Uecker’s career was built on winking and sometimes ribald self-deprecation. He was honored today with a 700-pound bronze depicting him seated at the highest point behind home plate, “where no human dares to go,” as emcee Bill Schroeder, himself a former Brewer and now-announcer, put it.

That Uecker’s statue (there’s already one of him in front of Miller Park by the same Ohio sculptor) is barely visible behind girders at the stadium’s highest reaches is a reference to one of baseball’s longest-running jokes. It refers to a series of Miller Lite ads in which an unaware Uecker thinks, “I must be in the front row,” because of his status as a former big leaguer. But, of course, he’s actually placed far, far away.

Uecker’s broadcast stint followed a middling baseball career that began with the hometown Milwaukee Braves in 1956. His jokes and writing about his on-field lack of success led him to the “Tonight Show,” “Major League” movies and other corners of popular culture.

Uecker is beloved not just by fans, but by current and former Brewers players.

Before Friday’s ceremony began, the legends of the Brewers lone pennant team, the 1982 American League winners, milled around on the Miller Park field commiserating.

Asked for a favorite story, Jim Gantner, Rollie Fingers and Gorman Thomas rolled their eyes and chortled.

“There’s about 600 of them,” Thomas said.

Yount joked about a drunken romp in Detroit where Uecker marched several of the players military-fashion a few blocks down a highway, accompanied by cops who he also ordered in line.

“He’s the kind of guy that gets away with things,” Yount said.

Fingers cryptically noted a story about “a cowboy bar and a juke box.” He also made a crack about all the honors rolling in for Uecker.

“He’s got two statues and a plaque, and he only hit 14 major-league home runs,” Finger said.

Uecker joked that he originally turned down the statue in the far upper deck because, “I was under the impression they would want me to work from up there.”

As he spoke, you could see the affection for him on the faces in the crowd, including current Brewers and coaching staff getting ready for their game with the Cubs.

On the scoreboard, some short videos paid tributes to him from Jason Bateman, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Morgan Freeman that were jokey. Kevin Costner sounded the only serious note, saying that beneath the schtick of Uecker, there lies the “poetry” of baseball.

Indeed, it’s not been all laughs for Uecker lately. Several health scares and his approaching 80th birthday have limited his traveling.

Talking to the press after the ceremony and before he went up to the statue to crack some more jokes, he acknowledged, with a touch of nostalgia, “I know someday I am going to have to stop this.”

Hapless stray rehabilitates the Brewers’ image

On a recent day before the season started, in the bunkered Milwaukee Brewers interview room deep within Miller Park, Hank the Dog was splayed by handlers on a table before a smartly-dressed team executive, surrounded by a small guard of gaudy bobblehead dolls.

A dozen members of Milwaukee’s media clustered around as it was announced that a “Bobble Hank” doll would be offered to 45,000 fans on Sept. 13.

In the first hour after the promotion was announced, the team sold an unprecedented 2,200 tickets to that game. President of baseball operations Rick Schlesinger afterward remarked on the oddness of the Days of Hank, which he entered midstream.

(Painfully, he had to announce that he had heard the fans “barking” for the result. Don’t worry. Plenty of puns to follow.)

Tyler Barnes, the Brewers media vice president, who might be called the “father of Hank,” watched from the periphery with a half smile.

He’d had his “a-Hank” moment a few weeks back.

That was when he found himself in a sporty part of Phoenix, in a year-round Halloween store. Barnes was waiting for an attendant to find the hooked pole needed to reach up a few stories and retrieve the hot dog costume that the once-battered bichon mix, now a Wisconsin media star, would wear in an Arizona re-enactment of the Brewers’ popular sausage race.

Back at the Brewers’ news conference, after the media horde had departed, Barnes said he had to steady himself after retrieving the hot dog costume. He was beginning to realize what he had helped to start.

Where, he asked, really not knowing the answer, does it go now?

Perfect timing

Not even the Brewers seem to know, as the team enters uncharted territory a year after an annus horribilis of media coverage. In addition to its losing record, the team was hit by a headline-grabbing scandal involving former MVP Ryan Braun, once the face of the franchise. Braun was suspended, fined and scorned after admitting that he’d violated Major League Baseball’s anti-drug policy and used performance-enhancing drugs, then lied about it.  

That story dominated the headlines last summer, but now Milwaukee is getting a far more flattering view of the franchise as Hank coverage saturates newscasts, the instruments of Journal Communications (Brewers’ broadcast partners along with Fox Sports) and local sports talk radio, where Hank mania has fomented a backlash.

The frenzy over Hank hasn’t stopped at the state’s borders. It’s spread far and wide, with no predictable media pathway. Hipster websites such as Deadspin.com and middlebrow articles in People magazine products have fueled the howl. Hank’s had his run around the social media infield, officially as #BallParkPup, but also with some admiring copycat Twitter feeds. And there’s no end in sight.

But Hank’s saga is not only helping to rehabilitate the Brewer’s public image, it’s also benefiting his furry brethren. The Brewers plan to donate a portion of the proceeds from tickets sales for the Sept. 13 game to the Wisconsin Humane Society’s “Hank Fund,” which helps care for stray animals. In addition to a portion of ticket sales, contributions to the fund will be made by Brewers players, according to the team.

Angela Speed, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Humane Society, had a simple explanation for the arc and momentum of the Hank story. Her take would muzzle even the most snarling cynicism.

“One little dog’s story can change a lot of hearts,” she said.

From stray to star

How did it begin?

The Hank truthers out there will never believe it, but Hank’s tale is a combination of good PR work, some savvy and kind people. Add in a bit of luck.

The Hank “creation story” was not really unlike that of other strays who have wandered into the Brewers’ spring training camp and been “adopted” in a wind-blown and economically challenged part of the Phoenix metropolis.

Unlike Milwaukee, Phoenix officials don’t enforce leash laws and strays are abundant in the wide, brutal, sun-blasted expanses. The majority of them avoid human contact.

Not so with Hank. On the morning of Feb. 17, he wandered into the premises in the morning. Arriving early, coach Ed Sedar, a “dog person,” was united with Hank by a friendly security guard, Barnes said.

After a questionably healthy meal of eggs and sausage, the dog understandably lingered. The Brewers Arizona staff, which gets little credit in the narrative, kicked into gear and saw that the dog was hurt.

In the Official Hank Hagiography, he had a black streak, a tire mark on his back that was probably the result of being chewed up and spat out after sleeping under an unmoving car. He also had injuries to his chest and tail.

Still, Hank was calm and chill. That’s what Barnes noticed on Feb. 18, when he found Hank dozing at the feet of someone in the ticket office.

The rest of the story is documented, because there happened to be national press at Brewers’ camp that day, including espn.com’s Jerry Crasnick. They responded just as Barnes thought they might after he brought the cute-as-hell pooch through the clubhouse to a ball team that raced to embrace the mutt.

Later that day, the Brewers’ committed an act of brilliant PR and put together a collection of images and video that flared an already-burning fuse.

Thanks to Barnes and the rest of his colleagues, Hank didn’t run, he galloped around the larger landscape, ensuring — well, ensuring something.

Hank was christened by Maryvale ballpark staff, who sought to honor the most famous Brewer, who played most of his career with the Milwaukee and the Atlanta Braves — the one true home-run king, Henry Aaron.

They didn’t clear the christening with Aaron before the media storm erupted. But then nobody could have predicted it.

Barnes understood Aaron’s sensitivity and said “one of his first calls” was to Aaron’s longtime assistant, whom he knew from his own time in Atlanta. Barnes was assured that Hank Aaron was full-square behind his canine namesake. (Stay tuned on that front.)

One of the Brewers’ next calls, not two days later, was to the Wisconsin Humane Society and Arizona Humane Society, which began offering help.

“We’re a baseball organization, not a place that cares for pets,” Barnes explained.

As Hank’s legend began to grow, the Brewers enacted some controls to ensure his health. (And this is not to mention the attention from the Brewers players, who, every bit of evidence shows, love that fricking dog.).

The truth of the team’s love was borne out at his bobblehead news conference in Milwaukee, where Hank spent 20 minutes with the press. Not long after a local reporter grabbed Hank without permission — perhaps hoping to win a local Emmy — the Brewers got Hank the heck out of there.

But Hank didn’t mind. The dog didn’t even bark. The Humane Society’s Speed says calmness is part of his character.

“It’s clearly evident he’s a very special dog,” Speed said. “He’s very confident. He’s not spooked by cameras or crowds. I schedule dogs for TV all the time. He truly is a special dog. To have a dog who can get off an airplane and have a crowd waiting for him and be confident about it is pretty cool and unique.”

Speed was referring to Hank’s official arrival in Milwaukee, when he was greeted at Mitchell Field exiting a chartered plane by such dignitaries as Mayor Tom Barrett, County Executive Chris Abele and others.

Standing by the jetway, Abele said, “It occurred to me at the time that Hank probably polls better than Scott Walker, Mary Burke, Tom Barrett, or me.  I understand he hasn’t yet declared for office, so for now it’s more money raised for the Wisconsin Humane Society and probably a lot more tickets sold for the Brewers. All good.”

About an hour before this reporter met Hank for the first time, I was having lunch at Miss Katie’s with a priest who ministers to the inner-city poor.

His own take was, “The reason that people like this little dog is that he represents second chances, he represents hope.”