Owning His Dream Team

Times Staff Writer

Ever since he was a boy growing up in the Bronx, Mark L. Attanasio has been immersed in baseball.

He spent much of his childhood memorizing trivia from the Baseball Encyclopedia and playing whiffle ball with his brother in a church parking lot. Later in life, while making his fortune in junk bonds, Attanasio relaxed with rotisserie baseball, spending hours carefully picking players and strategies for his fantasy team.

Now, at age 47, Attanasio has a real team to run.

The Milwaukee Brewers said last week that they would accept the Los Angeles money manager's offer to buy the team from the family of baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for an estimated $200 million.

"It's wild," said younger brother Paul Attanasio, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter who has penned such movies as "Quiz Show" and "Donnie Brasco." "I grew up with my brother flipping baseball cards and now he's buying a Major League Baseball team -- it's an American dream."

Through his spokesman, Mark Attanasio declined to comment, citing the fact that the Brewers sale isn't final.

Although baseball is new for him as a business, Attanasio is no stranger to big-dollar deals. He manages about $10 billion in high-yield bonds, distressed debt and other exotic financings as a chief investment officer at TCW Group Inc., a Los Angeles money management firm that handles nearly $100 billion for wealthy individuals and corporate clients.

Friends said Attanasio's experience as an investor in tracking down undervalued assets and turning them into winners could be applied to the Brewers, a sad-sack franchise that began life in 1969 as the Seattle Pilots and has suffered a string of 12 straight losing seasons -- including a last-place finish this year in the National League's Central Division.

"He talks about baseball like he talks about his business, with great knowledge," said Antony Ressler, a co-founder of Los Angeles private equity firm Ares Management, who has known Attanasio since the 1980s. "Knowing Mark, he will add great value to the Brewer team."

The locals certainly hope so. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist penned an open letter to Attanasio late last month, requesting that the team's prospective new owner "do three things: Spend, spend and spend."

Although Attanasio has never lived in Milwaukee, his other brother, Robert, is married to the former Lee Stein, who grew up there. Her parents, Joan and Jack Stein, own Milwaukee-based Stein Garden and Gifts, a chain of garden supply stores.

It seems unlikely that Attanasio will relocate to Milwaukee, given his high-profile job at TCW. Still, associates anticipate that he will be active in the local community and might buy a residence there.

Marc I. Stern, a top executive at TCW, said he firmly believed that Attanasio would be able to handle his duties at the firm as well as the job of Major League team owner. He predicted that Attanasio would delegate some of his ballclub duties to a competent general manager.

"He's a good judge of corporate managers, and I know he will be a good judge of who should be a general manager for that team," Stern said.

Attanasio joined TCW in 1995 when it bought Crescent Capital Corp., an investment firm he co-founded in the early 1990s after leaving the defunct investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, where he had worked in the high yield and investment banking departments in Beverly Hills.

Already successful, Attanasio became very wealthy in 2001 when French banking giant Societe Generale bought a majority interest in TCW for more than $1.3 billion. Several colleagues close to Attanasio speculated that gains from that transaction were going into the Brewers deal.

In 2001, Attanasio was named to the board of Global Crossing Ltd., which filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2002 amid an accounting scandal. Along with other Global Crossing directors, he was named a defendant in subsequent shareholder lawsuits. All of the suits filed against Attanasio have been settled, although some of the settlements are awaiting court approval, his spokesman said.

Attanasio lives with his wife, Debbie, and two sons in Brentwood. They also own a second home, valued at more than $6.5 million, in Malibu's exclusive Broad Beach area, where celebrities such as Goldie Hawn, Steven Spielberg and Dustin Hoffman also have homes.

Much of his family is close by. Not only does younger brother Paul live in Los Angeles, but Attanasio's parents, Joseph and Connie, moved to L.A. to be closer to their grandchildren.

Attanasio has been active in charitable activities around town. He's a board member of Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental group, and is involved in the Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular, an annual sports awards dinner that raises money for the hospital.

It's a life far from Attanasio's middle-class upbringing in the Bronx, his brother said. Attanasio's father was a trained engineer who owned a series of small businesses and was able to eventually put four children through private colleges. Mark earned his undergraduate degree at Brown University in Providence, R.I., and a law degree from Columbia University School of Law.

The Attanasio brothers spent their time as children playing baseball-related board games, such as "Challenge the Yankees." Mark, especially, was adept at calculating scores in his head.

Although the brothers didn't go often to the real games nearby, Mark became an avid fan of the New York Yankees.

"Now," said Paul, "he's got a real team."

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