Brewers unveil plans for 'Selig Experience'
State-of-the-art exhibit at Miller Park will pay tribute to retiring Commissioner
MILWAUKEE -- Allan H. "Bud" Selig was going to be a history professor before baseball stole his heart, so the Brewers' latest tribute to their founder was right on the mark.
The "Selig Experience," to open at Miller Park during the 2015 season, will be a 1,400-square-foot year-round attraction anchored by a 3D video presentation depicting Selig's start in the game and tenure as Brewers owner. At the center of that story is Selig's campaign to bring big league baseball back to Milwaukee in 1970, and his parts of three decades at County Stadium before ascending to the Major League Baseball Commissioner's Office.
"I'm grateful, because what if I'd failed?" said Selig, who is retiring as Commissioner next month. "None of us would be here today. None of this would ever happen. You think of all the lives impacted, and I'm just grateful to be a part of it."
The exhibit will be constructed on the loge level inside Miller Park, and it will be free to fans. It will be open during home games, accessible in the offseason during ballpark tours and available for some private events. Brewers COO Rick Schlesinger said the club is aiming for a grand opening in May or June.
It is part of the Brewers' ongoing effort to honor their founder as he prepares to step down as Commissioner. A statue of Selig already stands outside Miller Park, and in September, the Brewers said they would forever retire the No. 1 in his honor.
"Because of him, we are here," Schlesinger said. "I just thought it was a great story. ... There's great highs, great lows, and there's one constant -- the Commissioner who refused to be beaten."
Schlesinger conceived the idea for the mini-museum during a visit to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, where he was "mesmerized" by a multimedia exhibit depicting Lincoln's life. Schlesinger learned that it had been developed by BRC Imagination Arts, which will now work with the Brewers and Selig in the coming months to develop a show that builds to a 3D encounter with Selig himself, inside an authentic reproduction of his County Stadium office. It uses a technology found in only a handful of exhibits around the world.
After the show, fans can tour Selig's old office for themselves (it was general manager Doug Melvin's idea to reconstruct the space, Schlesinger said). Selig joked Monday that those fans should watch out for falling water.
"It was not much," Selig said. "In fact, when other baseball executives would come for a visit, they were shocked. But a lot of history happened there."
Selig, 80, was born and raised in Milwaukee and has remained there throughout his tenure as MLB Commissioner. As a boy, he followed the old Milwaukee Brewers Minor League team and the Chicago Cubs before falling in love with the Milwaukee Braves, who called County Stadium home from 1953-65 before leaving for Atlanta.
Selig was heartbroken when the Braves departed, so he formed an organization set on bringing Major League Baseball back.
"It was a tough 5 1/2 years with a lot of rejection, a lot of sadness," he said, recounting the stories of being passed over when Major League Baseball expanded by four teams in 1969, and having an agreement to buy the White Sox scuttled at the last moment. "Then, the ultimate happened."
At 10:15 p.m. CT on March 31, 1970, Selig got the news from Milwaukee Sentinel sports editor Lloyd Larsen.
"You got it!" Larsen said, and hung up the phone.
Ten minutes later, Selig's lawyers called.
"You've been beaten to the punch," he told them.
A bankruptcy court had awarded the Seattle Pilots franchise to Selig and his investors. Eight days later, they arrived in Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Selig had one employee that day, an administrative assistant named Betty Grant who would run the Brewers' switchboard until 2003. The Brewers' payroll in 1970, Selig said, was $3 million.
"The thing I will always be proudest of is bringing a team back here," Selig said. "Nothing will ever give me the satisfaction that this did."
Forty-four years later, Selig is preparing for the next chapter of his career. He said he will write a book, and will continue to teach at Marquette University and at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Selig said Monday that it remains to be seen whether he will continue to consult with incoming MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.
"A lot of [the game] has changed, but the best part of it all -- a lot hasn't changed," Selig said. "It's still the best game in the world, still makes the same meaningful contributions, still means so much to so many people."