COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bud Selig told the story of an evening in Washington, D.C., in 2005 when he and Henry Aaron were taking a walk after dinner. At some point during the stroll, Aaron stopped and talked about the amazing lives both men had led since they first met in
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Bud Selig told the story of an evening in Washington, D.C., in 2005 when he and Henry Aaron were taking a walk after dinner. At some point during the stroll, Aaron stopped and talked about the amazing lives both men had led since they first met in the '50s in Milwaukee.
"Who would have thought back then that I'd break Babe Ruth's home run record and you'd become Commissioner?" Aaron said.
On Sunday afternoon, Aaron, seated with 49 other returning Hall of Famers, watched happily as his friend of more than 50 years was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
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Selig -- along with former players Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez and former Braves and Royals general manager John Schuerholz -- was honored for a career in baseball that spanned more than 50 years, from ownership of the Brewers to 22 years as baseball's ninth Commissioner. He now has the title of Commissioner Emeritus.
During those 22 years, he led a transformation of the game that included labor peace, a technological revolution, competitive balance and a host of other changes.
He remembered Aaron's words as he still grappled for words to put baseball's highest honor into context. He showered praise on Commissioner Rob Manfred and on other Major League Baseball executives, including Bob Bowman's work in the explosive growth of MLB Advanced Media and Tony Petitti leading the start of the MLB Network.
And there was Aaron.
"My friend of 59 years," Selig said, "and one of the best and most decent and dignified people I have ever known."
Selig also thanked his former players, including two former Brewers, Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers, who were seated behind him.
His overarching theme was that everything he'd accomplished had come from working together, players and owners alike pulling in the same direction.
He'd originally gotten into baseball to keep the Braves from leaving Milwaukee after the 1965 season. When they did move, he poured himself into bringing the sport back to his hometown.
He called the day the Brewers played their first game in Milwaukee in 1970 "my greatest accomplishment in baseball."
Which began what he calls "this journey."
"In many ways, baseball has been my life," he said. "I was able to do something I loved every day with great passion. I loved the baseball life. I loved living and dying with each game. I loved watching players come in as nervous rookies and grow and mature, to become winners in all sorts of ways. And to take their place on this stage.
"I loved getting to know everybody -- the field managers and the ticket managers; the players and the scouts; the sportswriters and the fans."
He detailed how baseball went from a sport beset by labor stress -- eight work stoppages, including cancellation of the 1994 World Series -- to the explosive growth and cooperation of today.
"Success comes from working together," he said. "The unprecedented success we have achieved over these past 25 years has come from ending the divide, from building harmony and from working as one for the good of the game."
He praised Michael Weiner, the late executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, saying, "Michael was a man of principle, a man of intellect and a man of vision. The progress that we made in labor would not have been possible without him."
Selig spoke with pride of retiring Jackie Robinson's No. 42 and of honoring him every season on the anniversary of his first game.
"His breaking of baseball's color line did not just change a sport; it changed our country," Selig said. "April 15, 1947, remains the single most important day in baseball history."
Afterward, Selig was asked about the experience of going from being the person who handed out Hall of Fame plaques for 22 years to getting one himself.
"Everybody kept asking me how I felt," he said. "I've given thousands of speeches in all kinds of circumstances. I kept trying to insist I wasn't nervous, but I was tense. That's one of my answers that if you think about it, it doesn't make a lot of sense. I made myself feel better.
"It's overwhelming. You sit up there, and you're getting the highest honor baseball can award. Was I nervous? Yes, I can admit I was. It's an overpowering feeling."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.