NEW YORK -- In the more than two decades Bud Selig has been Commissioner of Major League Baseball, the landscape has been dramatically transformed. There is labor peace and, not coincidentally, record attendance and revenues. New stadiums have sprouted. Wild Cards and Interleague Play have been introduced. The World Baseball Classic has made baseball a global industry.
And none of that had anything to do with why Selig was at the St. Regis Hotel on Thursday night to accept the B'nai B'rith International 2013 Distinguished Humanitarian Award.
The Commissioner talks often about the sport's role as a social institution. And it's not just words. There are Urban Youth Academies and the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. There is Stand Up 2 Cancer, not to mention the Mother's Day breast cancer and Father's Day prostate cancer initiatives and skin cancer awareness.
There are programs to support veterans and the Boys & Girls Clubs. There is rapid response to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. The Commissioner's Community Initiative. The Hank Aaron Chasing the Dream Foundation. P.L.A.Y (promoting active lifestyles for kids). Lou Gehrig's Disease research. And so much more.
That's why Selig was honored before an audience of baseball dignitaries including pioneer Jackie Robinson's daughter, Sharon, and former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now MLB's executive vice-president of baseball operations.
"The words of Jackie Robinson remind us that a life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives," Selig said. "Our game serves as a common bond for millions of fans, giving us a unique platform that enables us to touch our communities in significant ways. In the memory of Jackie Robinson, we honestly strive to make an impact on our fans and the causes they care about."
In a 15-minute acceptance speech, Selig quoted not only Robinson but former President Woodrow Wilson, playwright George Bernard Shaw, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Disney. The common theme was taken from the 20th President: To whom much is given, much is expected.
"The last decade has represented a Golden Age for this sport. In turn, that prosperity has created a remarkable opportunity for us to support organizations in the name of the betterment of our society. Major League Baseball is honored that our game is in a position to make an impact on the lives of others. Make no mistake, we are grateful for that distinction every single day," he explained.
"President Wilson said, 'You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable to make the world live more happily, with greater vision with a clear spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget that.'
"We use our platforms to promote diversity and tolerance and to raise awareness on issues that demand our attention. We respond to crises and disasters ... knowing we have the influence to set an example for others. Baseball instills life values. Sportsmanship. The importance of day in and day out effort. We are living up to our stature as a social institution with many important responsibilities away from our green fields and blue skies."
Robinson, accompanied by her mother Rachel, and Torre made the introductory comments.
"Baseball remains our society's foremost common thread," Sharon Robinson said. "And the Commissioner has made the most of his chance to make a difference through its hallowed stature. I'm so pleased that his cognizance of the game's potential to be a force for good, has led to such a strong spirit of service and breadth of activities that have helped the lives of others. He has impressed on all 30 Major League clubs that their most remarkable opportunity is not on the diamond but within their communities and in the lives of the fans who support them."
Torre noted that Major League Baseball has been a strong supporter of his Safe at Home Foundation, which deals with domestic violence.
"The work he has done with baseball, through baseball, honoring our children, our veterans, battling cancer, victims of disaster. There are so many efforts that baseball has been a part of and supported," he said.
Allan J. Jacobs, president of B'nai B'rith, said Selig "has made the great game of baseball synonymous with care and compassion." The inscription on the award references "outstanding commitment to community service and philanthropic leadership."
That's why Selig was honored Thursday night.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com.