For Selig, passion for game a constant
Former Commissioner settling back into life as a fan after passing the baton
When Bud Selig isn't walking around his longtime Milwaukee neighborhood, stretching his 80-year-old legs while listening through his headphones to any baseball news he can find, he is watching 15 games a day. You know, when all 30 Major League teams are playing.
"I'm at home, and I have a little clicker, and I have a satellite, and I go from game to game," said the Commissioner Emeritus of Baseball, sharing his routine as just another fan.
Well, Selig isn't just any fan. He spent more than two decades as the Commissioner, and he is four months into a retirement that doesn't exist. He teaches a history course at the University of Wisconsin, his alma mater, called "Baseball and American Society since World World II." Mostly, despite transferring his ultimate power in the game to Rob Manfred, he always is available to give his advice to his successor when asked.
That means Selig is far from your average guy dreaming of snagging a foul ball some day from the bleachers.
Selig is that guy in spirit, though.
"I've watched so many baseball games through the years that it's just part of my existence," Selig said. "Oh, it's fun. My wife will watch with me on occasion, but it's usually just me watching the game."
Selig said he has been known to get a little excited at times while studying this baseball moment or that one.
"I don't shout much, but I do mumble," Selig said. "Believe me, I will do that. Other than that, I may say on occasion, 'What the heck is going on here?' That's when things aren't going the way I like them to go."
Selig was speaking about "things" on the diamond, not in his life. Especially not his baseball life, because that has been an intriguing story.
I witnessed many of the middle chapters of that story, and this was when I knew Selig before I formally knew him. If you lived in Milwaukee during the early 1970s when my family and I moved to town, everybody in Wisconsin knew Allan Huber "Bud" Selig. He was woven into the fabric of the state. He owned the Brewers, and he was on the board of directors of the Green Bay Packers. His roommate at the University of Wisconsin was Herb Kohl, who became a U.S. Senator and the owner of the Milwaukee Bucks. Among Selig's best friends was Hank Aaron, which made sense. Aaron began his pro baseball career in Eau Claire, Wis., before he joined the big league Milwaukee Braves.
If Selig wasn't the state's No. 1 fan of Aaron, the Milwaukee Braves and baseball, then nobody in Wisconsin likes cheese.
Selig breathed all things Braves during their stay in his native Milwaukee from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. When they left for Atlanta after the 1965 season, he got the White Sox to play games at old Milwaukee County Stadium. He eventually convinced baseball to allow the troubled Seattle Pilots franchise to become the Brewers before the 1970 season.
I began knowing Selig for real during his journey from original owner of the Brewers to acting Commissioner in 1992 to full-time Commissioner from '98 through his retirement in January. Through it all, Selig never left Milwaukee as his primary residence. So here's what I want to know: Has Selig gone back to the future as Wisconsin's staunchest baseball fan?
"Well, that's the first thing people always ask me, and then they say, 'Now you can openly root for the Brewers,'" said Selig, with a sigh after a pause. "But I'm still careful that way."
Courtesy of such an approach, Selig earned a reputation among his peers as impartial. Before long, he did something that his predecessors couldn't do, and that is, he got his fellow owners to come to a consensus on a slew of issues. He also was able to do the same with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Interleague Play. From two divisions to three, with Wild Cards in the playoffs. A replay system, and then an expanded replay system. The toughest drug-testing program in pro sports. A lasting peace between management and labor.
That said, Selig wasn't careful about saying this ...
"I am a fan, and I enjoy the game immensely," Selig said, adding that he was particularly fond of the retired Derek Jeter, but that he now enjoys the influx of young talented players such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and others. "I'm very proud of what we've done [in baseball during my commissionership], and I've said this even back in the '50s. Unless you have passion for something, you shouldn't do it. I was fortunate. I do have a passion for baseball. Certainly everybody in Milwaukee knows it."
Yes, they do, and now they have what they call "The Selig Experience" at the same Miller Park that Selig built for the Brewers. The "Experience" opened last week as a high-tech exhibit that uses multimedia to describe how Selig saved Major League Baseball in Wisconsin. It features a 3D version of Selig in his old Milwaukee County Stadium office, and the highlights include Aaron slamming his National League pennant-clinching home run in 1957. Video: Robin Yount on the 'Selig Experience' at Miller Park
"You know, it was just unbelievable when they opened 'The Selig Experience' last week, because sitting right next to me was Henry [Aaron], and right behind me was Robin Yount," Selig said, referring to two Baseball Hall of Famers with Milwaukee connections. "I'm telling you. I wish you could have seen [Aaron's and Yount's] emotion while watching this thing. I do have a passion for baseball, and if you watch 'The Selig Experience,' I wouldn't have to tell you too much more."
Actually, I've watched something better than "The Selig Experience" to see Selig's passion for baseball.
I've watched Selig.