Bud Selig, once commissioner, has become a big fan of brewers again
MILWAUKEE – This is surely one of the few lakeside office suites in Milwaukee where the water view is relegated to a secondary role. To see Lake Michigan from there, you must first navigate the Bud Selig Baseball Museum.
A bench made of bats and bases. A 75th anniversary poster scribbled by Berra and Brock and Feller and Killebrew. Brewers memorabilia galore, a Joe DiMaggio magazine cover, a Robin Yount painting, a Joe Morgan jersey, a wall for Jackie Robinson. A huge baseball mat, with Selig’s signature.
Eventually you’ll reach Selig himself – the former baseball commissioner who at one point or another, and maybe all at once, maybe you thought to rekindle baseball, ruin baseball, and be all that. who could be good and bad in baseball. He was there this week, at 87, still watching sport which is no longer his problem but remains his obsession.
“There is just something about the game that has fascinated me my entire life,” he said on Thursday, his eyes seeming to move every few seconds towards the White Sox-Astros game and his voice calling out sometimes. action between sips of Diet Coke.
“For its flaws,” he said, “it’s still the best game in the world.”
Many reminders of the history of the game in Milwaukee appear here now. The Braves – the former Milwaukee franchise – and the Brewers – the home club since 1970 – will hold their first postseason reunion on Friday, when they start a National League division series. 40 years ago this week, the Brewers made their playoff debut. The legacy of Henry Aaron, who passed away this year and beloved in Atlanta and Milwaukee as Brave and Brewer, lurks.
And, like it or not, Selig’s too.
Before his 22+ years at the helm of Major League Baseball, he brought baseball back to Milwaukee and kept a small market franchise afloat during an entirely different economic era for the sport. He helped protect clubs like Milwaukee during his tenure. Now commissioner emeritus, the role baseball bestowed upon his retirement in 2015, Selig said he chats with current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio just about every day during the season.
He chats with fans, watches a dozen games a night during the regular season, and manages to equally revere the sport and complain about it. (“I can live with it,” the Hall of Fame said with a hint of regret as he contemplated his recent acceptance of how extra innings now start with a runner on second base.)
As it turns out, the life of a former commissioner who can’t quite get away from it all can mimic, say, that of a former president: sustained service as a landmark, partly a mascot, in part advisor, part heritage polisher.
As he nears a seven-year hiatus, Selig knows arguments persist about the loopholes that should apply to everything from the work stoppage that killed the 1994 World Series to the steroids that gave the game the game. reputation for being a cheater’s paradise.
On Thursday, as in his memoirs from 2019, he defended his record. The players’ union, he insisted as usual, was very often the problem, not the baseball owners or the commissioner they empowered.
“I know what people have said, and now that I’m a history teacher I watch people try to revise history and I’m fascinated by that,” said Selig, whose days include teaching history. ‘a seminar, “Baseball and Society from World War II,” at the University of Wisconsin, its alma mater.
(A 2007 report on Steroids in Baseball, commissioned by MLB and prepared by former Senator George J. Mitchell, concluded that “the effect of the Players Association opposition was to delay the adoption of mandatory random drug testing. “for nearly two decades, but that there had been” a collective failure to recognize the problem as it appeared and deal with it from the start. “)
Drug use has become an overwhelming crisis for MLB, but the backpack of problems in front of Commissioner Rob Manfred may seem familiar to the one Selig had in his day.
The collective agreement is due to expire on December 1, and questions arise as to when a new agreement could come to fruition. There is the lingering conundrum of how to make a slow-paced sport attractive in a fast-paced world. The size of the playoffs, which could affect revenue and the length of the season, is under discussion, with many predicting that it will move from the 10-team format built by Selig to a 14 or 16-team design.
In public, at least, Selig largely keeps his thoughts to himself and expresses his trust in Manfred.
“I hated it when other people expressed their opinions without studying them,” Selig said in response to a playoff expansion inquiry. “I like this system as it is. If anyone has a better system, fine. I think it worked really well.
He was much less reserved about this year’s grief.
Selig had just passed his first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on a Friday in January, when at around 9 a.m. his cell phone rang. Looking back, he said, he should have realized that something was wrong when he answered.
Aaron was dead.
Selig’s twice-weekly conversation partner for decades had disappeared 47 years after Selig orchestrated Aaron’s return to Milwaukee, and long after, Aaron will note how a black child from Alabama and a Jewish boy from Milwaukee had grew up to be two of baseball’s most influential people.
“I miss him a lot,” said Selig, who called Aaron by his first name instead of “Hank,” said between pauses. “We talked about everything. There are times we would go back and talk about the ’57 Braves and how they beat the Yankees and that guy and that guy. “
A few more breaks.
“It was a void,” he finally said, “a void in my life. “
Aaron, he said, would surely have found thrills in the series between Atlanta and Milwaukee. And while Selig, who does little to hide his joy at being able to openly cheer on the Brewers once again, said he doesn’t go to the stadium as often anymore, he plans to attend Games 1 and 2 before. the show’s move to Atlanta on Monday.
He wouldn’t predict an outcome except this one: “This club goes as far as the pitcher takes it.”
Much like, he suggested, the 1982 Brewers who reached but lost the World Series in seven games against St. Louis.
Even now, he’s still browsing the list, always looking back on Milwaukee’s greatest moments, still selling baseball in a place that both loves the game and exhibits its fragility.
The 1982 Brewers were “a wonderful team, it’s been a great year,” he said to begin a monologue shortly after one of his routine visits to Milwaukee’s oldest custard stand. “Not that I’m a sore loser, but if we don’t lose Rollie Fingers we’ll beat the Cardinals in ’82, and there’s no question about that; I even got Whitey Herzog to admit this at one point. But that’s what it is. When you think of this team, there have been some great days here in Milwaukee. We had five Hall of Fame members on this team. Think about it: Yount, Molitor, Sutton, Simmons and Fingers; it’s rather good.”
He continues, of course, because the subject, all decades later, is baseball in Milwaukee.