MILWAUKEE -- For a man who dedicated his life to baseball, it is the unquestioned pinnacle.
Bud Selig considers his success in bringing Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee in 1970 his greatest individual achievement. And he remains quite satisfied with the game’s transformation that took place during his 22 years as commissioner.
But the Hall of Fame? That honor exceeded his greatest expectations.
“Very few times in my life have I been speechless, but I was speechless after getting the call from (Hall of Fame chairwoman) Jane Clark,” Selig said. “Everywhere I go, it’s all people want to talk about. It has been all I’ve thought about. I’ve already done 20 drafts of my speech. It means so much to me, in so many ways.”
How do you pack a lifetime of baseball into a 14-minute speech? Selig, who turns 83 on the day of his induction, says he will do so. The theme of his speech will be “a long journey,” and he almost certainly will get emotional delivering it, particularly upon mentioning his late parents, who always encouraged him to pursue his first love, baseball.
Selig made it his mission to bring baseball back to his hometown after the Braves bolted for Atlanta after the 1965 season. It took him five years to succeed, and there were many times along the way when he thought the battle was lost.
One week before the start of the 1970 season, Selig and his group of investors were awarded the Seattle Pilots out of bankruptcy. The Milwaukee Brewers were born.
“We were down to the end,” Selig said. “I think if Seattle filed, it was over.”
As owner of the Brewers, Selig began to gain favor and power among his peers. He never turned down a task or request, no matter how difficult. He became the logical successor when Fay Vincent was ousted as commissioner by owners in 1992, and Selig oversaw some of the game’s darkest moments, such as the cancellation of the 1994 World Series and the so-called steroid era after the turn of the century.
But Selig also guided the game to great prosperity, growing it from a $1 billion industry to $9 billion (and now $10 billion). He paved the way for increased revenue sharing, long-awaited and much-needed labor peace, expanded playoffs, interleague play and many other initiatives.
That career put Selig in the on-deck circle for Cooperstown, but he still had trouble coming to grips with the honor. He recalled a conversation with friend John Schuerholz, also elected to Cooperstown on the Today’s Game Era ballot, before an introductory media session.
“I said, ‘Johnny, think about this: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Ted Williams … and you and me’” Selig said. “He stared off into space, and I stared off into space. That was the end of the conversation. There was nothing more to say.”
Haudricourt writes for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network.