For Selig, who began his voyage with the childlike attitude that he’d someday accomplish something meaningful in life, having major-league baseball in Milwaukee was a driving force. True to his courage and vision, his mission was rooted in that conviction, which cemented his lasting legacy, not only in his hometown but throughout the industry. Selig’s passion for sports, particularly baseball, was inspired by his mother and it became quite evident from the outset. He didn’t envision himself as a celebrated athlete as most youngsters romanticized, but rather as a prolific owner, one who could influence the game itself. History documented his course in the sport as a leader and inspiration, and as one who modernized the game for generations to come.
Born on July 30, 1934, at Milwaukee’s Mount Sinai Hospital, Selig grew up in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood on 52nd Street. His parents immigrated to the United States shortly after the turn of the century as youngsters from Eastern Europe. His father, Benjamin, was from Romania, and his mother, Marie (Huber) Selig, was born in the Ukraine. They married in 1929 and raised two sons, Jerome and Allan.
Ben was a car salesman for the Mertz-Knippel Co., owned by Otto Mertz and Ray Knippel, before partnering with Ray to form Knippel-Selig Ford. Marie taught third and fourth grades at Lee Street School (later renamed Sherman School), which her sons attended. She was an avid baseball fan and took Allan, whom she called Bud, to watch the local minor-league Brewers at nearby Borchert Field or to Chicago to watch White Sox games, especially when the New York Yankees were in town. Joe DiMaggio was Bud’s boyhood idol. After attending Steuben Junior High School and Washington High School on Milwaukee’s West Side, Selig attended the University of Wisconsin/Madison.
With aspirations of becoming a college professor, Selig went on to earn a degree in history before serving a brief stint in the Army and going on to postgraduate school for an accounting degree. Instead of pursuing a career in academia, Selig worked for his father, whose business expanded and became known as the largest Ford dealership in Wisconsin.
“My father said to me at the time, “Give me a year,” Selig shared. “I was very close to both my parents, and when your father asks you to give him a year, you give it. And I did it with some trepidation. But in all honesty, he did me a great favor; though I often wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed in Madison as a history professor.”
Braves move to Milwaukee
While Selig was in college, the Boston Braves, under the ownership of Lou Perini, moved to Milwaukee where a new stadium, built to attract a major-league franchise, awaited its arrival in 1953.
As a college sophomore, Selig made a point of attending the very first Braves National League game at County Stadium, driving the 80 miles to Milwaukee from Madison. He was thrilled that his hometown had finally landed a major-league team — some 50 years after the last big-league franchise left the city for St. Louis following just one season as a charter member of the original American League.
Like many fans in Milwaukee, Selig understood what the Braves meant to the community. In 13 years in the city, the team never had a losing season, winning back-to-back National League championships in 1957 and 1958, and narrowly missing pennants in 1956 and 1959. At County Stadium the Braves were the first National League franchise to top 2 million in attendance, surpassing that number four straight seasons in the 1950s. The night the Braves clinched the National League pennant in 1957, Selig was there. He watched as Henry Aaron hit a walk-off ninth-inning home run to defeat pitcher Billy Muffett and the St. Louis Cardinals. He watched with tears in his eyes as Aaron was carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates in celebration.
In 1963 rumors of a move became fact when the Braves announced plans to shift the franchise to the greener pastures of Atlanta. By then, Selig had become the largest public shareholder, and, together with other local business and political influences, they tried to block the move. To no avail: They couldn’t control the fate of the Braves, who opened the 1966 season in Atlanta.
“I remember the last night the Braves played in Milwaukee,” Selig said. “They played the Los Angeles Dodgers at County Stadium. I was sitting (in the stands) with Ed Fitzgerald, one of my partners who was the president of Cutler Hammer, and a woman came up to us with tears streaming down her face. She said, ‘Don’t fail. You’re all we have.’ With that she walked away. I never forgot that.”
In the mid-’60s, Selig took over as owner of the dealership when his father retired, and in 1971 changed the company name to Selig Ford. He eventually switched to the Chevrolet brand while adding an automobile-leasing company.
With the Braves’ departure, Selig stood in the forefront of a seemingly improbable crusade to keep Milwaukee relevant in the eyes of major-league baseball. At the age of 30, he embarked on a new mission, organizing a group of local businessmen known as Teams, Inc. in an effort to convince the major leagues that Milwaukee was still interested in a big-league franchise. It wasn’t easy. Over a grueling five-year period, he attended every baseball function, pleaded with every executive willing to listen and debated Milwaukee’s worthiness as a potential future expansion or relocation city; his efforts resulted in nothing more than disappointment and frustration.
When expansion was finally brokered in 1968, Milwaukee’s proposal was rejected twice. Instead, Kansas City, Seattle, San Diego, and Montreal were given franchises. Refusing to accept abandonment of his dream, Selig continued to pursue other options, even the possibility of taking on an existing franchise on the brink of insolvency. That attempt was quashed, too, despite Selig and Milwaukee bailing out the Chicago White Sox organization. Teams, Inc. granted the White Sox an opportunity to play a series of games at County Stadium. Those games boosted Chicago’s overall attendance figures and helped its bottom line. Selig believed he had forged an agreement with White Sox owner Arthur Allyn to buy the struggling franchise. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn refused to allow the deal, instead accepting a last-minute offer from Allyn’s brother, John, to purchase the franchise.
Big league again
At the same time, after only one season the expansion Seattle Pilots were in financial trouble. Rumors had it that baseball was looking to move the franchise. Selig and his group focused its efforts on acquiring the team, admitting that this bid would be the last gasp for the Milwaukee group. It was a long negotiating winter. Finally, at the eleventh hour, his mission, his dream, was fulfilled.
It was punctuated by a resolution of the gavel. At 10:20 P.M. on Tuesday, March 31, 1970, Sidney Vohnn, a federal bankruptcy court referee in Seattle, ruled that Teams Inc.’s offer of $10.8 million for the Pilots “should be and is approved.”
The decision cleared the way for the new Milwaukee Brewers, a name adopted to honor the American Association team that thrived for 50 years in the community. Assuming the Pilots’ schedule and position in the American League West, the Brewers were slated to open the 1970 season on Tuesday, April 7, 1970, at 1:30 P.M. against the California Angels at County Stadium. The night before the bankruptcy ruling, moving trucks had started a trek from the Pilots’ spring training site in Tempe, Arizona, to Seattle. When the news became official, the trucks set a new course for Milwaukee. With less than a week to prepare for a major-league opener, and no time to order new uniforms and equipment, the name Pilots was stripped from every jersey and replaced with Brewers, and the “S” on every cap was replaced with an “M.” On Opening Day, sunshine and cold temperatures greeted 36,107 fans. For the first time in 1,647 days, a team came strutting out of the dugout sporting a Milwaukee uniform. Behind a complete-game effort by pitcher Andy Messersmith and a 14-hit attack, the Angels blanked the Brewers, 12-0, spoiling the debut but not the enthusiasm.
“It was the only game the Brewers ever played that I didn’t care who won,” Selig said. “That changed by the next day.”
Winning would be a tough road to navigate. In the early years, Selig realized he needed patience and guidance. Dealing with losing and trying to maintain the viability of baseball in a small market was difficult.
“My mentor in baseball was a man named John Fetzer, who was the owner of the Detroit Tigers for many years. He was a great man, a visionary,” Selig said. “He took me under his wing in 1970. He taught me the basic lesson that so many in baseball and sports never learn: that sport transcends all of us. The only way you should ever decide anything is on what’s in the best interest of baseball.”
The early years were quite lean. Even with well-known players like Ken Sanders, Dave May, and George Scott, who was the Brewers’ first $100,000 player, the best the team could do was a 76-86 finish in 1974. The following year, Selig added a legend from the Braves’ glory years.
“Through thick and thin, we had the most loyal fan base,” Selig said. “We brought back Henry Aaron to finish out his illustrious career where it started — in Milwaukee.”
While Aaron was in the twilight of his career, the Brewers introduced an 18-year-old shortstop by the name of Robin Yount, who would go on to become the longest-tenured player in franchise history and the first inducted into the Hall of Fame. After the 1977 campaign, Selig made one of the boldest moves he had ever made. In the media, it was called the “Saturday Night Massacre.” In a front-office housecleaning, Selig fired manager Alex Grammas and player development director Al Widmar, and accepted the resignation of general manager Jim Baumer. Selig then hired general manager Harry Dalton who in turn hired new manager George Bamberger. In just the first season together, what was termed the “Dalton Gang” turned the franchise from a 95-game loser into a 93-game winner that finished a strong third in the American League East.
“I remember in 1978, our first winning season, and how the fans soaked it all in with George Bamberger and the whole cast of players, who earned the nickname Bambi’s Bombers.” Selig said.
Looking to improve the Brewers’ chances at a pennant, Dalton pulled off what may be considered the greatest trade in franchise history. During the 1980 Winter Meetings in Dallas, Dalton acquired Pete Vuckovich, Rollie Fingers, and Ted Simmons. The next season, 1981, the Brewers qualified for the playoffs, though it came during a strike-shortened season.
Brewers win a pennant
Winning had become contagious, and expected, and in 1982 the Brewers reached the pinnacle of success led by hometown hero Harvey Kuenn, who took the managerial reins in June, after the team struggled out of the gate, and guided it to the American League pennant and birth in their first and only World Series appearance. Known as ‘Harvey’s Wallbangers,’ the Brewers won a major-league-best 95 games.
But the Brewers had to survive a shaky final month of the season. Entering September, they had a seemingly comfortable six-game lead in the East. But Selig knew all too well that that could quickly evaporate, especially after Rollie Fingers, the best closer in baseball, was lost for the rest of the season with a forearm injury. On top of that, Milwaukee had to play New York, Boston, and Baltimore exclusively down the stretch.
“That was a tough month,” Selig said. “We played Baltimore at County Stadium before going on that last road trip to end the season. They took two of three games and crept to within two games. The team headed to Boston but I stayed home and watched the games on television.”
One of those games from Fenway Park featured a dramatic performance by the Brewers’ backup catcher.
“In a pivotal game at Fenway, Harvey sent Ned Yost to pinch-hit in the ninth inning with the score tied and he hit the only home run he had all year,” Selig said [Yost actually entered the game in the bottom of the eighth as catcher]. “He won the game. And to this day, I remember it as if it happened yesterday. Little did Ned realize at the time that it would be a big part of Brewers lore.”
Heading into a four-game series at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium, the Brewers needed to win just once to clinch the AL East flag. Anyone who knew Selig in those days realized that he could never sit still, pacing constantly as he chain-smoked Tiparillo cigars. History will show that the Sunday showdown was a classic. No fewer than 10 future Hall of Famers played in the game, including Sutton and Palmer (who went toe-to-toe), Robin Yount and Paul Molitor for the Brewers and Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray for the O’s. In addition, Earl Weaver and Fingers were in their respective dugouts and Ford Frick Award winners Chuck Thompson and Bob Uecker handled the broadcast for their respective teams. Once at the ballpark, Selig felt compelled to visit his players in the clubhouse.
“It was the only time I spoke to the team before a ballgame,” Selig said. “I simply told them how much I loved them and admired them. We had been through a lot. That was it. Very short visit.”
But for Selig, it gave him a chance to look into their eyes. There was no fear. No signs of feeling the pressure of the magnitude of the contest. Instead, he sensed his team was as loose as one could expect before a defining moment. Selig watched the game from the owner’s box on the first-base side near the visiting dugout.
“And even though we never trailed in the game, I was nervous,” Selig said. “I’d get up and start walking in the concourse. The tension was unbelievable.”
But the Brewers prevailed, claiming the pennant by a convincing 10-2 score. And it was off to Anaheim to open the ALCS against the California Angels — the same team that had rudely welcomed the Brewers to the American League 12 years earlier. Perhaps because of a letdown after the grueling series in Baltimore, the Brewers dropped the first two games in Anaheim before returning to County Stadium, one loss away from elimination in the best-of-five series.
To Milwaukee fans, it didn’t matter. They were ready to support their team, period.
“I drove to the ballpark on that Friday and you would’ve thought we were up two games,” Selig said. “Fans were filling the parking lot, waving and having a good time. I guess that carried over to the game because we won behind Don Sutton.”
It came down to another Sunday. Another showdown. Could it be déjà vu? The stakes were high as the winner would go on to the World Series — the first for either team.
“Here we go again,” Selig said. “This time we had our crowd behind us. I think it may have been the most emotional crowd I had ever seen. From the fifth inning on you couldn’t hear yourself think. Everything you had ever hoped for was about to unfold. The Angels are very good. Don Baylor. Reggie Jackson. Brian Downing. Tommy John. So we battle. Back and forth. In the seventh inning, Cecil (Cooper) gets the big hit to put us ahead. The place is rocking. I can still see Charlie Moore and Jim Gantner sliding across the plate. We’re up one. We get through the eighth. My heart is pounding out of my chest. I think I had three cigars lit at one time. I don’t think I knew what I was doing.”
The Angels were down to their last batter in the game. Selig felt destiny was on the Brewers’ side until the announced batter strolled to the plate.
“To this day,” Selig said, “I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why does it have to be Rod Carew?’ After all these years of dreaming for this moment, why does it have to be the greatest hitter in baseball? Why couldn’t it be some stiff who can’t hit?‘”
Carew hit a sharp one-hop grounder right at short. Selig thought just two or three feet either side of the fielder and the game would’ve been tied. Instead, Yount handled it cleanly, threw across the diamond to Cooper at first base and the game was over.
“What a feeling,” Selig added. “Oh my God.”
The players were mobbed by fans who rushed the field. Selig stood on the overhang in front of the press box with his fist held high as he cheered his team’s triumph.
“Here we are champions of the American League,” Selig said. “After celebrating in the clubhouse, I drive home drained and exhausted. I sit in the den with a little black radio tuned to CBS News, and the announcement is broadcasted, ‘The 79th World Series will be between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers.’ I began to cry.”
It was the first fall classic for the Brewers — the first for Milwaukee in 25 years. The Brewers opened on the road with a convincing 10-0 win before dropping Game Two, 5-4.
Back in Milwaukee, the Brewers won two of the three games to forge ahead 3 games to 2. The team needed one more victory to clinch the championship but had to do it in St. Louis. However, there was no magic. The Cardinals won a rain-soaked Game Six, and rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the seventh inning of Game Seven to win the championship. Clearly, the plane ride back to Milwaukee was quite somber. Brewers’ Vice President Dick Hackett received a telephone call from the Chamber of Commerce during the flight. He approached Selig with a request from city leaders to stage a parade through the streets of downtown.
“We pulled out and it was unbelievable,” Selig said. “We crawled along Wisconsin Avenue. People walked up to every car to shake hands with everyone. It took us forever to get to County Stadium. And once we got there it was if there was a ballgame going on. People filled the lower grandstands. It was a very emotional day. That’s when it hit me. It said a lot about Milwaukee and what the Brewers meant to the fans.”
Selig learned a long time ago that the strife and skepticism that triggered work stoppages in the past did more harm than good to the national pastime. In 1990 something extraordinary happened when two envoys from opposite sides of the negotiating table came together to foster peace. After the seventh stoppage in 18 years, the ownership group turned to Selig to foster an accord for the good of the game. As the owner of the Brewers for 20 years, Selig gained firsthand knowledge of what he would eventually endure when he became commissioner of baseball.
Paul Molitor, the Brewers veteran third baseman who was the team’s Players Association representative, was the American League player representative at the negotiations. Weeks earlier, owner and player were able to amicably collaborate on a new contract for the future Hall of Famer to stay in one of the smallest markets in baseball. Molitor’s contract was reportedly worth $9.1 million over three years, similar to the one agreed upon months earlier by another future Hall of Famer, Robin Yount. It may have seemed odd at the time, but Selig and Molitor were back at it representing more than their own interests. Molitor sat across from Selig during the negotiations.
“To begin with, I had a great relationship with Paul,” Selig said. “The Union knew that. We were trying to find a solution to our problems.”
With both sides far apart, the lockout which began in February and lasted 32 days, wiping out virtually all of spring training. Opening Day had to be moved back a week to April 9, and because of that, the season had to be extended three additional days to accommodate a full 162-game schedule. At issue was the five-year Basic Agreement between the players and owners, which had expired entering 1990. During the buildup to the lockout, both sides spent months trying to iron out long-standing disagreements over free agency and arbitration. Player salaries had already surpassed the $3 million-a-year level as evident by the Brewers superstar players’ salaries. Understanding the seriousness of the matter, Selig and Molitor met several times privately to resolve the differences. These were thoughtful discussions behind the scenes. Afterward, many in the industry believed their deliberations were instrumental in ending the discord.
A new Basic Agreement was reached on March 19. The minimum major-league salary was raised from $68,000 to $100,000. (As of 2019 the minimum had climbed to $555,000.) The new deal wasn’t permanent but it bridged the gap for a while. Four years later, in 1994, the players went on strike. That one devastated the game. Small-market teams like the Brewers were drowning in debt with little hope of competing on a yearly basis. Yet, the union refused to budge on a salary cap.
Taking the reins
September 9, 1992, would become a momentous day in Selig’s career.
The Brewers’ Robin Yount was on the threshold of becoming only the 17th major leaguer to reach the magical 3,000-hit plateau. He needed one hit and had only one chance to accomplish the feat at home before heading on a long road trip. Some 375 miles to the south, another significant announcement was about to be made. Baseball owners had gathered in St. Louis to appoint a head to their newly formed Executive Council following the dismissal of Commissioner Fay Vincent just days earlier.
Smack-dab in the middle of both developments was Selig. The face of his franchise was on the brink of making history and he was about to become the most powerful authority in the sport.
“I’m hearing from other owners, ‘Bud, you’ve got to take over,’” Selig said. “I had no intention of becoming commissioner. I was part of a group that was trying to help us move on.”
Selig and his daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, the team’s general counsel, attended the meeting, hoping to wrap things up early so that they could fly back to Milwaukee to be on hand for Yount’s triumph.
“At the meeting, everyone agreed, whether or not I did, that I should become chairman of the Executive Council,” Selig said. “That was it. A vote was taken and it was unanimous. (Cardinals owner) Gussie Busch had a big party planned for everyone that evening but I told him that I had to get back to Milwaukee.”
Selig made arrangements for a private jet to whisk him away at a moment’s notice. Accompanying Selig and his daughter on the flight were American League President Bobby Brown and Tom Werner, managing partner of the San Diego Padres, who eventually became an owner of the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC of Britain’s Premier Soccer League. Just before departing St. Louis, Selig picked up another hitchhiker.
“Well, I couldn’t say no when he asked me, ‘Can I come with you to see Yount get his hit tonight,’” said Selig of Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush, who in less than three years would be governor of Texas and eventually the 43rd president of the United States. “He loved those special moments in the game.”
As Selig’s unmarked white van pulled up to County Stadium, home-plate umpire Rocky Roe yelled play ball. Selig and his entourage were escorted from the service level to the owner’s box adjacent to the press box on the loge level just as the Brewers came to bat in the home half of the first inning. In the seventh inning the inevitable happened — Yount lined a single to right-center field off Indians pitcher Jose Mesa. And with that, Yount’s mission was completed and Selig’s was about to begin.
“What a day,” Selig said. “It was quite an historic day.”
World Series canceled
By the summer of 1994, baseball had hit rock bottom. The players strike, which began on August 12, stopped play for 232 days — the longest ever — and it forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. Even the fall classic was lost, the first time that had happened since 1904 when John T. Brush, president of the National League champion New York Giants, refused to allow his team to compete against the Boston Americans, the representative of the American League. Selig felt the pain of his decision on September 14 to cancel the World Series. But the strike also affected the start of the 1995 season.
“That was part of my history,” Selig acknowledged. “The way I look at it is that in my career in baseball we had had eight work stoppages, and this one was the worst. I was getting slaughtered. The owners and players were getting slaughtered. Everyone.”
At the heart of the matter was the rampant increase in salaries, which jeopardized the future of many small-market franchises. The stalemate lasted right into the winter. On January 13, 1995, baseball’s Executive Council approved the use of replacement players in an attempt to salvage the 1995 season. But in March, the US District Court and the National Labor Relations Board interceded. Judge Sonia Sotomayor forced both sides to find an agreement. On March 28 the players voted to return, and three days later, Judge Sotomayor issued a preliminary injunction blocking the owners from using replacement players. According to the terms of the injunction, both sides were bound to the expired collective-bargaining agreement until a new one could be reached. The season began on April 26, and the schedule was revamped to include 144 games instead of the scheduled 162.
As a sacrificial lamb, Selig was thrown to the wolves twice, first during the 1990 lockout and then with the 1994 strike. He acknowledged it for what it did to the game and vowed to never let it happen again under his watch. And true to his word, it didn’t.
“As tough as it was and it truly did break my heart, I believe history will show that we had to go through something like that to get to where the game is today,” Selig said. “The heartbreaking pain of ’94 produced two-plus decades of labor peace which led to the greatest resurgence and growth in major-league baseball history.”
As a ramification of the gap between large- and small-market economics, franchises labeled as “fragile” had to look to the future with creative strategies in hopes of finding other revenue streams if they wanted to survive. Their options were simple: build modern ballparks that offered amenities or move to new markets. Selig was not about to move his team. For years, he lobbied for a new ballpark. County Stadium had outlived its usefulness and renovating it was not viable.
“It was such a difficult political process,” Selig said. “It was painful at times. We fought to bring a team back to Milwaukee against insurmountable odds but nothing compared to getting the new ballpark built. I don’t think people to this day understand it.”
Selig had to convince the populace and politicians alike that survival in modern major-league baseball depended on the amenities of a new stadium that would generate additional revenue streams necessary for the franchise to stay viable and competitive. By 1989, after countless discussions about where to build a new facility — with many politicians weighing in on a downtown location — a task force of the Greater Milwaukee Committee concluded that the best site remained in the Menomonee Valley, where County Stadium was situated.
“The fact of the matter is, and let the record show, there never was a downtown site,” Selig said. “That was all demagogy. But I must say, I was resolute. We were not going to fail. We got a team. We kept a team. And we were going to get a new ballpark.”
In 1992, the first true obstacles surfaced. A 400-million-year-old rock formation was discovered on the former Soldiers Home property owned by the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To compound matters, a wildflower on the state’s endangered-species list was detected in clumps near the site. Resolution took nearly two years. Finally, in 1995 the Brewers made a presentation to the Milwaukee Stadium Commission, in which they committed $90 million to help build the new ballpark. That same year the Brewers, together with Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, Milwaukee County Executive Tom Ament, and Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist formally presented an agreement that included a 30-year lease commitment.
That moved the process to Madison, where on September 28, 1995, the State Assembly voted 52 to 47 to accept the new stadium plan. In essence, the plan called for a five-county sales tax of 0.1% or roughly one penny for every $10 to help pay for the new ballpark. The five counties were Milwaukee, Racine, Ozaukee, Washington, and Waukesha. The tax would begin in 1996. It was on to the State Senate, where the deliberation bogged down. Rumors began circulating that if the Brewers couldn’t win the necessary vote, the franchise would move. Nothing was further from the truth, though it angered many politicians who thought the Brewers were trying to hold the state hostage. Despite Selig and an entourage that included Hall of Famers Henry Aaron and Robin Yount, lobbying efforts at the State Capitol twice failed to secure the necessary support in the Senate chambers. In the wee hours of the morning of October 7, a new amendment to the referendum was added and a new vote was called for. This time, with the backing of Racine Senator George Petak, who cast the deciding vote, the Senate approved the new ballpark package by a 16-to-15 count.
“Every day was a battle,” Selig said. “We finally won at 5 o’clock in the morning after an all-night session. A lot of criticism of the Brewers and its leadership was unfair. As opposed to so many other places, here was a team and an ownership desperately trying to stay.”
A week later, Governor Thompson signed legislation providing financing to help build a new ballpark and safeguard the Brewers’ future in Wisconsin.
In March of 1996, Miller Brewing Company jumped on board with a 20-year, $41.2 million pact for the naming rights. However, in June the project hit another snag when the Stadium District Board rejected the proposed financing plan. Local business leaders were upset and disappointed, fearing the Brewers would now be forced to go elsewhere. On the night of June 14, before a Brewers game against the Oakland A’s, Selig in an emotional press conference at County Stadium blamed “a polluted political environment” for creating the impasse. Truly upset with the stalemate, Selig believed it marked a significant turning point in the dialogue. In essence, it woke a sleeping giant.
“That was the day, politically, it turned around,” Selig said. “We staged the press conference in front of the ballpark. After dealing with the media following the press conference, I finally got up to my box to watch the game. The next thing I know something’s going on. I couldn’t figure it out. The crowd slowly rose and cheered but the action on the field had stopped. I finally realized, they stood and cheered me on. It must have lasted eight or nine minutes.”
Before the homestand ended, an estimated gathering of 10,000 fans attended a “We Love Ya, Bud” pep rally in the stadium parking lot. The rally called for action on construction as fans waved signs that read: “Build It Now.” The chants followed fans into County Stadium.
“It was amazing,” Selig said. “I went through the stands shaking hands and talking to fans. It took me most of the game to do so. I believe the fans helped turn things around.”
Soon after, a new financing plan was drafted and approved unanimously by the Stadium District Board, paving the way for shovels to meet dirt. Nearly 20,000 supporters looked on as Aaron and Yount joined a number of dignitaries in the official Miller Park groundbreaking ceremony on November 9, 1996. The future of major-league baseball in Milwaukee was back on schedule for a 2000 opener.
Miller Park was the largest construction project ever undertaken in Wisconsin. The initial cost to build the ballpark was nearly $400 million, with $290 million generated by the five-county sales tax. Over the next three years, construction on the new retractable-roof ballpark went seamlessly according to the timetable until tragedy struck on the sunny but windy afternoon of July 14, 1999.
It was the worst possible news. Three ironworkers were killed in a freak crane accident. The Lampson Trans-lift crane, known as “Big Blue,” collapsed attempting to position a 400-ton right-field roof panel into place. The workmen, observing and directing the “pick” from a nearby hoist bucket, were struck by the crumpled winch.
“My heart sank,” Selig said. “As quickly as I could, I drove out to the site. I didn’t know it at the time, but after spending hours at the scene, a county sheriff followed me home because he noticed how distraught I was over the death of those workers.”
The catastrophe and cleanup of the site lasted a full year. With no further incidents, the ballpark finally opened on April 6, 2001. The Brewers honored the three fallen men. A plaque and statue dedicated to them and all the workers was erected on the main plaza. And Miller Park became a jewel in Milwaukee’s economic landscape.
Selig and President George W. Bush participated in the pregame ceremony, each tossing out a first ball. The Brewers went on to earn a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds in front of 42,024 fans — the first of 17 sellouts that inaugural season. During the campaign, the Brewers drew 2,811,041 fans, an average of 34,704 per game.
With Miller Park, the Brewers have been able to surpass attendance goals never deemed possible — topping 3 million in three different seasons, and averaging nearly 2.8 million per season since its opening.
Ninth Commissioner of Baseball
As Miller Park was being built, Selig made a historic announcement involving the Brewers. As part of Phase One of Major League Baseball’s realignment plan, on November 9, 1997, the Brewers became the first team in over a century to switch leagues. The dramatic shift was part of MLB’s expansion which involved the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Brewers joined the revamped 16-team National League, slotting into the Central Division, along with new rivals in the Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, and St. Louis Cardinals.
“The Milwaukee Brewers, mindful of the city’s National League heritage, volunteered to make the switch,” Selig said. “In the end, it was so right and so logical that history will record it and ensure a brighter future.”
As the acting commissioner, Selig’s vision modernized and diversified the game. Baseball prospered. And because of that, and after a six-year search for a permanent commissioner, the owners unanimously named Selig as the ninth commissioner on July 9, 1998. He was the first owner ever elected to the post. While serving, Selig was allowed to maintain a satellite office in downtown Milwaukee at the U.S. Bank Building. He occasionally traveled to the main office on Park Avenue in New York but carried out most of his duties right at home. A month after his appointment, Wendy Selig-Prieb was officially named the Brewers new president and chief executive officer. She had previously served as the team’s vice president and general counsel. Selig’s interest in the team was placed in trust, ending his 33-year reign as president, which began with Teams, Inc.
Under Selig, the major leagues went through a number of advancements, including the introduction of interleague play, three-division leagues and the wild-card format, which added a divisional round to the playoffs. These changes spiked attendance and revenue throughout the major leagues.
In 2003 Selig changed the All-Star Game format by expanding rosters after an embarrassing conclusion to the 2002 midsummer classic, which took place, in all places, Miller Park. That game ended in a 7-7 tie because both managers, Bob Brenly and Joe Torre, had exhausted their rosters, forcing Selig to call the game after 11 innings. Not only did Selig expand future rosters, he added an incentive by which home-field advantage in the World Series would be awarded to the league that won the All-Star Game. It was a novel idea that lasted until 2017.
In his first term as commissioner, Selig guided baseball through two major expansions and spearheaded a renaissance that included several new ballparks. In addition, he prioritized the need to give baseball a more global presence, and in 2006 introduced the World Baseball Classic, in which teams from every corner of the world compete during the spring.
“It’s one of the game’s priorities to internationalize baseball,” Selig said. “We’re doing everything we can to move the sport in an international direction. I think it’s absolutely spectacular.”
By 2005 Selig had to endure another dark period in the game’s history. Anabolic steroids had polluted all sports with grave consequences. Many players in many sports were accused of using, affecting the integrity and long-standing legitimacy of the games’ records. Selig commissioned US Senator George Mitchell to conduct a 20-month investigation into the use of anabolic steroids and human growth hormones (HGH). On December 13, 2007, the 409-page Mitchell Report outlined the abuse of performance enhancing drugs by players, which outed several well-known stars.
“People say we were slow to react,” Selig said. “No we weren’t. This is a subject collectively bargained with the union. Even through the cocaine era of the 1980s, and the Pittsburgh trials, the union never agreed to testing. In 2001 we were able to put testing in the minor leagues because I could unilaterally do so and it worked. Now baseball has the toughest testing program, not only in American sports but WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) is one of the toughest anti-doping agencies ever. I’m proud of what we did. We are a social institution. Yes, I felt badly about it, but steroids wasn’t a baseball problem, it was a societal problem. But who could have ever believed that we would wind up with this kind of drug-testing program?”
The Mitchell Report provided baseball with the tools to better understand and deal with enforcing regulations on banned substances.
Despite all the trials and tribulations, Selig’s resolve to improve baseball’s bottom line was unprecedented. He inherited a $1.2 billion industry and took it to a $9 billion business. Selig was able to transform America’s pastime from its grass-roots traditions into a contemporary and energized sport of the future. His accomplishments over his 23-year tenure were many, putting his stamp on the following initiatives:
- Interleague play.
- Three divisions in the American and National Leagues.
- The institution of divisional play, first with one wild-card entrant, then later a second for each league.
- Team realignment in phases, first moving Milwaukee to the National League in 1998, followed by Houston switching to the American League in 2013, creating 15-team leagues.
- Consolidating the umpires into the commissioner’s office.
- Launching MLB.com and the MLB Network.
- The opening of 22 new ballparks.
- Revenue-sharing among teams and a competitive-balance tax.
- The expansion of All-Star Game rosters and the incentive of home-field advantage for the World Series to the league that won the game.
- Instant replay.
- An unprecedented and comprehensive drug-testing program.
- Record attendance in both leagues.
- A global attraction with the introduction of the World Baseball Classic and season openers played in Mexico, Japan, Puerto Rico, and Australia.
- Championing diversity and inclusion in all phases of the sport.
- Servicing as an outreach to major charities.
- And perhaps his greatest accomplishment, nearly a generation-long uninterrupted labor peace.
Retirement and beyond
For all that he accomplished as commissioner over a two-decade reign, Selig was most proud that the game he loved thrived in his hometown. In 2010 the Brewers showed their appreciation by dedicating a statue of Selig’s likeness on the Miller Park Plaza alongside bronze sculptures of Henry Aaron and Robin Yount that had stood like sentries since the ballpark opened.
The statue was not the first or last recognition Selig received for his lifetime in baseball. In 2002 his name was added to a plaque on the Miller Park Walk of Fame. In 2014, he joined 57 other former players, coaches, and executives of the Brewers to be enshrined on the Miller Park Wall of Honor.
After serving four terms as commissioner, Selig retired on January 25, 2015. He had served for 23 years –second longest only to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner (1920-1944). In essence, Selig had spent 51 of his 80 years in the game. Baseball rewarded Selig by naming him the first commissioner emeritus.
“When I made the decision in October of 2013, I said, ‘You’re going to be 80’ — I never dreamed that I’d work until 80 — I wanted to have a good normal transition,” Selig said. “I wanted to do what was best for baseball. And quite frankly, I was ready.”
In 2015 the Brewers invited Selig back to Miller Park to officially retire uniform number 1 in his honor. He joined the likes of Henry Aaron, Rollie Fingers, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Bob Uecker, and Jackie Robinson on the Miller Park Ring of Honor. Later that season, the Brewers unveiled Selig Experience, an exhibit at Miller Park that highlighted his career in baseball.
“It means a great deal to me,” Selig said. “It’s where I started and how I started. I never believed something like this would happen. I’m a history buff, and to share this history with all our fans, so that they can understand how this all happened, I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”
Not to be outdone, baseball had one more honor to bestow upon Selig. In 2017 a special 16-member panel of the Today’s Game Era Committee (formerly the Veterans Committee) of the National Baseball Hall of Fame voted to induct Selig and former Kansas City and Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz into the Hall of Fame. Selig was the fifth former commissioner to be voted into the Hall of Fame — the first since Happy Chandler in 1982 to actually participate in the ceremony. Other commissioners honored over the years were Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Ford C. Frick, and Bowie Kuhn.
“(It) was a high honor, to say the least,” Selig said. “I’ve looked forward to this day for a long time and I’m really honored. I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had a career in a sport that I love.”
Selig moved into a downtown Milwaukee office, decorated in memorabilia collected over a lifetime as one of the most influential figures in the history of sport. He began to fill his days doing what he initially wanted to do — teach. Selig accepted an adjunct faculty position at Marquette University Law School as a distinguished lecturer in sports law and policy. His emphasis was on the history of collective bargaining and free agency, underscoring revenue-sharing and antitrust exemptions. At the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Selig endowed the Allan H. Selig Chair in the History of Sport and Society, and lectured in a course called Baseball and American Society since World War II. Besides having a home in Milwaukee, Selig and his wife, Sue, acquired a residence in the Phoenix area. As a way to maximize his time there, he added a third academic position to his itinerary, joining the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law on the campus of Arizona State University.
Selig also started work on his memoirs. “It’s true, I’m working on a book,” Selig said. “I’m going to replay this by the year. It’ll be a great history of baseball over the last 50 years. So, I guess I’m going to stay busy for a while.”
With the help of longtime baseball writer Phil Rogers, Selig’s book entitled, For the Good of the Game was released in July 2019. The foreword was written by renowned historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Selig shaped his own retirement with dignity and grace — just as he nurtured his Brewers and guided the industry to new heights.
“You know, this all started in 1964,” he said. “As I look back I never could have dreamed my career would take me to the places I went to. I was fortunate and I’m truly grateful. It has been the highest privilege to lead our national pastime, a sport that links generations, buffers the passage of time and continues to reflect the spirit of our great country. I’ve often said this is one of those rare times in this incredible journey that I’ve been on, that a little boy’s dreams did come true. Oh, I still hear from a lot of people — players and owners alike — who just want to know how I am. I tell them, ‘I’m fine.’”
MARIO ZIINO is the director of sports publications at Delzer Lithograph Co., Waukesha, Wisconsin. He spent 25 years with the Milwaukee Brewers as the director of publications and assistant director of public relations, and has written about the Brewers for over 40 years.
Last revised: October 1, 2019
All quotes and personal background material contained in this biography were collected by the author during interviews with Selig from 1979 to 2017.
Allan H. Selig
July 30, 1934 at Milwaukee, WI (US)
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