Commissioner Emeritus and former Brewers owner 'breathes baseball'
By Megan Zahneis
In 1990, Bud Selig, then the majority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, traveled to New York to represent his fellow owners on "Meet the Press" amid a league-wide lockout. There to meet him was longtime Major League Baseball public-relations director Rich Levin. As a representative of Selig's boss, then-Commissioner Fay Vincent, Levin accompanied Selig on set.
"Well?" Selig asked Levin after his appearance. "How'd I do?"
"Really good," said Levin. "I'd give you a B-plus."
"B-plus?" Selig said with mock incredulity. "I've never had less than an A in my life."
That proclivity for perfection was thanks to Selig's mother Marie, a schoolteacher, from whom he'd inherited a devotion to academics and baseball.
And as it turned out, both mother and son landed in the perfect profession for them, as Selig will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., today.
MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- begins with MLB Tonight today at 11 a.m. CT, followed by the ceremony at 12:30 p.m. CT. Prior to today's live coverage, you can watch a rebroadcast of the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 10 a.m. CT on MLB Network. It features Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers), and the posthumous honoring of Bill King (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters). The presentation will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the film, "A League of Their Own."
"My father is very fortunate that his vocation and avocation are one and the same," Bud Selig's daughter, Wendy Selig-Prieb, said. "There is no question that my father eats, lives, sleeps, breathes baseball."
Baseball, Selig-Prieb said, and not much else. Selig is notorious for keeping his lifestyle simple. His days begin with a banana for breakfast, followed by a 55-minute stint on a stationary exercise bike in his basement. That habit is especially important to Selig, who's even gone so far as to have stationary bikes installed in his hotel rooms when the job took him outside of Milwaukee. He'll proudly recite his record riding streak (3,062 days, or well over eight years, which came to an unfortunate end when Selig suffered a stress fracture in his foot) and his current number (163).
After putting in his workout and a morning's work, Selig stops at Gilles Frozen Custard about two miles west of Miller Park for a hot dog (with a liberal dose of ketchup) and a Diet Coke. Every afternoon, he visits the car dealership he owns -- delivering corned beef sandwiches to the sales department on Saturdays -- and he reports to Tony Lococo's Hair World each Friday afternoon to have his hair cut.
"My father is a creature of habit to the nth degree. Tell me the day and time of day, and I can tell you exactly where he is," Selig-Prieb said. "He doesn't want to figure out where to go to lunch, what to eat. He'll just get his hot dog and Diet Coke, thank you.
"That works for him. He keeps his life pretty simple, because the stuff he is dealing with isn't simple."
Michael Bauman, a longtime baseball writer who covered Selig at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and for MLB.com, first knew Selig as the buoyant young Brewers owner who'd brought a franchise to town as a show of love for the sport and the city.
Every day, Bauman said, Selig would venture into the press box to chat up the local writers and even the visiting scribes, all of whom he knew by name.
"No other owners did this," Bauman said. "He came on as a human being, as opposed to some potentate. He was more like the guy next door, like the guy sitting in the seat next to you."
Selig did something else that was uncommon at the time: talk to reporters about what they wrote about his club.
"Bud was the type of person that if he disagreed with something [you wrote]," Bauman said, "he would call up and have a lively discussion with you about it. There were no grudges held, and I appreciated that about him."
Grudges, no, but Bauman and his colleagues knew Selig's penchant for intensity well. Selig's pacing up and down County Stadium's loge level during tight Brewers games, Bauman said, was "a matter of public record." And Lori Keck, Selig's assistant of nearly 40 years, admits to hearing a few slammed doors and choice words coming from the corner office.
What Keck, who served as an assistant to legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi before joining Selig's office, remembers more is her boss' capacity for empathy.
Keck hasn't forgotten the day in 1989 when Selig's predecessor and mentor, former Commissioner Bart Giamatti, died at age 51 of a heart attack.
Selig, she said, simply closed his office door and sobbed.
"I don't think I had ever heard a man cry like that," Keck said.
Keck remembers another time marked by tears -- Oct. 20, 1982, hours after Selig's Brewers lost Game 7 of the World Series to the St. Louis Cardinals, having surrendered a 3-2 series lead.
This time, though, Selig was the one doing the comforting.
"We were all so sure we were going to win," Keck said. "Everybody on that plane was crying, including the players. He just went around to every person to make sure that they were OK, he comforted them.
"This was his goal, his entire lifetime, to win a World Series. And we had just lost it. Instead of him huddled in a corner, he was going around making sure everyone else was OK. That's what he did with everything."
These days, Selig co-teaches a course titled "Baseball in American Society Since World War II" at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, his alma mater. He's pretty good at that, too -- history professor David McDonald said students regularly write in course evaluations that Selig's is the best class they've ever taken.
The course is an upper-level seminar that meets for two hours every Tuesday to discuss topics ranging from franchise expansion and movement to race in baseball, media coverage and performance-enhancing drugs.
It's fitting that Selig's professorial specialty is the societal nature of the sport, since he's well-known for his philosophy that baseball is a social institution. And he, more than any before him, willed baseball to live up to that philosophy.
Under his stewardship, Major League Baseball began administering the Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, partnered with the Boys & Girls Club of America and started the "Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life" program. The league retired Jackie Robinson's No. 42 in 1997, launched MLB Advanced Media (MLB.com) in 2000 and was one of the founding funders of the Stand Up To Cancer (SU2C) in '08.
And it was Selig who led the national pastime through one of the worst days in the nation's history: Sept. 11, 2001. And it was Selig who watched from a Yankee Stadium box as, less than two months after the Twin Towers fell, President George W. Bush delivered a ceremonial first pitch -- a strike -- before Game 3 of the World Series as the fans chanted "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A."
"Anyone running a team or a league, or the whole game, was basically a custodian to the game," Bauman said. "It wasn't your game. You had an obligation not only to the current people but to generations to come, to preserve and maintain and protect it. And I think that Bud always kept that in mind.
"I think Bud was successful in doing what he set out to do. Nobody's perfect. There are going to be drawbacks with every administration in baseball, and in life. But Bud had an idea of what he wanted to achieve, and what he wanted to achieve was essentially good for the game. And he succeeded at that. Unbalanced, as objectively as possible, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."
Megan Zahneis is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.