Tuesday, in a truly touching ceremony outside Miller Park, Selig's statue was unveiled. It will stand on Home Plate Plaza with statues of Aaron and Yount, the central figures of Milwaukee's two baseball franchises.
Long, long before he became the Commissioner of Baseball, Selig led the struggle to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves had departed for larger media pastures in Atlanta. Tuesday, Selig remembered sitting in the stands at old County Stadium, watching the Braves' final home game in Milwaukee, when he was approached by an elderly woman in a wheelchair. The woman asked him if he was Bud Selig, and, assured that he was, she told him:
"Don't you dare fail. You're all we've got."
Selig didn't fail, as the bankrupt Seattle Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. Much later, as president of the Brewers, Selig endured a long, public, and sometimes exceedingly bitter political controversy in order to get Miller Park built.
"He never wavered," said Bob Uecker, the Brewers' Hall of Fame broadcaster, who was the master of ceremonies for the unveiling. "Some of the things that were said and written about Bud at that time were really bad. Unbelievable. But he won."
There was a star-studded cross section of sports figures on hand to honor Selig. Hall of Famers such as Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, and former Brewers Paul Molitor and Rollie Fingers, were in attendance, along with representatives of all 30 clubs, many former players from the Brewers and Braves, and leading lights from the administration of the Green Bay Packers and the University of Wisconsin. After the ceremony, Selig singled out one more individual whose presence meant a great deal to him: Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson.
Selig accepted the honor of the statue with obvious emotions, but also with a suitable degree of modesty, noting that his victories for baseball in Milwaukee were victories for the larger community. "I believe today, you are honoring the spirit of our great city and state as much as you are honoring me," the Commissioner said.
But this being a baseball gathering, the occasion was leavened with laughter. Yount talked about how Selig, as Brewers president, treated his players like members of the family. Two of Selig's favorites, Yount reported, were pitchers Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich. "I know you've done a lot for the game," Yount told Selig, "but I really thought your judgment would have been better than that."
One of the featured speakers at this event was Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-Wis.). Kohl, who is also owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, grew up on the same block in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood as Selig did and the two have been lifelong friends. Kohl recounted a story about Selig's competitive nature from a sixth-grade playground baseball championship game in which Selig brought in a pitcher Kohl described as being a foot taller than anyone else on the field, throwing so hard that his pitches could not be seen. Kohl's team had been expecting Selig's pitcher to be the much more hittable "little Freddie."
With "little Freddie" a surprising no-show, and with the alleged ringer throwing a no-hitter, Selig's team defeated Kohl's team, 9-0. "And I lament that this is the man who is the protector of the integrity of baseball," the senator said with a smile.
The idea of the statue honoring Selig came from the current Brewers ownership. Attanasio said he was always looking for ways to "celebrate the tradition of the Brewers," and that memorializing Selig's contributions in the form of a statue seemed a highly logical way to proceed.
The statue, by the same sculptor who created the statues of Aaron and Yount, is of a Bud Selig much younger than today's Commissioner, in his day-at-the-office attire. He is holding a baseball in his right hand. It is a favorable likeness. Selig said he liked it very much, especially considering: "The guy didn't have very much to work with because I've never been confused with Clark Gable."
At the end of the ceremony, Uecker, thanked all the participants, congratulated Selig, looked at the newly unveiled statue and said:
"Now, we've got to figure out how to pay for this. Maybe we could pass the hat ..."
That payment has doubtless been taken care of by the local baseball franchise. If the intent was to honor someone truly deserving, the choice of Bud Selig was completely appropriate. Bud Selig's statue outside the ballpark he fought to build, home of the baseball team he fought to bring to Milwaukee in the first place, is fitting. Aaron and Yount -- "The Hammer" and "The Kid" -- were the cornerstones of two separate generations, two separate franchises of Milwaukee baseball. Bud Selig made sure that there was Milwaukee baseball.
The last word on this should go to Henry Aaron, who is not only a baseball hero, but a hero in the larger American society. "Bud Selig is my hero," Aaron said. "He has taken baseball to a far better place than he found it."