"Baseball is a social institution," Selig said, "and as a result, has enormous social responsibilities. We have a chance to really lead in some ways that are dramatic. People follow the sport, they take their cue from the sport, they live and die with the sport."
And so Selig has pushed Major League Baseball to the forefront in its diversity efforts -- in the game, in the front office, and beyond.
Selig was honored after consideration of several programs he's helped develop in recent years. One, the Supplier Diversity Program, has worked to aggressively bring minority-owned businesses into Major League Baseball's supply chain, an effort that has already seen the league spend $400 million in those companies. Another, the Executive Development Program, has helped to bring minorities into front offices across baseball.
"I've seen the business go from addressing diversity from a very defensive position, to Bud establishing a platform of leadership," said Wendy Lewis, MLB vice president of recruitment and diversity. "He's showcasing innovation and just really sound business practices."
It's the difference between addressing diversity out of want and addressing diversity out of need. There's no question now that Major League Baseball wants to, and if Selig's new hardware is any indication, the league is doing a pretty good job.
"I want to do better, quite frankly," Selig said. "But I have confidence that will happen in years to come. We're clearly headed in the right direction. When I look around front offices now and I go from team to team, we've done very well."
That vision all started 50 years ago, when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues. And his impact still rains down upon the game today -- so much so that one mention of his name was all it took to trigger a rousing ovation throughout the halls of the United Nations.
"When Branch Rickey brought Jackie Robinson to the big leagues, from a baseball standpoint it was very important," Selig said. "From a societal standpoint, it was unbelievable. Nothing should give anybody more satisfaction than that."
Of course, not even Robinson could have anticipated this. The World Diversity Leadership Symposium is an annual summit geared toward celebrating companies that have made their mark in the fight for diversity, as well as exploring new ways to keep that battle going.
This year's conference included companies from around the US and Europe. Selig was one of eight honorees, and one of six to participate in the ensuing CEO Roundtable, a discussion of how global diversity fits into their challenges, goals and strategies.
And one of Selig's most important messages was that he's far from done. With last season's World Baseball Classic ushering in a new international arena, Selig has visions of playing everywhere from China to Japan to Israel. Having come this far in the fight for diversity, there's no way he's stopping now.
"As proud as we are of the numbers today, they'll be even better tomorrow," Selig said. "They'll be better at every level. The sport will be more popular worldwide."