Bringing baseball back to Milwaukee signature moment for former Commissioner
By Richard Justice
Bud Selig's telephone rang at 10:15 p.m. on March 31, 1970. He remembers the call lasting only a few minutes. Selig had spent four and a half years working toward that moment, and when it finally happened, he didn't know how to react.
"At first, you're so happy," he remembered. "And then it's overwhelming."
What changed that day? First, the Milwaukee Brewers were born as the Seattle Pilots won approval to move to Selig's hometown. He'd worked relentlessly to get baseball back in Milwaukee since the Braves moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta after the 1965 season.
What no one could have known at the time was the impact that telephone call would have on Major League Baseball. Selig ran the Brewers for 28 years, including the last six in which he also served as chairman of baseball's executive committee.
He was, in effect, temporary commissioner before getting the job full-time in 1998 and serving until Jan. 24, 2015. In that time, he led a baseball renaissance that included 20 years of labor peace, technological advances, record-breaking attendance and competitive balance.
Now, two and a half years after he retired and Rob Manfred became Commissioner, Selig is preparing for the highest honor a baseball lifer can receive when he'll be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on July 30, his 83rd birthday.
MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- will begin with MLB Tonight on Sunday at noon ET, followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Prior to Sunday's live coverage, MLB Network will televise the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 11 a.m., featuring Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (the 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."
Back to the birth of the Brewers, which started him down a path to this moment.
"We had eight days to prepare for Opening Day when we found out we got the Brewers in 1970," he recalled in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "The Brewers at that time had one employee -- me. We had a switchboard operator who introduced herself and told me she was temporary. She stayed for 40 years.
"Our equipment trucks were in Utah, not knowing whether they were going back to Seattle or to Milwaukee. We took the 'S' off the caps and put an 'M' on. Stunningly, 36,000 showed up for Opening Day. You wouldn't want to do it again, but it was a great experience."
Other Hall of Famers have warned him that the induction ceremony will be overwhelmingly emotional. As he has prepared his remarks for that day and received congratulatory telephone calls from around the country, he has been flooded with memories of his remarkable life.
For instance, there was a 13-0 start by the Brewers in 1987.
"What I'll never forget was the 12th win of that 13-0 start," he said. "It was Easter Sunday against Texas. It was a warm April Sunday, very unusual for around here.
"We were losing 4-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning. Rob Deer hits a three-run home run to tie the game. Then stunningly, Dale Sveum hits a two-run home run to win it. How could you ever forget that? It was an amazing year."
One of his proudest achievements was bringing back Hank Aaron to finish his career in Milwaukee in 1975-76. In the years since, the two men have become close friends.
And there was the time Selig made a trade, his only one as owner.
"I became very close to my players," he said. "I've often said I would have been a lousy general manager because I never would have traded my players. [GM] Harry Dalton had the courage to do things I couldn't have done.
"I only made one trade in my life. Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey wanted to bring George Scott back to Boston. We were between general managers at the time, and I asked our scouting director, Dee Fondy, who I should ask for.
"He didn't hesitate. He told me to get Cecil Cooper. I made that trade, and I quit. I knew I couldn't make another deal as good as that one. Cecil Cooper became one of my all-time favorites, and there was a seven- or eight-year period when he was as good a hitter as there was in baseball."
When Selig became Commissioner, the gap between baseball's large-market and small-market teams was threatening to destroy competitive balance. Through a series of reforms -- the Draft, labor peace, revenue sharing -- every team now has a chance to compete.
"No one looks at it as an overriding factor anymore," he said. "I'm proud of it. When I put together my Economic Blue Ribbon Panel in the 1990s, they told me within two or three meetings that we had about 25 clubs that couldn't really win. I knew there had to be economic reformation of the sport. We got there, but it was painful.
"When I went to Kansas City for the World Series in 2014 and 2015, I was very proud. We'd changed the dynamic. It shouldn't just be about money. It's in everybody's best interest."
One of the things he missed during his years as Commissioner was the day-to-day contact with scouts, managers, etc. He interacted as much as he could, but it wasn't the same relationship during his years as an owner.
One of the things he's looking forward to is going back to Cooperstown in subsequent years as a Hall of Famer and spending a weekend catching up with his friends, especially former players like Robin Yount and Rollie Fingers.
"My whole life has been a little boy's dream," he said. "I grew up a Yankee fan, a Joe DiMaggio fan. I think I convinced myself I was going to be his successor in center field for the Yankees. Forget Mickey Mantle.
"Around 1948, someone threw me a curveball, and that was the end of me. I loved the game, but I had no idea how it would play out for me. When I was in school in Madison [at the University of Wisconsin], I would go to the library to study and to read all the out-of-town newspapers to keep up with baseball.
"It was my dream to be involved in baseball in some form. I was able to live my dream, and that's all you can ask for in life."
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.