Do Milwaukeeans – or at least enough Milwaukeeans – appreciate what an amazing figure Bud Selig is? Not only in terms of changing baseball, but in terms of changing things that are now big parts of the fabric of American culture?
As Selig often says, baseball is a social institution. It’s a key part of American culture. The game is not called the national pastime without good reason.
Major league baseball today is a far different game than it was, say, 40 years ago. And Selig, who grew up on the west side of Milwaukee and took a hard-to-imagine route to become the commissioner of baseball from 1992 to 2015, has been at the center of just about every change.
Wild card teams in the playoffs? Interleague play? Revenue sharing that has allowed almost every team to be at least sort of competitive? Cancelling the 1994 World Series, but relative labor peace for 25 years since then? A long battle over steroids and drug testing that led baseball to have particularly demanding standards for oversight of drug use? Huge TV contracts that drove overall revenue from $1 billion to $11 billion a year?
Not to mention bringing a professional baseball team back to Milwaukee a half century ago and the building (amid enormous controversy) of Miller Park?
The action on all of those rotates around Selig. It includes a cast of some of America’s greatest athletes, richest business people and more powerful figures, including several presidents of the United States, but in every situation, you’ll find Selig deeply involved.
What a story – and Selig is, himself, a good story teller.
All of this brought him to Eckstein Hall on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, for the opening event of this school year’s series of “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” programs. Selig’s appearance was in conjunction with the release of his book of memoirs, For the Good of the Game: The Inside Story of the Surprising and Dramatic Transformation of Major League Baseball, written with sports writer Phil Rogers. (Selig, by the way, also visits Eckstein Hall several times a year to speak to students in Marquette Law School’s sports law program.)
For the purpose of this blog item, we’ll limit things to three thoughts from Selig:
One, the role of a CEO: “I knew my job — and I think the job of any CEO — is to get people to do things and to cooperate and to do what is in the best interest of the institution.” Sounds simple enough, but to do that, Selig for years spent hours and hours pretty much every day on the phone with the owners of major league teams, in large part to bring them together (or wear down their resistance) to support changes they often didn’t initially favor.
Two, what he considers his proudest accomplishment: Revenue sharing, which has allowed small market teams (such as the Milwaukee Brewers) to have payrolls that stay within sight of the big market teams (such as the New York Yankees), allowing a reasonable degree of competitive balance. Big market owners resisted for years but it finally came to pass.
Three, the steroid controversies: Baseball was tainted in big ways during the time Selig was commissioner by the use of steroids and the long time it took to bring in effective controls. Selig argues passionately that he and team owners wanted to require steroid testing but the players union resisted for years. He says baseball now has the most rigorous system of testing and responding to use of performance enhancing drugs of any major sport. But beliefs among some that the owners didn’t do enough persist, which galls Selig. “I really wrote the book because the steroid thing is seemly so misunderstood and I hope it isn’t after this – at least my side of it isn’t.”
Listen yourself to the one-hour program by clicking here. Or, of course, you might buy the book. Selig has richly earned the description of being a legendary Milwaukee and a legendary American sports figure.