MILWAUKEE — This is one of Milwaukee’s most lakefront office suites, where the water view is only a secondary role. First, navigate Bud Selig’s baseball museum.
A bench made of bases and bats. Berra, Brock, Feller and Killebrew created a poster celebrating 75 years of the team’s birthday. Brewers memorabilia galore, a Joe DiMaggio magazine cover, a painting of Robin Yount, a Joe Morgan jersey, a wall for Jackie Robinson. A large rug of baseballs, complete in Selig’s autograph.
Selig, the former commissioner of baseball, will eventually be reached. He was once thought to have revived or destroyed baseball at one point. He was still there, at 87 years of age, watching the sport that isn’t his problem but which remains his obsession.
He said, “There’s just a thing about the sport that has fascinated me my entire life,” he said. His eyes seem constantly to follow the White Sox–Astros game and sometimes his voice is calling the action during sips of Diet Coke.
He said, “Despite its flaws”, “it’s still one of the greatest games in the world.”
There are many reminders of Milwaukee’s past here. On Friday, the Braves — Milwaukee’s former team — will host their inaugural postseason meeting. The Brewers — local club since 1970 – will also be there. The Brewers made the playoff debut 40 years ago. The legacy of Henry Aaron, who died this year and was beloved in Atlanta and Milwaukee as a Brave and a Brewer, lurks.
And Selig’s is a great choice.
Before his 22-plus year tenure as Major League Baseball’s President, he brought back baseball to Milwaukee and kept a small market franchise afloat in a very different economic environment. While in office, Selig helped protect Milwaukee clubs. Selig, now commissioner emeritus (the role that baseball bestowed upon him retirement, 2015), said that he speaks with Mark Attanasio the Brewers’ current owners almost every day of the season.
He meets with fans, follows a dozen to twelve games per night during regular season, and can simultaneously admire the sport and gripe about it. He said, “I can deal with it,” and he reflected on his recent acceptance of extra innings that begin with a runner at the second base.
It turns out, a former commissioner can live a life that is part landmark, part counselor, and part legacy polisher.
Selig is approaching seven years in office and knows that there are still many disputes over who should be held responsible for everything, from the work stoppage that killed 1994 World Series to steroids that earned the game a bad reputation as a place for cheaters.
His record was upheld on Thursday by the player’s union, just like he had in his 2019 memoir. He maintained that the players’ union was the problem more often than the owners of baseball or the commissioner they empowered.
“I know what people think, and now, that I’m a historian professor, it’s fascinating to watch people revise history and observe them do so,” stated Selig. His day includes teaching a seminar titled “Baseball and Society after World War II” at Wisconsin, his alma mater.
( M.L.B. requested a 2007 report concerning steroids in baseball. and prepared by former Senator George J. Mitchell, concluded that the “effect of the Players Association’s opposition was to delay the adoption of mandatory random drug testing” for nearly two decades, but that there had been “a collective failure to recognize the problem as it emerged and to deal with it early on.”)
The overwhelming M.L.B. crisis of drug addiction has passed, but it is possible to see the same problems before Commissioner Rob Manfred as the one Selig had in his time.
The collective bargaining arrangement is due to expire Dec. 1 and there are questions about when a new one might be reached. The persistent problem of how to make slow-paced sports appealing in a fast-paced environment is what the collective bargaining agreement will expire on Dec. 1. It is still up for debate whether the size of the postseason, which could have an impact on revenues and season length, will be increased from the 10-team Selig designed to a fourteen- or sixteen-team design.
At least in public, Selig keeps his thoughts to himself, and expresses confidence in Manfred.
Selig stated, in response to a question regarding postseason expansion: “I used to hate it when other people expressed opinions while not studying it.” I like the system as it is. If someone has a better system than mine, that’s fine. This has been a great system.
He was far less guarded about the grief of this year.
Selig was about to go for his coronavirus vaccination on Friday, January 1, when his phone rang at 9:15 a.m. Selig said that he should have known something was wrong when he answered the phone.
Aaron had died.
The two-time-a-week conversation partner of Selig of decades, Aaron, was lost 47 years after Selig orchestrated Aaron’s return. Aaron would later note how a Black boy from Alabama and a Jewish boy hailing from Milwaukee had become two of the most influential players in baseball.
“I miss him a lot,” Selig, who called Aaron by his given name instead of “Hank,” said between pauses. “We’d talk about everything. We’d talk about everything at times.
Some more pauses.
“It has been a void,” said he, finally, “avoidance” in his life.
Aaron, he said would have been thrilled to find thrills in the series that took place between Atlanta and Milwaukee. While Selig, who doesn’t do much to hide his excitement at the Brewers winning again, admitted that he no longer goes to the ballpark as often, he had planned to attend Games 1 through 2 before the series moved to Atlanta.
He would not predict an outcome, save this one: “This club goes as far as pitching takes it.”
He suggested something similar to the 1982 Brewers which reached the World Series, but lost in seven against St. Louis.
Even now, he’s still working through the roster. He still thinks back to Milwaukee’s most memorable moments and sells baseball in a place where the game is loved and exposed its fragility.
He declared that the 1982 Brewers were “a fantastic team, and it was a wonderful year,” shortly after making one of his routine visits in Milwaukee’s oldest custard stand. “Not that it’s bad for me, but if Rollie fingers doesn’t get lost, we beat Cardinals in 1982, and there’s no question about that. I even got Whitey to admit that at one stage. But it is what is. Milwaukee had many great days when that team was together. We had five Hall of Famers on that team. Yount Molitor Sutton Simmons Simmons Fingers and Yount are just a few of the Hall of Famers on that team.
He goes on because the topic of baseball in Milwaukee is the one that he loves.