By Tim Gutowski Published Sep 06, 2005 at 5:42 AM Photography: Eron Laber

{image1} "Baseball is a social institution," Allan H. "Bud" Selig said at the end of our Milwaukee Talks interview in his 30th-floor office at 777 E. Wisconsin Ave. last week. And whatever the critics may say about him, it is clearly a sentiment Selig values.

Selig, who has served as the acting or official commissioner of Major League Baseball since 1992, cherishes the game of baseball and what it means to a community, particularly a community like Milwaukee. And he also cherishes a good story. The commissioner told us several during our talk -- about crying in the upper deck at County Stadium after a pennant-clinching Hank Aaron home run in 1957, about his quest to bring baseball back to the city after the Braves left for Atlanta, and about the changes he's helped usher into the sport over the last 13 years.

Enjoy this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks with Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.

OMC: You were born here and have lived most of your life here. What is it about Milwaukee that keeps you here?

Bud Selig: Well, I've had a lot of opportunities (to leave), obviously. One of the things I debated about while taking the commissioner's job was the fact that I have my whole family here, I was born and raised here, I haven't lived anywhere else. ... This is home. Most of my family is here, now Wendy and Laurel (Prieb) and my little granddaughter Natalie have moved to Phoenix, (he's) running our West Coast office now. But other than that, everybody else is here. It has been my home for 71-plus years, so I didn't see any reason to change.

OMC: What are some of your earliest memories of baseball here? Was it the Braves or the old Milwaukee Brewers?

BS: It was the old Brewers, Borchert Field. My mother was actually the person who got me started in baseball, and we went to Borchert Field a lot. We spent a lot of days -- actually, Herb Kohl and I used to go to a lot of games together. It was quite a ballpark, to say the least, a wonderful Triple-A park. I can tell you all the players that played there, and it was there that my great interest in baseball started. And, of course, I had already become a Major League Baseball fan, so my trips to Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park started in the late '40s, too.


OMC: Were you a Cubs fan?

BS: I was, and also a Yankees fan, but it had to do with the Brewers. The Brewers had an outfielder in 1945 by the name of Herschel Martin. He was my favorite player, and he was sold to the New York Yankees. As a result of that, I became a New York Yankees fan, and of course I became a huge Joe DiMaggio fan. So, I spent the next seven years of my life being an intense Yankees fan, which many people today would find unusual. Until the Braves came to Milwaukee, and then I became a great Braves fan.

OMC: What was it like when the Braves left?

BS: When they came, just to back up a bit, I can remember Herb Kohl and I were just freshman in college. We had come home and here was this new, beautiful, brick stadium going up. After all the trips to Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park, and my mother had taken me to Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, the Polo Grounds -- all the sudden here is Milwaukee's ballpark. They were exhilarating years.

I was a 22-year-old kid in 1957, and I had enrolled in UWM in an accounting course. It's the only course I ever took that I was bored ... but I was driving by County Stadium that fateful night, and I had never cut a class in my four years of college. I was a very conscientious student. But I had to see this game, so I went and bought a ticket. They had single seats left and I sat in the upper deck. Hank Aaron hit a home run off of Billy Muffett, a St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher, to win the game in the 11th inning. ... But I remember that when they carried Hank Aaron off (the win clinched the 1957 pennant), as a kid sitting in the upper deck, I cried. So now all the sudden, seven, eight years later, they're going to leave? And I'm still a kid, 29 years old. Just a shock.

The Braves thing broke my heart, and it was a painful lesson. But it also taught me about baseball. It makes an enormous impact on a community. ... People tend to forget it sometimes, and they take it for granted. It's just an enormously important factor.

OMC: Why didn't baseball want to come back to Milwaukee?

BS: The Braves owners -- Bill Bartholomay, who today is a very close friend of mine -- did a good job of predicting this wasn't a major-league market. Lake to the east, nothing much to the west and the north, two teams 90 miles away. Warren C. Giles, president of the National League, said "Look, they can go to Chicago for baseball. It's only 90 miles away." And they believed it. It was wrong, but they believed it. ... But if the Seattle thing failed (the Pilots moving to Milwaukee in 1970) -- life is funny because it hangs on little threads -- I think we were probably done for.

{image3} OMC: What are your best and worst memories of the 35 years the Seligs were involved with the Brewers?

BS: The best memories were 1982. Actually even in 1981, we beat the Tigers, and Rollie Fingers struck out Lou Whitaker and sent us on to New York. And we should have beat the Yankees. He struck out Lou Whitaker on a 1-2 pitch. Nobody had a chance against Rollie. It was so exciting. Then in '82, the last game in Baltimore after losing three games, and then (we) did something no team, at that point, had done -- lose the first two to the Angels only to come back and win three. Don Drysdale, the famous Dodgers pitcher, was my lucky charm. He came to the Friday game (Game 3 of the ALCS vs. California) and we won, and I said, "You can't go home." He was working for the White Sox, so I called (White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf and said, "He's not going."

So, here we are Sunday, quarter to seven in the evening. Many have said they've never seen a crowd like that in Milwaukee. You couldn't hear yourself think from the fifth inning on. But in the ninth inning, man was I nervous. I'm smoking these little cigars and pacing in the back row. Two out, they had Brian Downing on second base, Rod Carew hitting, and I'm thinking, "Why does it have to be Rod Carew? Why couldn't it be some stiff that can't hit? (He's) one of the great hitters of all-time up there." Pete Ladd was pitching because Fingers was hurt. Anyway, he hit a rocket to Robin (Yount), Robin came up with it, threw to (Cecil) Cooper, and that's it.

Then in '87, we won more games (in the regular season) than the Twins, who won the World Championship. In '92 we won 92 games, but Toronto had an extraordinary year. And then I really left. I took the job (as Executive Council Chairman) on Sept. 9, 1992.

What were the disappointments? Some controversies that I found disappointing in terms of human behavior. They tried to put a jail next to the ballpark ... putting a jail next to a ballpark isn't exactly an entertainment complex. And then the whole stadium controversy. And, look, I understand taxation. But here we are trying to keep baseball in Milwaukee ... and it happens in a lot of places, this is not the only place it happens, but the Machiavellian behavior was just sad. And someday when I write a book I'll describe it as it's never been described. The personal abuse that the ownership took, I took, my daughter took, the organization took, baseball took -- was inexcusable. And today, well how bad is it? Milwaukee has a Major League team for the next two generations. ... It's a great tribute to a lot of people. ... Will Milwaukee in the future be a better place for your children and grandchildren? You bet it will.


OMC: I just realized you don't have a computer in here. If you don't have a computer, how can you watch ( Gameday?

BS: I don't use a computer. I am computer illiterate. Everybody makes fun of me. My grandchildren, even at age 10 and 12, are terrific. It's the one thing I do. I get home (where) I have a satellite and I start watching every game.

OMC: You're clearly a polarizing figure. You have fervent critics and also people, in this city and outside of it, who really love you. What was the reaction like for you when Brewers ownership changed hands?

BS: I don't regard myself as a polarizing figure, number one. ... I've been through controversy, and you then become a polarizing figure. Revenue sharing was controversial. I had to change the economic landscape of the sport. The wild card. Bob Costas went wild. Now? Everybody says "What would we do without the wild card?" We have 11 teams today heading into September fighting for the wild card. When you make changes, there's going to be some controversy.

Around here, I was lucky for the first 30 years of my career. There was almost no controversy. Every ownership has controversy. Being an owner of a sports team today is tough duty. I have an e-mail today from a new owner who says "You didn't tell me it was this tough." It's tough. It's tough everywhere.

As for the press, when you're the commissioner of baseball, they've taken a pounding since 1940 -- really even before that for (Kenesaw Mountain) Landis. Certainly Happy Chandler, Ford Frick. And I love Bowie Kuhn, and nobody took the pounding that Bowie took for 15 years. There were four or five labor and work stoppages -- it was bad. So I knew when I took this job that you have to decide what you're going to do and do it.

The club owners have been wonderful, never a cross word. Frankly, as I sit here today with much to do, the economic landscape has changed, we have revenue sharing in excess of $300 million, which is stunning. Tax on payrolls, wild card, interleague play, unbalanced schedule, it's been the most active 13 years in baseball history. And most importantly for me, we're on the way to setting another all-time attendance record this year. We're going to go over 62 million today on the way to 75 million. ...

There was a very famous sportswriter Leonard Koppett, who is in the Hall of Fame, and he died about a year ago (on June 22, 2003). Leonard and I had a lot of disagreements. But he stopped me in Scottsdale and said, "Commissioner, this is the golden era of baseball." ... What would he say today as we head for over 75 million (fans) at the major league level and over 40 million at the minor league level?

OMC: As a former part owner of the Brewers and someone who is from Milwaukee, how do you remain objective in your role as commissioner?

BS: When I took over, even in September of '92, I worried already about conflict. But until I took the job (as full-time commissioner) in July of '98, I knew then I wanted to sell the club, but unfortunately there were no buyers. It was tough. Yes, it was put in a trust, but there were always the "Well, that's Bud's team, and it's Bud's daughter." And even though everybody went to great lengths, and everybody was watching, we never had another complaint from another club or anything else.

Look, I'll always have great affection for the Brewers. But I don't look at the Brewers any differently than I look at the Boston Red Sox, or the Pittsburgh Pirates. I know what I have to do for the sport. And the office has such a tradition, and the sport has such a history. And everybody who knows (me) knows how much I care. That to me is always the overriding concern.

So on January 14 when the deal closed (the sale of the Brewers to Mark Attanasio), everybody said to me, "You must have been sort of sad." Not in the least. ... You couldn't possibly in life dream that someday, when I was kid walking on the streets on the west side of Milwaukee, that I was going to be commissioner of baseball. That's a dream that even a kid couldn't believe. That's my major concern today.

I think the Brewers are in great hands. I think that everybody, my daughter, everybody involved with the Brewers, have left a wonderful legacy. You have a team, you have a ballpark, the sport has never been healthier. And more importantly, the economic landscape, because of everything that I've done, is changing so that the Milwaukees of the world will not only still be here, but they'll be able to compete. And they will be able to compete. ... Milwaukee is just, today, another franchise.

{image5} OMC: Let me press you on one thing. Part of you would have to be happy if the Brewers turn around this recent legacy of failure.

BS: I understand the fan. The stories about my temper tantrums are legendary. ... The economics of the sport changed in the '90s. Everybody saw it. Did they suddenly get stupid in Detroit, Kansas City, Cincinnati? The economics so changed, that's one of the reasons they came to me to take the job.

The Brewers have great young talent -- that didn't just get here yesterday. That's taken place over the last three or four years. ... It's a different world than they faced in the '90s. A much different world.

OMC: Along those lines, is the Brewers' best interest always aligned with baseball's best interest? Or the Yankees'?

BS: I'll give you the answer that the clubs hear. I was raised in the sport by John Fetzer, who owned the Detroit Tigers. He was a great man. Once after a meeting in 1971, he had voted on something that clearly was against (the Tigers') best interests. And I remember saying, "Why did you do this?" And he said, "Because you always vote what's in the best interest of the sport. And if it's in the best interest of the sport, it's in the best interest of the Detroit baseball club."

He was right. Pete Rozelle taught the National Football League that. There wouldn't be a Green Bay Packers today if that wasn't the overriding philosophy. So when I look at new owners and talk to people, I want to make sure they understand that the best interests of the sport always transcend their selfish, myopic ones. And they better understand that.


OMC: You're a worrier; is that fair to say? What worries you about the sport today?

BS: Yes. Well, there's always something, but compared to where we were a decade ago, not much. We've really solved the economic landscape, with work to be done, though. Don't misunderstand -- there is a lot of work to be done, but we've come a long way. ... I just continue to worry about the competitive balance. I've got to make sure we keep doing enough. I am obsessed with making sure we have competitive balance, because that's the healthiest thing for the sport. ...

You always worry about the integrity of the sport. Obviously the steroid issue is a very serious one that needs to be solved. But overall the sport is healthy. But we do have some problems that we do need to deal with. Steroids are one of them; it's an integrity issue. It's an issue that must be cleaned up. Is the current program working? You bet it is. Absolutely. The union is right. And we're right. That isn't the issue. The issue is integrity. We need to have tougher penalties and go to independent testing. ... but that's why it's a tough job. That's why we have a commissioner.

OMC: What are the prospects for your three-strikes-and-you're-out steroids proposal?

BS: I'm confident. I'm confident. Very confident.

OMC: Switching gears a bit, I've heard you're an avid reader. What are you reading now?

BS: I am. I'm reading (Bob) Woodward's book ("The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat"). I'm an avid reader, and I love history. I thought I was going to be a history professor, so I like all kinds. I like baseball history and I love, particularly, American political history. And I'm fascinated by Woodward because I'm also fascinated by the state of American journalism today. ... When I read the book, I am again impressed by Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, how Bradlee made them check two and three sources. And I'm fascinated by the whole Watergate thing, I always was. And this just fills in some of the holes.

I just read "1776" -- I've read every book by David McCullough -- which I was fascinated by. And I need to go to the bookstore. I've got a lot of trips next week, and I spend a lot of time on airplanes. So I'll figure out what's next.

OMC: Not everyone may realize that you are a Director Emeritus on the board of the Packers. What does that role entail?

BS: Bob Harlan and I have been friends for 40 years. I knew him when Bob was at Marquette, and then Bob went to work for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals, and went to Green Bay in, I think, 1971. In fact, my secretary (Lori Keck) was Vince Lombardi's secretary. So she's only worked for two people in her lifetime: Vince Lombardi and me. When I'm having temper tantrums, she was once heard to mutter to somebody, "How smart can I be, I've worked for two madmen in my lifetime?"

I love my association with the Packers. Usually baseball teams and football teams fight a lot, they're always quarrelling. But we never did, and they played at County Stadium. ... Bob Harlan stayed here three of four years longer to help us get a new ballpark. I have enormous affection and respect for Bob and the Packers. And I've really enjoyed my association with them -- a wonderful group of people.

OMC: Can you tell us if the defense will be any better in 2005?

BS: That I don't know. I've got to worry about David Wells today. My answer to that is: I don't know.

Sports shots columnist Tim Gutowski was born in a hospital in West Allis and his sporting heart never really left. He grew up in a tiny town 30 miles west of the city named Genesee and was in attendance at County Stadium the day the Brewers clinched the 1981 second-half AL East crown. I bet you can't say that.

Though Tim moved away from Wisconsin (to Iowa and eventually the suburbs of Chicago) as a 10-year-old, he eventually found his way back to Milwaukee. He remembers fondly the pre-Web days of listenting to static-filled Brewers games on AM 620 and crying after repeated Bears' victories over the Packers.