By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Aug 24, 2010 at 4:29 PM
As commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig has presided over 16 years of labor peace. He's watched the game's popularity rise to new heights with record attendance and revenue figures.

He's revamped the game with realignment, the wild card and a reformatted All-Star Game. And, through the creation of MLB Advanced Media, he's brought the game to more people than ever before.

None of those accomplishments, though, come even close to the satisfaction and pride he feels from that day, 40 years ago, when he knew that baseball was coming back to Milwaukee.

"That will always be my proudest accomplishment," Selig said. "I was just a kid ... so young. I didn't realize at 29 that the odds were stacked against us so much. Of all that I've been a part of in this game, I'm most proud of the team being here."

For his efforts in returning and keeping baseball in Milwaukee, as well as a lifetime of service to the game, Selig was honored Tuesday by the Brewers, who unveiled a statue of the team's former owner on the plaza outside Miller Park.

During a ceremony featuring representatives of almost every major league franchise, Selig was emotional while reflecting on the nearly half-century journey that took him from a youngster on the city's West Side to commissioner of the sport he loves so much.

"It truly is a dream come true," Selig said.

Much of Selig's life in the game has been a struggle of sorts, going back to his initial efforts to preserving Milwaukee as a major league city.

The Braves had left five years earlier, capping off a bitter divorce Selig tried to avoid. The Milwaukee native first bought stock in the team and when that didn't work, he set his sights on landing another franchise for the city.

Expansion didn't work - in the team's 25th anniversary book, Selig recalls Walter O'Malley forming an "M" with his lips before announcing Montreal as an expansion franchise.

Landing an existing franchise failed, too; after the Chicago White Sox played a total of 20 games in Milwaukee during the 1968 and 1969 seasons, Selig came close an agreement with then-owner Arthur Allyn to move the south siders to Milwaukee, but the deal fell apart and Allyn sold instead to his brother, John.

That's when the Seattle Pilots came into the spotlight. A disaster during their one season in the Pacific Northwest, ownership there couldn't pay the bills and was looking to sell. Efforts to find a local owner failed, leading Selig and his investment group to purchase the franchise out of bankruptcy and relocate it to Milwaukee.

Finally, on April 1, 1970 -- with the team's equipment truck sitting in Provo, Utah, waiting for the word to travel to Seattle or Milwaukee -- Selig got the good news: bankruptcy judge Sidney Volinn awarded the Pilots to Selig's group.

Milwaukee was big league again.

"That was our last chance," Selig said. "The Pilots were the end of the line for us."

Selig presided over the team for the next quarter-century. The team struggled in the early years until finally exploding during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s as one of baseball's best franchises.

He again would fight for the survival of big league ball Milwaukee during the 1990s, when he led the effort for a new stadium. Facing intense opposition for politicians and residents, Selig -- by then the acting commissioner -- stood his ground until finally, the state senate passed legislation approving the stadium in the early-morning hours of Oct. 6, 1995.

"All the political things that happened, they were very disappointing, but in the end, it didn't matter," Selig said. "It was painful. People ask me still how I did it.

"I just kept telling myself to focus on what we were trying to do and remember that millions of fans will be able to enjoy this. I couldn't let the political stuff get in the way.

"We got the vote and once we finally broke ground, I knew it was going to happen."

When Miller Park finally opened, in 2001, he had transferred ownership interest to his daughter, Wendy. He was the full-time commissioner when Wendy sold the franchise to Mark Attanasio in 2003.

"She picked the right owner," Selig said.

It was Attanasio who broached the idea of adding Selig's likeness to the plaza, joining Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Hank Aaron.

"I wanted to celebrate the tradition and history of this team," Attanasio said. "We don't have 100-plus years like the Cincinnati Reds, but we have a tradition. We've had Henry Aaron, we've had Robin Yount, we've had success ... I wanted to put things into place to celebrate that tradition and it starts with Commissioner Selig.

"None of this exists without him."

It was Aaron who may have bestowed the highest honor on Selig, calling him a "true American hero."

Selig, who considers Aaron one of the greatest heroes in sports, was touched by the words.

"Among all else, that's incredibly meaningful to me," Selig said. "Like Robin, Henry Aaron did things quietly."

Aside from baseball owners, the crowd was packed with A-List baseball celebrities including Hall of Famer Al Kaline, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, current Dodgers manager Joe Torre and his brother Frank -- both of whom played for the Milwaukee Braves.

Rachel Robinson, widow of Jackie Robinson, was also in attendance.