Bud Selig’s impact on baseball worthy of being fourth Jew inducted in Hall of Fame
At one time, the notion of a Jew serving as baseball’s commissioner for one day, let alone 22 years, would have been unthinkable.
“It would be unheard of,” Bud Selig told JewishBaseballMuseum.com. “No question about it.”
Selig only was the second active Jewish owner when he took over the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970; Baltimore’s Jerry Hoffberger was the other. While he said he never encountered Antisemitism during his years in the game, he is well aware of the obstacles and hardships Jewish players and executives encountered during the first half of the 20th Century. Back then, there is no way the game’s hierarchy ever would allow a Jew to ascend to the top job.
The sense of history underscored the pride he felt in becoming baseball’s first Jewish commissioner. Selig calls it “a remarkable moment,” yet another sign of how Jews persevered in the game.
“My friend Bart Giamatti used to tell me, over and over, that baseball was a metaphor for life,” Selig said. “And baseball is a metaphor for it, in a myriad of ways. When you look at Jews in America in the 20th century, even back into the 19th century, the evolution in baseball was very similar to the evolution in this country. Bart was right again. It’s a metaphor for life.”
Selig’s long, illustrious career will become complete Sunday with his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He will be the fourth Jew to have a plaque in Cooperstown, joining Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, and Barney Dreyfuss, the owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1900s.
“The fact of the matter is, I’ve looked forward to this day for a long time and I’m really honored,” Selig said. “I consider myself to be very fortunate to have had a career in a sport that I love.”
Obviously, JewishBaseballMuseum.com founder Jeff Aeder and yours truly are thrilled that Selig will receive baseball’s ultimate distinction. When we launched this website in April, 2016, we were honored that Selig was our first interview. There also is a video clip of him featured prominently on our homepage talking about the legacy of Jews and baseball.
“If you study the evolution of minorities in baseball, Jews, African-Americans, it’s America,” Selig said. “It tells you a great deal about society. And I think to have a (website) that accurately portrays the history of Jews in baseball is a wonderful legacy for future generations and is very important.”
Jeff and I had a chance to meet with Selig in his office in Milwaukee in Aug., 2015. It actually could be a museum in its own right. The office is full of incredible memorabilia from Selig’s years in baseball.
Indeed, it has been quite a career. Not only did he bring baseball back to Milwaukee with his ownership of the Brewers, he helped build Miller Park, one of the best stadiums in the game. Then when Fay Vincent was ousted as commissioner in 1992, he took over in an interim role. The interim label was removed in 1998, as Selig guided the game through the 2014 season.
It was a highly eventful tenure. He helped usher in a number of landmark changes in baseball; the implementation of the Wild Card, the three-division format and Interleague Play. He also championed revenue sharing among the clubs as well as ventures like MLB Advanced Media, the parent company of MLB.com, plus MLB Network and the World Baseball Classic.
A barometer of Selig’s impact on baseball: In 1992, overall MLB revenues were $1.2 billion. When he departed in 2015, they were at a staggering $10.2 billion. He definitely is a Hall of Famer in the eyes of the owners.
Was it all perfect? No. Selig was the commissioner who had to cancel the 1994 World Series because of a player’s strike. To his credit, however, after the sides eventually settled in 1995, there has not been a stoppage since then, an unprecedented run of labor peace.
After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie in Selig’s park in Milwaukee, it was decided home field advantage should ride on the All-Star Game, beginning in 2003. The concept was highly controversial and eventually was scrapped this year.
And Selig was the commissioner during “the steroid era.” He is correct in pointing out that the MLB Players Association would not agree to drug testing in collective bargaining until the early 2000s. But he and other baseball leaders were roundly criticized for not doing more sooner when it was apparent numerous players were on PEDs.
Baseball, though, is resilient, and its drug test policies now are considered among the toughest in sports. Thanks in part to Selig, the game never has been healthier with attendance at all-time highs. Competitive balance also never has been greater. With the Wildcard format, every team has competed in the post-season since 2001.
Selig’s good friend, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, has this assessment of Selig:
“(Selig’s changes) have left a lasting impact on baseball, most importantly for the fans of this great game. At his heart, Bud is a baseball fan, and that perspective has driven all he has done during his time as commissioner. That is his legacy.”
During our interview, we asked him to assess his legacy as commissioner:
“Baseball is more popular than ever,” Selig said. “I often tell this story; we started with gross revenue in ’92, my first year, of $1.2 billion, and I used to lay awake at nights thinking how are we gonna get this to $2 billion? (Now it is in excess of $10 billion) and growing and with enormous future, so.
“I believe in hope and faith. It’s one of my favorite terms, but it’s true. (With the expanded Wildcard set-up), there are more teams that can have hope and faith of having a chance to win. That’s why the game’s as healthy as it is today.”
Here are the video excerpts of our interview with Selig. Definitely provides a good perspective on what has been a Hall of Fame career.