- - Wednesday, August 7, 2019


In 2015, the year in which Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig retired, the columnist George Will, a dedicated baseball fan and one of the four members of the commissioner’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics, wrote this: “When Selig became acting commissioner in 1992, baseball still had an economic model that antedated television, radio, flight and the internal combustion engine.”

Since that date, Mr. Will continued, “baseball has created four new teams, opened 21 new ball parks, adopted interleague play, instant replay and drug testing, expanded the postseason with two wild cards in each league, gone 20 years without labor troubles interrupting play and has vastly expanded revenue sharing,” as well as implementing a “competitive balance tax” on team payrolls above a certain payroll. 

Doris Kearns Goodwin, a longtime baseball fan and a personal friend of Bud Selig, celebrates these accomplishments, leading to his induction in 2017 into the Baseball Hall of Fame, in a foreword that reads more like the work of a highly literate and uncharacteristically empathetic sportswriter than a historian. But there’s no reason, she insists, why baseball and history shouldn’t be combined, as they are in this book.

As she puts it, “History and baseball — two of my earliest and enduring passions — are the building blocks of this heartfelt memoir by Bud Selig.” She first met him 20 years ago in Milwaukee, she tells us, where she delivered a lecture on a Selig hero, Franklin Roosevelt. 

“Every time we have seen each other since, there has been a happy contest between my desire to talk baseball and his to talk history. So how delighted I am to write the foreword for this memoir that serves both as a work of history and a riveting account of baseball during a fraught and transformative time.”

Contributing to the fraught times during his tenure as commissioner was the growth of uncontrolled drug use. It was 2007, the year, as Mr. Selig puts it, “when sluggers found extra power through chemistry, and, of course, Barry [Bonds] was one of the leading men in baseball’s steroids narrative.”

Others like Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire also suddenly developed Charles Atlas bodies and began to hammer the ball, but it was Mr. Bonds and the race to break the home run record set by Henry Aaron, a longtime friend of Mr. Selig who closed out his career in Milwaukee, that personally distressed him.  

“There is plenty of blame to spread around in this sad chapter, and I’ll accept my share of the responsibility. We didn’t get the genie back in the bottle in time to protect Aaron’s legacy.” They did, however, finally develop a successful system of drug testing.

Much of Mr. Selig’s memoir is a nuts-and-bolts description of what the work of a baseball executive is like. But there are also family moments with Sue, his highly intelligent wife; his daughter who for a time managed the Milwaukee Brewers; his mother who took him regularly to baseball games; his father with a successful Milwaukee Ford dealership where, after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he briefly went to work. 

But then the Milwaukee Braves, refugees from Boston, decided to move again, this time to Atlanta, and a civic group, vowing to keep baseball in Milwaukee, purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots. How the Pilots became the Brewers and Bud Selig became their owner is a book in itself.

There are also moments of high emotion here, as when President George W. Bush, in the wake of 9/11, appeared at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch, with the crowd chanting “USA!” “USA!” “USA!”

Whether you had voted for President Bush or not, writes Mr. Selig, “that vision of the President of the United States right there, in front of the whole world, while the heinous villain on the other side hid in the mountains somewhere — if that didn’t make you proud to be an American, I don’t know what will.”

And finally, back to George Will, who maintains that the four most important people in baseball history are “Alexander Joy Cartwright (the genius who in the 1840s placed the bases 90 feet apart), Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson and a fan from Milwaukee. Which is what Selig has been, first and always.”    

• John R. Coyne Jr., a former White House speechwriter, is co-author of “Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement” (Wiley).

• • •


By Bud Selig, with Phil Rogers

Foreword by Doris Kearns Goodwin

William Morrow, $28.99, 318 pages

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