MILWAUKEE -- Allan H. "Bud" Selig finally has a permanent place on the plaza outside Miller Park. One of the other men so honored wonders what took so long. "I honestly believe the first statue that should have gone up outside this stadium is Bud Selig's," said Hall of Famer Robin Yount. "I'm not sure we have any of this without him." "This" was Miller Park, the convertible-domed gem of a ballpark that helped save baseball in Milwaukee and has drawn three million fans in each of the past two seasons, a remarkable achievement in Major League Baseball's smallest media market. Selig led the legislative battle that culminated with the inaugural Opening Day in 2001.
And "this" was Major League Baseball itself, which would have been long gone from Milwaukee before they laid the first brick at Miller Park had a 29-year-old Selig not taken up the fight in the mid-1960s to replace the departed Milwaukee Braves. Selig and a group of fellow fans won that fight in 1970, when the Seattle Pilots emerged from bankruptcy as the Milwaukee Brewers. Forty years later, Selig is the ninth Commissioner of Major League Baseball and found himself Tuesday staring up at a seven-foot, bronze statue in his honor. It stands near similar monuments of Hall of Famers Yount, the player most identified with the Brewers, and Hank Aaron, the best player ever to grace a baseball field in Wisconsin. Selig's statue, designed by artist Brian Maughan, the same man responsible for the Aaron and Yount figures, was commissioned by Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and his wife, Debbie, and unveiled Tuesday in front of a star-studded crowd in the shadow of Miller Park. "Although I've dreamed big dreams all my life, and some of them have come true," Selig said, "what is happening here today goes far beyond any dream I have ever had." The guest list was something out of a baseball fan's dream. There was Aaron and Yount, plus fellow Hall of Famers Paul Molitor, Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks and last-minute addition Al Kaline, who heard about the event two days ago and asked if he could attend. Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachael, was there, a gesture that particularly affected Selig. MLB president and CEO (and fellow Wisconsin native) Bob Dupuy led the league office contingent, and the crowd included representatives of nearly every Major League team, including Angels owner Arte Moreno, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, to name only a few. The state's other sporting organizations were represented by former Green Bay Packers officials Ron Wolf and Bob Harlan, University of Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and a lifelong friend and former college roommate of Selig's. Dick Ebersol, Chairman of NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, made an appearance, as did Dodgers manager Joe Torre and his brother, Frank, both former Milwaukee Braves. Then came a parade of Brewers players, all in jerseys from their era. They represented the earliest stages of the franchise (Aaron, Ken Sanders, Sal Bando) to its glory years (Yount, Molitor, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Cecil Cooper, Ted Simmons, Don Money, Gorman Thomas, Pete Vuckovich, Ben Oglivie and manager Harvey Kuenn's widow, Audrey) to Selig's final years running the team (Teddy Higuera) to players who have enjoyed the comforts of Miller Park (Trevor Hoffman and Craig Counsell). Plus Bob Uecker, of course. He spanned every era. "Think about what life would have been like in this community without the blessings from these great players," Uecker said. "Today, we get to thank the man who made it all possible." Said Attanasio: "Simply put, there would not be Major League Baseball in Milwaukee without Allan H. 'Bud' Selig." Selig was born and raised on Milwaukee's west side, on the same block as Kohl, with whom he attended Washington High School and then the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was a baseball fan from the start and fell in love with the great Braves teams of Aaron and Eddie Mathews and Warren Spahn. Milwaukee was the first National League franchise to draw two million fans, and the Braves won league pennants in 1957 and '58. They beat the Yankees in the '57 World Series. By the early 1960s, attendance waned and the franchise planned a move to Atlanta. A heartbroken Selig, 29, took up the fight. So much for his plans to be a history professor. The 1965 season was the Braves' last at County Stadium, and Selig remembers being approached in the stands during the Braves' final game by a woman in a wheelchair. "She said, 'Are you Bud Selig?' and the poor lady had tears in her eyes," Selig said. "She grabbed my arm and said to me, and I'll never forget this, 'Don't you fail. You're all we've got. Don't you know how important baseball is to me?' "I'll never forget that feeling. She proved to me how important the game of baseball was and still is to its fans and the community as a whole." He spent the next five years trying, and failing, he said Tuesday, to land a team. He hoped to land an American League expansion team at the 1967 Winter Meetings, but Kansas City and Seattle were picked instead. Selig tried for an NL team a year later, but San Diego and Montreal won out. Months after that, Selig tried to buy the Chicago White Sox, but the deal fell through. "There was disappointment and failure, but never defeat," Selig said. There was finally success at 10:15 p.m. CT on March 31, 1970, when Selig learned that his group had won the Seattle Pilots in federal bankruptcy court for $10.5 million. The Brewers were born, and seven days later, they were playing baseball. Under Selig's watch, with general manager Harry Dalton, the Brewers became an AL powerhouse, winning more games from 1978-82 than any other AL franchise. The Brewers won the AL pennant in '82 and won seven "organization of the year awards" under Selig's watch. By the 1990s, the sport was beginning a new area of popularity that included a wave of baseball-only venues that harkened back to the days of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn and Crosley Field in Cincinnati. County Stadium was aging, and Selig found his next great project. "The effort to get Miller Park was every bit as difficult and intense as was the effort to bring baseball back to Milwaukee," Selig said on Tuesday. "I remember all the heartache, all the disappointments along the way. But again, we never gave up. We had a dream." By then, Selig was the ninth MLB Commissioner. He assumed the role of acting Commissioner in 1992 and took over permanent status in '98. He helped usher in a number of landmark changes in baseball, including the implementation of the Wild Card, the three-division format and Interleague Play. He also championed a new drug-testing program, 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. And Miller Park, after years of political wrangling, was built. The stadium opened its doors in April 2001, with Selig throwing out one of the ceremonial first pitches. Nearly two dozen other ballparks have either been built or are under construction since Selig became Commissioner. "Bud Selig is my hero," Aaron said on Tuesday, an extraordinary compliment that drew a visible reaction from the Commissioner. "He has taken baseball to a far better place than where he found it." The newest statue outside Miller Park honors all of those achievements. "Normally, I'm not nervous," Selig said. "But the last two or three weeks for me has been really an emotional period. I've relived, not my whole life, but 1964 to the present, and I realize how fortunate I've been. "This is a remarkable and emotional day for me and my family. In many respects, I see it as a tribute to a lifetime of service to my sport, state and community, the community in which I was born, raised and continue to live. You have no idea how deeply touched I am."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.