Brewers pay tribute to Bud Selig

MILWAUKEE -- Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the first commissioner of baseball, had the game's MVP award named after him, as well as an elementary school in Logansport, Ind.

Broadcasters elected to baseball's Hall of Fame receive the Ford Frick award. The University of Kentucky medical center is named after A.O. Happy Chandler. Peter Ueberroth was named Time magazine's Person of the Year and has a gymnasium named after him at the Sage School, a prep school of which he was a founder.

And Tuesday afternoon, Allan "Bud" Selig got his statue, a 7-foot bronze likeness of him that takes its place in front of Milwaukee's Miller Park alongside two Hall of Famers, Hank Aaron and Robin Yount. Both played for Selig and count among his best friends.

"Thanks, Buddy," said another old friend, Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, who served as emcee at the unveiling attended by major league team owners (conspicuously absent was Red Sox owner John W. Henry, though Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner were present), officials, Hall of Famers, past and present Brewers, other notables and dozens of fans who stood outside the tent where ceremonies were held.

"Now we've got to find out," the irascible Uecker continued, "how we're going to pay for this. Pass the hat, or something."

Selig's status as commissioner was only incidental to the honor accorded to him in a city that hasn't made a fuss over anyone like this since two years ago, when a bronze to the "Fonz" -- Arthur Fonzarelli, the wise-cracking greaser who was a popular character on TV's "Happy Days" -- got a prized spot on the RiverWalk in the town in which the show was set.

This was homage to the man who was broken-hearted when his beloved Braves abandoned Milwaukee for Atlanta in 1965, and did not rest until he was able to bring baseball back to the burg in which he grew up. "A kid," as he described himself Tuesday, "who walked the streets of the west side of Milwaukee … with a dream."

Never mind that Selig achieved his goal at the expense of the fans of another city, Seattle, which held on to the expansion Pilots for just a year before Selig and his group bought the team out of bankruptcy in 1970, moved it to Milwaukee, and renamed it the Brewers. (Seattle got another team, the Mariners, in 1977).

Forty years later, the Brewers have been unable to duplicate the World Series title won by the Braves in 1957, but they play in a beautiful nine-year-old ballpark, Miller Park, the realization of another Selig dream, with a fan base as loyal as that of any small-market team in the big leagues.
There would be no baseball in Milwaukee without Selig, the man who made his fortune in the car leasing business, is paid in excess of $18 million annually in his 18th year as commissioner of baseball, but still buys a hot dog and Diet Coke daily at Gilles Frozen Custard when he's in town.

The statue, a gift of current Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, is a popular beer slogan come to life: "This Bud's for you." Baseball loves its statuary -- including the Ted Williams statue and the new "Teammates" bronzed outside of Fenway Park -- and Selig is not the first team owner so honored. Charles Comiskey in Chicago, Gene Autry in Anaheim, Connie Mack in Philadelphia, and Ewing and Muriel Kauffman in Kansas City all have been immortalized in similar fashion.

Not to mention the Bill Veeck Showerhead and Rain Room in Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field.

"Last month Andre Dawson, in his speech at the Hall of Fame, said, 'If you love this game, this game will love you back,'" Attanasio said Tuesday. "No one loves the game of baseball more than Bud Selig."

And in a ceremony orchestrated by the same man, former Red Sox executive Dr. Charles Steinberg, who staged the Williams tribute at Fenway Park, lots of folks got the chance to give some love back to Selig.

Yount, who broke in with the Brewers in 1974 and played his entire 20-season career with Milwaukee, said that he and Aaron were more than happy to share some plaza space with Selig, joking that there would be someone else to serve as a roosting place for pigeons.

He also gestured to the cluster of former Brewers who had showed up for the event and chided Selig for singling out Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers and pitcher Pete Vuckovich as favorites.

"I know you've done a lot for the game," Yount said, "but I thought your judgment would be better."

The 76-year-old Selig was as self-effacing as ever. There was the almost obligatory stumble as he climbed to the stage with his wife, Sue. The suit, no matter how well tailored, that seemed to hang a bit, the smiles that on camera tend to look like grimaces. He alluded to as much in his news conference afterward.

"Given the guy didn't have much to work with, considering I've never been confused with Clark Gable, I thought he did a masterful job," Selig said of the statue, which shows a younger version of himself in jacket and tie, his left hand stuffed in his pocket, his right hand holding a baseball.

Selig, for all his accomplishments, remains a polarizing figure in the game, especially among critics who believe he should be held accountable for the excesses of the game's steroid era. But while the occasion did not warrant discussion of that controversy, Aaron, the Hall of Famer whose home run record was broken by an alleged steroids user, Barry Bonds, may have provided Selig a ringing defense that cannot be matched.

"Bud Selig," Aaron said, "is my hero. He has taken baseball to a far better place than when he found it."

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.