Everything about Allan “Bud” Selig ’56 is larger than life. For one, he’s a very tall man. His height is accentuated by his long, camel-colored overcoat — an attempt to block the cold, which he despises. His voice is loud and carries, and he has a lot to say. He tells lots of stories, with gestures that would be well suited for a stage.
His career, too, has been larger than life. Simply put, he’s the reason the Milwaukee Brewers exist. In 1970, five years after the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta, Selig purchased the Seattle Pilots franchise and renamed it the Brewers, thus bringing Major League Baseball to Milwaukee. Then, for 22 years, he presided over the national pastime as Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
On January 24, 2015, Selig stepped down from the post, and was named the MLB’s first ever commissioner emeritus. Just months later, Selig received another honor: a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award (DAA). The award, presented by the Wisconsin Alumni Association since 1936, honors alumni whose professional successes, exemplary service, and university support embody the Wisconsin Idea.
When Selig visited campus in February 2015, it was a particularly cold morning. He hates the cold so much that, throughout the winter months, he spends each weekend in Phoenix. As a student, he would purposely take all of his classes late in the afternoon, because it was too cold in the morning — and, frankly, he preferred to stay in bed. “That’s a fact!” he concludes this story, like others, with a triumphant wave of his finger.
This late-to-rise tendency caused a minor hiccup, as Selig’s roommate — Herb Kohl ’56, former U.S. senator and fellow DAA honoree — preferred to take his courses at 7:30 a.m. Selig and Kohl, both majoring in American institutions, were fraternity brothers of Pi Lambda Phi. They also grew up together in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.
Even though he graduated nearly six decades ago, driving into campus still gives Selig a wonderful feeling. “I think maybe we didn’t realize it at the time, but those were four great years for us,” he recalls. “It was a great way to start our careers. Frankly, those four years couldn’t have been any better.”
For Selig, the University of Wisconsin has a multi-generational importance. “Education has been so critical to our generation, our parents’ generation, and [generations] since then,” he says. “We’re proud of the fact that we went here. We’re proud of what this university has been, proud of what it is today, and I would hope future generations would have the great experience and opportunity that Herb and I had.”
Selig isn’t just hoping — he’s making it happen. In his retirement, he plans to continue giving guest lectures at the UW. He will also maintain an office in the Department of History, in which he established the Allan H. Selig Chair. Selig also helped fund the Athletic Department’s new student-athlete performance facility, which includes the Bud Selig Hall of Champions welcome center. In 2010, a Great People Scholarship was set up by three Major League Baseball owners — Mark Attanasio (Milwaukee Brewers), Lew Wolff ’57 (Oakland A’s), and Tom Werner (Boston Red Sox) — to honor Selig and his wife, Suzanne. In June 2014, the Colorado Rockies added $100,000 to the scholarship fund.
Selig also has two granddaughters who are current UW students, who occasionally meet him for lunch or at his office in Humanities. He remembers when the eldest called him with the news: “I picked up the phone, and she said, ‘I’m gonna be a Badger.’ And she didn’t have to say any more.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at Selig and Kohl’s joint photo shoot, check out your Summer 2015 issue of On Wisconsin Magazine.