It’s not often college students are afforded the chance to have an unfiltered conversation with one of the most powerful figures in sports.
But that’s precisely what 18 undergraduate History students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison had Tuesday afternoon when Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. “Bud” Selig (BS’56, History and Political Science) stopped by the fifth floor of the Mosse Humanities Building for an hour-long question-and-answer session.
“Don’t be bashful,” Selig told the group at the outset. “I enjoy doing these things.”
The students, who signed up for the event on a first-come, first-served basis, quizzed the Commissioner on a wide range of topics, from the labor situations across professional sports to baseball’s battle against steroids to his experience living on Langdon Street with Senator Herb Kohl when the two were undergraduates at UW-Madison.
“The question and answer session was unbelievably open,” said Nat Olson, a fifth-year senior majoring in History, Political Science and Psychology and an avid Minnesota Twins fan. “He really knows his sport front to back and he was incredibly candid in a way that I wasn’t expecting and was, frankly, surprised – and pleasantly so. … It was very refreshing.”
Selig reflected on the ups and downs of his 20-year reign as Commissioner, calling the 1990s – when the sport dealt with the fallout from a contentious players’ strike – “very painful” but citing the introductions of revenue sharing and wild card playoff spots as fulfilling moments.
“When things work … you take great satisfaction,” said Selig, who in 2010 established the Allan H. Selig Chair in History that will support a new faculty position in the history of American sports and society. “You don’t talk much about it, but you take great satisfaction.”
Selig also shared the best lesson he’s learned in baseball, a bit of wisdom given to him by the late John Fetzer, who owned the Detroit Tigers from 1956 to 1983.
“At some point you have to understand the sport is bigger than you are,” Selig said.
The conversation was one the students aren’t likely to forget anytime soon.
“I really appreciated his honesty about things that are somewhat controversial,” said Bess Farley, a senior majoring in History and the History of Science who grew up in Milwaukee rooting for the Brewers. “It made me feel like he really wanted to give us a special experience.”