One of University of Wisconsin’s most notable alumni is the former commissioner of Major League Baseball and current commissioner emeritus Allan “Bud” Selig. Selig now lectures at the university for the history course “Major League Baseball & American Society since World War II” alongside history professor David McDonald. In a conversation with the commissioner, he discussed baseball’s place as a microcosm of American culture and his own legacy in the sport’s history.
On baseball as a social institution
When looking at sports’ influence in society, baseball has been second to none in American culture. The sport has been a battleground for civil rights, immigration and a number of other issues that mirror social movements around the country.
“It’s hard to write the history of this country in the last 100 years without mentioning baseball and its many ramifications,” Selig said.
Among the most pertinent examples of baseball inducing social change was Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier and how its influence extended far beyond the playing field, Selig said. Robinson preceded both Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and even prominent African-American leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. have pointed to baseball as a catalyst for social progress.
But in the modern era, baseball seems to be parallel with significant events in America as well. Instances like the commissioner’s decision to resume the 2001 baseball season following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would become a symbolic gesture of patriotism for the country.
“[Baseball] plays this really dynamic and dramatic role in American society,” Selig said.“[Resuming the season] was really interesting and baseball played a far more dynamic role than other sports.”
On bringing the Brewers to Milwaukee
We often think of baseball’s history as being centered around the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, the Green Monster at Fenway Park or the facade at Yankee Stadium. But this history would be not only incomplete but entirely different without the state of Wisconsin — with Selig being a very large reason that history continues today.
Selig, who attended UW for his undergraduate degree, originally had no intent to involve himself in baseball. The commissioner worked at his father’s auto dealership and had ambitions on returning to UW to teach.
“When I was here many years ago I wanted to be a history professor,” Selig said.
But when the Braves broke Milwaukee baseball fans’ hearts and abandoned the city in 1966 for Atlanta, a seemingly untapped southeastern market, Selig took action. He soon became the leading figure in bringing baseball back to Milwaukee, which he accomplished in 1970 after purchasing and moving the Seattle Pilots to the city and renaming them the Brewers.
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When asked what his fondest memories were during his time in baseball the commissioner responded without hesitation.
“Bringing the Brewers to Milwaukee and then playing in the  World Series,” Selig said.
The Brewers’ 1982 World Series appearance is still the only pennant the team has earned in their franchise’s history. This is a feat Selig is especially proud of as Milwaukee has always needed to compete with bigger market teams like Los Angeles and New York.
Though the Brewers fell short in this year’s NLCS, the commissioner was impressed with the team’s ability to exceed expectations late in the season.
On his legacy as commissioner
But despite being a hometown hero in Milwaukee, Selig remains a controversial figure on the national stage.
Labor strife and steroid testing were two of the biggest hot-button issues during Selig’s tenure as commissioner, which began in 1992 following Fay Vincent’s resignation.
One of the events Selig reflects back on with some disappointment was baseball’s last labor strike — which cut short the 1994 MLB season, starving baseball fans of a World Series.
“I’m proud of the fact that we now have 27, 28 years of labor peace,” Selig said. “We’ve had some heartaches — we lost the World Series in 1994 and we had a lot of strikes before that.”
Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement is set to last until 2021 giving MLB the longest stretch without a lockout out of the four major U.S. sports leagues.
A criticism of Selig was his inability to get steroid testing approved until the 2003 season, a measure the players’ union rejected for many years prior.
But Selig touts that MLB’s current performance-enhancing drug testing is the most comprehensive in all of professional sports.
While baseball’s testing system is far from perfect, the number of blood and urine tests the league conducts is increasing annually.
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Under Selig’s leadership, baseball also expanded into the global sport that it is today. According to Baseball Almanac, foreign participation in MLB increased from 15.4 percent at the start of Selig’s tenure in 1992 to 27.5 percent when he retired in 2015.
The starkest increases were in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. There were just 12 Venezuelan born players in 1992 compared to 111 in 2015 while participation from the Dominican Republic increased from 62 players to 158 during that time period.
When asked if he has any regrets from his life in baseball, Selig says he has none.
“Baseball is a metaphor for life,” Selig said. “We have our ups and we have our downs. We don’t always do things perfectly and I’m the first to admit that. But overall, it was pretty good.”