My hours with Bud: Personal insights from A's Owner Lew Wolff on outgoing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)
(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

I recently had lunch with Lew Wolff, owner and managing partner of the Oakland Athletics. Our wide-ranging discussion of Major League Baseball included Lew’s relationship with his friend of 60 years, Commissioner Bud Selig, and Selig’s retirement at the end of the season. Lew shared his opinion that the new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will, and I quote Lew, “continue the legacy of Bud, but will establish his own positive legacy for all of MLB.”

I pressed Lew for his thoughts about his close friend and colleague. Lew said he recently attended a reunion of college friends, a close-knit group that included Bud, as well as Senator and former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, Herb Kohl. After spending two days with Bud at the Minneapolis All-Star game, Lew penned some thoughts as he flew late in the evening to Oakland from Minneapolis.

Lew agreed that I could share his thoughts, which were aimed at those who touched and were touched by Bud during the formative years that the undergraduate experience provides. Here are those personal thoughts:

Twelve years ago, Bud Selig opened a door for me to become a part of Major League Baseball.

That door has turned out to be exactly what Bud predicted, but I did not fully appreciate it at first.

Baseball, as all of us know it, is Bud. And Bud is baseball. Sure, the long history of the national pastime is unchallenged, but the love of this one sport by our friend Bud dates back, as far as one particular group is concerned, to the late 1950’s. That is when we met him as fellow University of Wisconsin students. Bud loved baseball way before any of us Badgers would have written in the yearbook, “Most likely to become commissioner of MLB.”

And I don’t propose to go over all that has been said about Bud, all that is being said and all that will be said. We applaud and share in his many achievements solely because Bud always includes his oldest pals at every occasion and seems to believe that we are a part of what he has achieved.

But, to offer my take on our great friend, and as Bud is heading to his next chapter, I thought I would try and depict the time I spent with Buddy and his wife, Sue, in the span of 29 hours at the All-Star Game in Minneapolis this summer.

I started by spending two hours with him in his hotel room and, as we talked, Sue was with us. Sue even dozed a bit as Bud and I talked about the past, present and everything else. It was simply so much fun, so enlightening, so enjoyable.

The conversation, frequently and semi-privately, was diverted by calls from his key people, yet Bud’s unique skills became evident: He showed so much concentration, so much humor, so much insight, so much a sense of history, so much kindness, some toughness and a level of being totally able to think and anticipate significant issues and lesser significant issues many moves beyond, certainly, my capabilities. If life were a chess board, Bud would be a Grand Master. But, as so many of you know, Bud never, never forgets his past, his roots and the opportunities life opened for him, and for all of us.

I worry that my attempt to memorialize all this will be viewed as fawning over my most relevant class and fraternity mate, but that is not true. How often does one of us encounter, really know, a friend that has impacted the life and times of an institution that permeates most of our lives, and an institution that is so pleasant, so connected, so woven into our lives, our relationships with our kids and grandkids, our daily vocabulary, the best time of our year and years. . . . and is our close and maybe not quite so close friend? Bud has achieved such a place in our history and done so in such a masterful and human way that we are so very happy to point to our association with the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. . . . Bud, Buddy.

During the afternoon the conversation took many directions and covered a lot of ground. Bud teased about Perlow and Pearl, provided a serious moment about his dear pal Hank Aaron, offered a remembrance of Charlie Thomas and added a bit of politics – and throughout it all I sensed Bud was composed of the best little bits of all of us. His frequent thoughts, hugely respectful thoughts and traits that he inherited and still cherishes from his parents come at no cost and are provided with absolute love. Buddy appreciates these genes and weaves them into his exciting, yes exciting, conversations with the wide variety of individuals he touches on a daily basis.

And what a recall he has of what seems to me is an army of important, unimportant and casual names and faces. He is a master of his own history, of baseball’s, and of our history together.

I had so much fun and enlightenment in joining Bud the next day, first to a luncheon (none of us with Bud ate because time did not permit) with more than 100 national reporters asking tough questions, some sort of insulting, all fielded by Buddy with such grace and aplomb that I was transfixed. And from the dozens of hardened reporters, when Buddy concluded, he received an unbelievably sincere ovation. They knew this would be their last annual All-Star press conference with him, and it was clear to me that they wanted to show respect and warmth in a manner that I doubt this group – or others like it – often express.

Then immediately on to the next stop where fans and a large number of young U.S. servicemen from our recent Middle East conflicts made up still another audience. This time, through the use of the Internet and social media, the exchange was reaching millions, and Bud again fielded online inquiries from who knows where. He did so in a manner that made all of us present and the raft of people in cyberspace feel individually and collectively very important. What a skill. . . . What a skill!

Next on his schedule was yet another press conference where Bud established a post at MLB to make sure that all genders and gender issues were a welcomed part of MLB, and that opportunity was absolutely in place for all who wished to play baseball based solely on their skill. Aside from this great emotional moment, Bud was once again leading baseball and all of us to still another vital and lasting initiative, and he did so in such a kind and yet forceful manner. All of us who can identify directly or indirectly with Bud, those of us that know that our lives were formed at Wisconsin and at the house on the lake, know that where we all have journeyed included pieces gained from those college years. And Bud never forgets those years or us. I can assure you.

Before the All-Star Game, he told me that he meets with the two team managers and the specially selected umpires. I was able to tag along – on the way to the umpire room we were running a bit late and a reporter who appeared to be even older than us collared Bud and asked for “two minutes.” Bud really did not have a second to spare. But this reporter seemed to have missed the scheduled press conference and seemed to desperately need something on tape from Bud. Bud stopped, even though running very late, to make sure he got what he needed. Kindness always.

I watched with great interest and pride the end of an era during these recent All-Star festivities. Hopefully, this rambling will be viewed as trying to express what one of our many wonderful Badger “brothers” has provided for us all.

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