Baseball Commissioner Selig Endows History Chair at UW-Madison

Mark Attanasio, Chancellor Biddy Martin and Allan H. 'Bud' Selig

From left, Milwaukee Brewers Chairman and Principal Owner Mark Attanasio, UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin and Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. 'Bud' Selig

Allan H. “Bud” Selig often talks about how he views the decisions he makes as the commissioner of Major League Baseball in the light of history.

It should come as no surprise that he credits his University of Wisconsin-Madison education for shaping that perspective. Selig, one-time owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, earned his bachelor’s degrees in history and political science from the UW-Madison in 1956. Now he has made a gift to endow the Allan H. Selig Chair in History at the University.

“The clubs always kid me, because at least three or four times in every major league meeting, I talk about … the retrospective history. Because I analyze, and they trained me well back in those days to view everything in the light of history,” he said at an August 27 news conference at Miller Park to announce the history chair and two scholarships established in his and wife Suzanne’s honor.

That event capped a week celebrating Selig’s legacy. On August 24, a statue of Selig was unveiled and dedicated at Miller Park.

As commissioner, Selig has overseen changes to the game – institution of three divisions in each league, the wild-card playoff format and interleague play among them – while keeping its essential character intact. His cognizance of baseball’s place in shaping society helped him craft his vision for the history chair.

“I’ve said that the best part of my role as first the president of the Brewers and for the last 18 years as commissioner of baseball is the sociological part of it, the ability of a sport to do really constructive things in our society.”

Bud Selig

The new faculty position in United States History will focus on the relationship between sports and society from 1900 to the present. The scholar, who has yet to be chosen, will teach, conduct research and publish scholarship on the development of American professional sports in their larger national and social contexts, including race, gender, labor relations, “mass culture” and economic organization.

“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” Selig said. “I’ve said that the best part of my role as first the president of the Brewers and for the last 18 years as commissioner of baseball is the sociological part of it, the ability of a sport to do really constructive things in our society.”

Selig often has said that the most powerful and important moment in baseball history was Jackie Robinson coming to the big leagues on April 15, 1947. “Jackie was clearly one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century,” he said. “I hope more research can be done on things like that, because there’s been so much that baseball and other sports have influenced in society from 1900 on to the present.”

Selig has made plans to share his papers with the Wisconsin Historical Society and to return to campus upon his retirement to work on his memoirs, among other activities.

Bug SeligChancellor Biddy Martin said the gift will help expand the University’s scholarship. “The commissioner’s gift will add an important new dimension to our history program and help us see sports from varied and important vantage points and understand how sports help shape us and our society,” she said.

Professor David McDonald, the outgoing history department chair, agreed. “This gift from Commissioner Selig allows the department to take a leading place as a scholarly center for the study of sports in their larger social, economic and cultural contexts, thus adding a new dimension and added richness to our broad offerings in American history,” he said. “At the same time, we hope the scholar who occupies that chair will play a pioneering role in the development of American sports history, to complement the many existing ‘Wisconsin schools’ in diplomatic, Western, women’s, African, Latin American and other fields in our discipline.”

McDonald said the chair will serve the Department of History and the larger profession in several important ways. Sports have become so much a part of people’s lives in American society that it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. “The growth and increasing pervasiveness of sports as a focus of American life provides excellent insight into the rise of modern business, labor relations and the role played by the media in American life,” as well as the gains made by women through developments such as Title IX, McDonald said.

Owners, Aarons Fund Scholarships in Seligs’ Honor

Three Major League Baseball owners and Hall of Famer Hank Aaron’s foundation have created scholarships at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in honor of Commissioner and alumnus Allan H. “Bud” Selig and his wife, Suzanne. Continue reading »