Writing

Bud Selig was not happy when Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron as home run king. His new book explains. – The Coloradoan

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People who know Bud Selig well, especially those who have worked with or for him over a number of years, will tell you that he moves at his own pace. At times, that pace is, shall we say, deliberate.

Such was the case in writing his autobiography, For The Good Of The Game, which is being released by HarperCollins on July 9. Asked about the amount of time and work that went into getting the book done, written with longtime Chicago baseball writer Phil Rogers, Selig had a logical reason behind the process.

“I believe in the retrospect of history, and I wanted to wait until I was done,” said Selig, the former Milwaukee Brewers owner who resigned as commissioner of baseball in January 2015 after 23 years on the job.

“I had time then to devote to this. It took a long time. I didn’t really start it in earnest until a couple of months after I was done.”

Writing an autobiography had been on Selig’s mind for years prior to actually putting words on paper, however. He recalled a conversation with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin while in Cooperstown, New York, in late July 2009 for the induction of Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“Her husband, Richard, was there and Samantha Power, who later was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations,” Selig recalled. “Then, Henry Aaron came over and sat down. We started telling stories and talking about this and that, and Doris says to me, ‘Commissioner, you’ve got to write a book. You can’t let all this go when you go.’

“That’s when I first started thinking seriously about it. And she reminded me of that often.”

It should come as no surprise the foreword to Selig’s book was written by Goodwin. He has a devout fondness for the study of history, exceeded only by his love of baseball. And Selig decided it was time to set the record straight – one last time – on two primary themes of his commissionership: steroids and the game’s economics.

“Given there was so much misinformation out there, I wanted to write about the entire economic transformation of the game,” he said. “Why we did it. How we did it. I know there was a lot of criticism.

“And there has been so much written on certain subjects, such as steroids. I really felt I needed to give my side of it, in great detail. I want the written record of what really happened out there. That was really important.”

Selig, 84, doesn’t hesitate to lay most of the blame for the so-called “Steroid Era” on the players union, which fought management for years on drug testing. It wasn’t until pressure from Congress forced the sides to include testing for performance enhancing drugs testing in the collective bargaining agreement in 2002 that the issue finally was settled. In the interim, many offensive records were rewritten, including Barry Bonds surpassing Aaron, a hero and longtime friend of Selig’s, as the all-time home run champion.

The first chapter in the book deals with Selig’s feelings about Bonds, who was considered the poster boy for steroid use, mostly before drug testing went into effect. Selig makes it abundantly clear he didn’t like it one bit that Bonds would supplant Aaron in the baseball record book.

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Former Milwaukee Brewers owner and MLB commissioner Bud Selig talks about what it means to be voted into the Hall of Fame during a recent interview. Selig will be inducted into the Hall July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Rick Wood

“I know some people will forever link me with Barry Bonds,” Selig writes in the book. “Some will say baseball’s failure to limit the impact of steroids quicker is my failure. They may even call me the steroid commissioner. That’s okay, I guess. It’s not fair. I don’t like it, but I’ve come to understand it.”

Selig addresses the claims by some that he and other baseball executives turned a blind eye to steroids because the offensive boon was good for the game, including the Great Home Run Chase of 1998 with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. They were said to be too slow to react to PED use, which long has frustrated Selig because of the fierce opposition by the players union.

“Many people who are critical don’t understand what really happened,” Selig said. “The union fought us publicly. They left no doubt about where they stood. (Union founder) Marvin Miller went to his grave saying, ‘If I was still there, there would be no drug testing.’”

Still, Selig writes that Miller does belong in the Hall of Fame, a revered institution that inducted the former commissioner in 2017. Most longtime baseball writers consider it a travesty Miller has not been included, considering his place in the game’s history.

Selig still believes many people don’t understand that drug testing had to be collectively bargained with the players, that he couldn’t just unilaterally impose it. He does write with rue that “there is plenty of blame to spread around in this sad chapter, and I’ll accept my share of the responsibility. We didn’t get the genie back in the bottle in time to protect Aaron’s legacy.”

Much of Selig’s autobiography delves into his long, painful battle to change the game’s outdated economic system which threatened to ruin small-market franchises such as his beloved Brewers. Out of the work stoppage that led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series came labor peace that has been the key to the game prospering.

Part of that renaissance featured a building boom of new ballparks, including Miller Park in Milwaukee. Selig writes about the long battle he waged to get public financing for the Brewers’ retractable-roof facility, including criticism of two of the state’s top politicians, Gov. Tommy Thompson and Milwaukee mayor John Norquist, who would “routinely say one thing to my face and do the opposite behind my back.”

“I know there has been a lot of public debate about stadiums and taxpayer money but Miller Park is a great example of going through hell to get something that has done so much for a community,” Selig said. “The fans love it. There can be no question about that. Just look at the attendance every year.”

Having covered Selig since 1985, as both owner of the Brewers and commissioner, I was honored to serve as consultant for chapters of the book dealing specifically with Milwaukee issues. Longtime national baseball correspondent Richard Justice also worked closely with Selig in the early stages of the project.

As for the book’s name, I asked Selig if he worried about providing more fodder for critics, well-informed or not.

“Phil (Rogers) worried about that, and so did others,” Selig admitted. “But it was the line I used in every owners meeting – do what’s in the best interests of baseball. Look how things turned out. People said revenue sharing would ruin the game forever. Now, they want more. All of the other changes that have been good for the game.

“I had been so fortunate between 1965 (when the Braves left Milwaukee) and 2015. I couldn’t conceive that my career would take those turns. So much had happened. I really wanted to write a book. I am a history buff, and so the history of this means a lot to me.

“A lot of baseball people have asked, ‘When is it coming out?’”

The answer is soon, very soon. Words not often associated with Selig, but some things are worth the wait.

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