Later on today, Bud Selig will have his statue unveiled outside of Miller Park. As the man who fought hard to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left for greener pastures, the statue is fitting. An owner with that kind of legacy is not soon forgotten.
Because Selig has been such an important figure throughout Major League Baseball these last 15+ years, it’s hard to find a baseball fan who doesn’t have a strong opinion about the Commissioner. Any words, then, that I might offer about the statue won’t do much good. Instead, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at baseball over these last 40 years and play a little “what-if” and see how things might have been different if Selig wasn’t able to buy up the bankrupted Pilots less than a week before the 1970 season started. Needless to say, things would have been pretty different…
April 1, 1970 – Provo, Utah
The moving trucks left Arizona last week, packed to the brim with balls, bats, gloves, uniforms, and all the other equipment a major league baseball club would need to operate for the season. The only thing these trucks lacked was a destination: would those uniforms be headed to the Pacific Northwest for a second year with the Seattle Pilots, or would they be headed east to the land of brats, cheese, and, of course, beer to spend a second consecutive year as the new-kid-on-the-block?
It was about noon when word came down, and the look on the executives’ and drivers’ faces alike said it all: the twelfth-hour reprieve that the city of Seattle and Pilots’ owner Dewey Soriano received was just a bit unexpected. The Pilots will play the 1970 season back in Seattle while Soriano and William Daley look for a suitable buyer. The situation will be tough, one official says, but Major League Baseball and the City of Seattle will be better off if the Pilots are given a chance at survival.
Milwaukee Brewers President Allan “Bud” Selig, who has been working tirelessly to bring Major League Baseball back to Milwaukee ever since the Braves headed south to Atlanta, told the press that he would continue to fight for a team. With no plans from the Commissioner’s Office for further expansion, though, Selig may be forced to lure an existing team away from their current city to the Brew City, much like the way Atlanta snatched the Braves from Selig’s hometown.
Whether that’d even be possible, or if Selig would even have the courage to do it, is up for debate…
April 6, 1977 – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
The Milwaukee Brewers, the newest member of the American League, hope to get their franchise started on the right foot today when they play host to the Angels of California in the newly renovated County Stadium. It’s been twelve years since the stadium has hosted professional baseball involving a team that wears “MILWAUKEE” on their road jerseys. Officials are expecting a sell-out crowd of 55,000+ Milwaukeeans on Wednesday in the 27-year old stadium.
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Wisconsin residents have spent the last seven years watching the Seattle Pilots with one eye. Ever since new Brewers owner Bud Selig was rebuffed by the courts on April Fool’s Day, 1970, it’s been tough to let go of the feeling that Milwaukee had professional baseball in it’s grasp but somehow let it slip away. The fact that Selig was able to convince the ownership group in only six years that expansion was key is nothing short of remarkable. And with the Canadian city of Toronto receiving the second expansion franchise, one can almost see the Great Lakes region capturing the public’s imagination.
If only the expansion draft had left open such budding stars as Seattle’s Robin Yount, the story might be different. As it is, Brewers fans can only pray for a 4th place or better finish.
October 19, 1982 – St. Louis, Missouri
For the first time since 1967, the Cardinals are world champions. Fans in St. Louis are already taking to the streets to celebrate this six-game victory over the California Angels. The talk around the stadium is that the drawn-out, seven-game American League Championship Series against the Seattle Pilots was California’s undoing. The play of AL MVP Robin Yount and the young Paul Molitor made a huge dent in California’s ability to weather another storm from the Cardinals.
April 3, 1989 – Cleveland, Ohio
It’s Opening Day for the Indians and Brewers. On a day like today, you can expect Cleveland Stadium to feel as cramped like a tin can, but it’s going to be even tighter than normal: the Brewers will start outfield superstar-in-training Ken Griffey, Jr., for the first time in his career. When a player has that kind of pedigree and that beauty of a swing, the crowds just can’t stay away.
Brewers fans, though, hope that Griffey, Jr., will mean far more than that to the city. His father, the great Ken Griffey, Sr., may never have played in Milwaukee, but the fans don’t care. They just hope that that beauty of a swing will work well at old County Stadium and that he will lead the team to the postseason for the first time in it’s existence. Team owner Bud Selig will also be in attendance to see the future of his franchise.
September 16, 1993 – Seattle, Washington
Pilots’ fans today celebrated one of the cherished milestones in baseball with beloved Seattle figure Robin Yount. In the fifth inning of the game, Yount laced a single down the line off of Kansas City’s Chris Haney to join the exclusive fraternity. Sure, Yount probably would have reached the plateau a lot sooner than he did if it weren’t for the unforgiving carpet at the Kingdome, but, ask any Washingtonian, they love him all the same.
Commissioner Fay Vincent was in attendance. The way Vincent gushed about the achievement to anyone with a camera or tape recorder after the game shows just how much he loves the game. The six-year contract that he signed last fall probably didn’t hurt either.
And where do we go from here? If Selig doesn’t become an owner 1977, then it’s unlikely that he would be able to ascend to the Commissioner’s Office so quickly. If Vincent is in charge in ’94, does the strike still happen? McGwire and Sosa? Bonds? Of course, it’s impossible to levy the blame/credit for all of this on one man, and much of it could very well have ended up the same. But things would certainly have played out differently these last 40 years, and it’s not a stretch to say that it’s because of what Bud Selig did in March 1970.