Sports & Recreation

Sports and Society

Acknowledging his UW education, baseball commissioner Bud Selig endows a history chair.

As Chancellor Biddy Martin (left) listens during a news conference at Miller Park in August, Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball, announces a major gift for an endowed history professorship. Photo: Bryce Richter

Allan H. “Bud” Selig ’56 often talks about how history guides the decisions he makes as the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

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

“The [baseball] clubs always kid me, because at least three or four times in every major league meeting, I talk about … the retrospect of history. Because I analyze, and they trained me well back in those days, to view everything in the light of history,” he said during an August 27 news conference at Milwaukee’s Miller Park.

The conference announced the history chair and two scholarships established in honor of Selig and his wife, Suzanne.

The event capped a week celebrating Selig’s legacy. On August 24, a statue of Selig was dedicated at the park.

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

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 eighteen 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 has frequently said that the most powerful and important moment in baseball history took place when Jackie Robinson came to the big leagues on April 15, 1947. “Jackie was clearly one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century,” he said.

Selig 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.

Chancellor Biddy Martin PhD’85 said the Seligs’ gift will help to expand the university’s scholarship. “[It] 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.

Published in the Spring 2011 issue


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