Commencement Address Allan (Bud) Selig University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee May 19, 2013 It is truly an honor to stand before you today. I thank Chancellor Michael Lovell and all of his colleagues for extending the invitation and affording me the opportunity to share this special day with each of you – at the dawn of such an exciting chapter in your life. I am also extremely honored to be the recipient of the honorary Doctorate of Business at the same time that my dear friend Marianne Lubar receives the Doctorate of Leadership in the Arts. Marianne is a visionary in the cultural arts community and her work in philanthropy as well as education is amongst her many remarkable accomplishments. I can think of no one more deserving of this honor. To today’s graduates, I want you to know that as you move on from this great research institution and its beautiful campus, you will realize that few occasions in your life are as important, as meaningful and as symbolic as today. This is a moment of passage, calling for you to carry a spirit of courage and a clear vision for the future. If the idea of new responsibilities gives you any trepidation, you should not worry. To the contrary, you should be excited for all the possibilities that await you. As the Commissioner of Baseball, I have the utmost professional pride in leading the sport of the great Jackie Robinson, a man who redefined what was possible in our game and – ultimately – in our society. He provided a wonderful example for you to follow. This son of a family of sharecroppers authored the game’s proudest and most powerful moment on April 15, 1947, when he took his rightful place at first base and ended baseball’s color barrier. Seven years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case and three years before the integration of the U.S. Army, the beginnings of justice could be found on the diamond at Ebbets Field. Last month marked the debut of the brilliant movie depicting his life, ‘42.’ The inspiring film reinforces that Jackie Robinson earned one of America’s enduring legacies not only because of his remarkable athletic gifts – he impacted the Civil Rights Movement because of the grace with which he handled unprecedented scrutiny. The vibrant memory of Jackie Robinson reminds all of us that our deeds can open up new doors of possibility and blaze a lasting trail for others in the process. You should always have faith in the power of possibilities. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Today marks an occasion that you have dreamt about for much of your lives, and that’s why this milestone is so extraordinary. Once today’s well-deserved celebrations are complete, you should devote your passion toward the realization of your dreams.
I often take comfort in the words of advice that Teddy Roosevelt gave to his son in 1904. The President said: “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose vision is marred by dust and sweat and tears; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievements; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing so greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” When I graduated from the University of Wisconsin in June of 1956, I aspired to become a history professor. While I was not exactly sure where my future would take me, I knew that there was no substitute for hard work. If you work hard and you work well with your peers, be assured that someone will take notice. You will find that teamwork is essential to success. And, in this age when so many different things vie for your attention, always know when it is time to focus on the task at hand. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” I believe a passion for life’s work is essential for success, and I have been fortunate to work in a field I have loved all my life. My passion for Baseball stems largely from the influence of my mother. She loved the arts first and foremost, but she had a special place in her heart for the great American game. When I was a teenager, we spent summer days in Chicago, Boston and New York, and together we visited art museums and the wonderful American ballparks – Wrigley Field, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, where I saw my favorite player, Joe DiMaggio, glide through its vast center field for my 15th birthday. Those experiences taught me how special baseball was throughout our country, and I appreciated how much those historic venues played vital roles in defining their cities and gave their communities a sense of pride that made them a better place to live. As a Milwaukeean, I dreamed of the possibility of Wisconsin getting to experience that same Major League feeling as the places I visited. It reminded me of the words of the great Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, who famously said: “You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not?’” Thus, you can imagine how I felt when I was 18 years old and the Braves arrived from Boston as our new team in 1953. Immediately, our small Midwestern town emerged as a haven for Major League Baseball. Hank Aaron and the Braves were the biggest draw in baseball, leading all clubs in attendance in their first season in Milwaukee and attracting more than two million fans for four straight years thereafter. With back-to-back National League pennants and a World Series Championship in 1957, the state of Wisconsin was home to baseball euphoria. I was in awe of the game’s unique ability to instill civic pride in a way that no other institution could.
The decade that ensued was one of change and turbulence, and its impact on our local franchise was far-reaching. The Braves moved to Atlanta after the 1965 season, leaving many heartbroken fans in Milwaukee behind. I shared the sadness that swept our community. But I have never been one to sit back complacently instead of searching for a solution, and the disappointment I once felt gave way to a sense of determination. While I was only 30 years of age and the odds were tremendously stacked against us, I decided to do what I could to bring a big league club back to my hometown. Near the end of that final season, I was in the stands at the last game the Milwaukee Braves ever played at County Stadium when I was approached by a lady in a wheelchair. She asked, “Are you Bud Selig?” With tears in her eyes, she grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t you fail. You’re all we’ve got. Don’t you know how important baseball is to people like me?” I’ll never forget those words – or that feeling. She proved to me how important the game of baseball was to this community and reinforced my belief that Baseball is more than a game; it is a social institution. It would have been easy to think of our goal as unattainable. The trying process of returning Baseball to Wisconsin took five and a half years of perseverance, persistence and patience. During that time, I remembered the words of Winston Churchill at his alma mater, the Harrow School of London, in October of 1941: "Never give in, never give in. Never, never, never, never. In nothing – great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Trying and failing was one thing; quitting, however, was unacceptable. There were many disappointments along the way, but there was never defeat. All of our efforts became worthwhile on the night of March 31, 1970, when the American League’s Milwaukee Brewers were born. When Baseball returned to Milwaukee, the people of Wisconsin had another reason to smile together. As the heir to the Braves, the Brewers re-established an important communal experience throughout our region because of the feelings that our team inspired. Through perseverance, vision, persistence and patience, we had restored the common bond that had been missing for four years. I believe that baseball serves as a metaphor for life, as I learned from one of my predecessors as Commissioner – and my dear friend – the late Bart Giamatti. With this example in mind, I urge each of you to chase your dreams. Know that you will have the ability to be a force for change in your chosen field. Change can be difficult. It may be treated as unwelcome. It may invite criticism. But sometimes, change is necessary. In 1992, I had the privilege of becoming the leader of the sport I loved. Leaning on my perspective with the Brewers, I knew that our game the “grand old game” faced a time of clear peril. An institutional resistance to change kept us from modernizing Baseball in the ways that our fans desired. Complicating our plight, we were a divided industry. There were internal battles amongst owners, which dangerously split the sport and hurt the game badly. We had a horrible labor history with our players unions which had led to eight previous work stoppages.
I resolved that our sport would address the pressing issues that had lingered far too long. I understood that you could not be afraid to make tough decisions, even though they may be unpopular at the time, as long as they were in the best long-term interest of the sport. Criticism would not deter us from doing what was right. This is true of everything in life. We implemented Interleague Play, which brought excitement to our game by showcasing rivalries both old and new. We expanded the Postseason, allowing more fans to experience the excitement of October baseball. For the first time ever, we adopted a revenue-sharing structure that has led us to historical competitive balance and provided hope and faith in every Major League Market. Over the course of time, we have maintained an era of unprecedented labor peace and improved economics – a period in which the action on the field has spoken for itself and we have been able to market the game uninhibited. Fans have responded in record fashion, as the last nine years are the nine best-attended seasons in baseball history. The renaissance that the game enjoys today would not have been possible without a bold new spirit of creativity and innovation. Together, we learned it is imperative to work your way through the tough times, learn from them and move onto the brighter days ahead. Whereas my first years as Commissioner were spent stabilizing the game’s very foundation, more recently we have seized the opportunity to focus on growth. Against all odds, Baseball is the sport that has seamlessly adapted to the new digital age. With the work of MLB Advanced Media, fans easily enjoy the baseball season on their iPhones and iPads. The everyday nature of our game lends itself to the comprehensive television coverage provided by MLB Network all year long. At a time when more than 28% of our Major League players hail from outside the United States – spanning 15 countries and territories – Baseball’s next frontier is the continued expansion of our international presence. In the years ahead, we will set out to take the game into Europe and new parts of Asia. With bright days upon us, we have used our stature as a social institution to live up to our important responsibilities away from the field. Jackie Robinson famously said, “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” I believe that, and I believe Baseball has the ability to impact people’s lives. I have always said that Baseball is a social institution with important social responsibilities. There are those who look upon public service and social responsibility as a duty, I see it as an opportunity and a privilege. Our commitment to so many worthy causes, including serving as a founding donor to Stand Up To Cancer, are dramatic manifestations of Baseball being socially responsible. As the National Pastime, we are constantly striving to fulfill our social duties – the kind once described by our 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, who said: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”
As you embark upon your careers and other worthy pursuits, keep in mind President Wilson’s words. Through all the challenges you encounter, always give your best effort. Everyone needs some good fortune, too, but as Branch Rickey once said, “Luck is the residue of design.” I urge each of you to dream big dreams. I urge you to accept the challenge, be courageous, and seek the vision to be the very best you can be. Never give up on your dreams. Your future is limitless. I truly believe you can achieve and accomplish whatever it is that you set out to do. The great writer, W. Somerset Maugham, summed it up when he said, “It’s a funny thing about life; if you refuse to accept anything but the very best, you often will get it.” On this day of hope and optimism, it is a privilege to congratulate the Class of 2013 at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. I wish you all the best and good fortune as you begin to realize your dreams and make an impact in a world where all things are possible. Thank you.