COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. - Bud Selig isn’t sure how many times he has visited the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He’s guessing somewhere around 25 times, including once in each of his 22 years as Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
But Selig never had been on the receiving end of a trip to Cooperstown. On Thursday, he was given his orientation as an upcoming inductee into the Hall of Fame. All new members get the royal treatment, but none has had the same perspective as Selig beforehand.
“I didn’t think anything could overwhelm me but this is overwhelming,” Selig conceded before the day’s full schedule of events even began. “I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. Everywhere I go, people remind me about it.”
Selig, voted in by a 15-1 margin by the Today’s Era Committee in December, was the last of the five 2017 inductees to make an initiation visit, following former players Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez, and executive John Schuerholz. It proved to be a day he’ll never forget, leading to the July 30 induction ceremony on his 83rd birthday.
Here’s how the busy yet buoyant day went:
8:46 a.m. CDT: Selig boards a private plane at Mitchell International Airport for the 1-hour, 15-minute flight to Griffiss International Airport, a former military base in Rome, N.Y. The departure is several minutes behind schedule due to poor weather in Milwaukee and a longer-than-expected drive in heavy traffic from his home in Bayside.
Selig settles in with his usual thick stack of newspapers, which he scours for as much baseball news as possible while also chatting with two invited reporters about his road to Cooperstown.
“I’ve been thinking about Hall of Famers,” he said. “Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Branch Rickey, who was my boyhood idol, Joe DiMaggio, who became my favorite player, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays. Think of the names. And now I get to join them.”
Selig talks about the early preparation for his acceptance speech, the accomplishments that will be chronicled on his bronze plaque and the artifacts from his years as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and commissioner to be donated to the induction exhibit.
On the topic of his speech, Selig later says, “It’ll get changed about 8,000 times between now and July 30. That’s the one thing I’m most sure of.”
11:15 am. EDT: Selig’s plane lands in Rome, N.Y., where two vans from the Hall of Fame await to take his delegation to Cooperstown, about an hour’s ride away through scenic upstate New York. Selig is taken directly to The Otesaga Resort Hotel on scenic Otsego Lake for lunch with Hall chairman Jane Forbes Clark, president Jeff Idelson and several senior staff members.
1:15 p.m.: Selig and the Hall of Fame staff gather for a planning meeting for induction weekend. As baseball commissioner, Selig helped hand plaques to recipients on the stage. Now, he learns about the schedule, media opportunities, his speech and many other details that go into being inducted. He signs two dozen baseballs that go into the Hall’s archives, following the tradition of every member before him.
“I used a Hall of Fame pen,” he said. “I asked if I could keep it and they said, ‘Sure.’ ”
2:30 p.m.: Selig is brought to the Plaque Gallery, the most sacred location in the Hall of Fame, where bronze plaques hang of all Hall of Famers. He is shown the plaques of Hank Aaron, Robin Yount and others of interest before moving to the center of the rotunda to inspect the five-man inaugural class of 1936: Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Ruth, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson.
He then is taken to the specific location in the gallery where his plaque will hang forevermore. And, in a new touch this year, he is asked to autograph the granite backing over which the plaque will hang.
Selig then meets with local and national media to discuss his upcoming induction as well as other baseball topics. Some of the questions are tough. He is asked if he has any regrets from his years as the commissioner or if he fears hearing any boos at his induction.
“If you’re worried when you become commissioner about being booed … you’re going to do things that are not always popular or easy,” he said. “But you do what’s in the best interests of the game. You understand that whatever you do, somebody might not agree with. I’m proud of what we did.”
3:15 p.m.: Selig is taken to a place only special visitors are allowed to go – the basement archives of the museum. There, thousands upon thousands of artifacts are stored in boxes and other containers for safe keeping. Hall of Fame vice president of exhibits and collections Erik Strohl reveals the museum has more than 40,000 three-dimensional artifacts on site, only 12% to 15% of which are exhibited at any given time.
Several items considered of interest to Selig are displayed on a table for him to examine, wearing white gloves to protect their integrity. He is shown fielding gloves from as far back as the 1870s, a glove worn by Gehrig and another by Derek Jeter. There is a gold leaf-coated baseball from an all-star game in 1858 between teams from Manhattan and Brooklyn, considered to be the first game for which admission was charged.
Selig is shown a Seattle Pilots baseball cap, worn just one season before they became the Brewers. There is a Kenosha uniform from the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a jersey worn by Steve Barber from the first Brewers club in 1970, a Warren Spahn cap and the bat Eddie Mathews used to hit his 506th career home run.
“Look at all of this,” Selig said in wonderment. “Have you ever seen anything like it? This is unbelievable. It really is. I could stay down here all day.”
The coup de grace was a Babe Ruth-used bat, which Selig was allowed to hold, examine and use to take a few practice swings. For a devout follower and fan of baseball history, it was like being a kid in the candy store.
“Well, we know at least two people who have held this bat,” Selig says with a smile.
3:45 p.m.: Selig is taken on a personal tour of the museum by Strohl, stopping to see exhibits of personal interest. The first stop is an extensive collection of artifacts honoring Aaron, a longtime friend of Selig’s.
“He has been more generous to us than any other living Hall of Famer,” Strohl tells Selig.
Selig makes stops at other exhibits paying tribute to Jackie Robinson, Gehrig and Ruth, and also is shown an exhibit containing the bronze nameplate with the inscription “Commissioner Selig” from his former office in downtown Milwaukee.
4:30 p.m.: As a relaxing end to his big day, Selig attends a staff reception with cake and punch served. He says a few words of thanks before departing.
“This is a great day in my life,” he said. “It was eye-opening in a lot of ways, I can tell you that. This takes your breath away.
“Everybody here was so nice. They really go out of their way to help you.”
5 p.m.: Selig’s visit comes to an end. As he exits the Hall of Fame, he tells staff members, “I guess I’ll see you in July.”
Story by Tom Haudricourt, Courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.