If something can be described as the best and worst place at the same time, it was the press box at County Stadium in Milwaukee.
It hung down from the roof over the seating bowl and was accessed by a series of catwalks above the crowd. It had two rows of seats that would accommodate maybe 40 people, and visiting writers were assigned to the second row, where the ledge leading to the ceiling was placed just right for you to hit your head once a series.
In this way, it had a lot in common with the dugouts at Tiger Stadium. Both were great places to be in the 1980s, when I started to cover baseball.
Tiger Stadium was great because Sparky Anderson was the manager and Ernie Harwell was the beloved broadcaster. Better hosts you couldn’t find. The treat in Milwaukee came because Bud Selig, the Brewers’ owner, genuinely enjoyed reporters, those who covered his team and those who covered the visiting teams.
Selig’s private box was nearby but he was too antsy watching the Brew Crew to stay there long. He wandered the ballpark, spending an inning or two every game kibitzing with sportswriters. He and some of the locals would guess the attendance and he would critique that morning’s edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel, in particular the Packers coverage he considered so partisan.
Never mind that Selig was on the Packers’ board of directors. He had always loved baseball, not football, and insisted he just wanted to see his team get equal treatment with the Pack. It was always entertaining.
Selig was especially fun to watch at the start of the 1987 season, when a Brewers team managed by Tom Trebelhorn shocked the world with a 13-0 start. The 12th win in that streak was especially dramatic—a Sunday, homestand-ending finale capped by two ninth-inning home runs (Rob Deer’s to tie the game, Dale Sveum’s to win it).
Selig, the happiest man on the planet, literally danced on the camera platform in front of the press box. The hometown team had won, and the hometown owner couldn’t have been more excited had it been Game 7 of the World Series.
Today will also be a happy day for Selig, 76 and heading toward the final chapters in his two decades as baseball’s commissioner (with and without the title). The Brewers are unveiling a statue of him at Miller Park, and many of his favorite people will be there to honor him, including Henry Aaron and Joe Torre.
Donald Fehr, we assume, will not.
Nor will fans from Montreal, who believe the Expos would still be around had Selig and the owners found a way to save the 1994 season, nor members of the lunatic fringe who still believe that Selig and his fellow owners unofficially endorsed steroids as a way to sell tickets and boost ratings. Nor will Pete Rose.
Given Selig’s status as human lightning rod, it won’t be a surprise if the crowd includes some folks urging Major League Baseball to move the 2011 All-Star Game away from Phoenix. With Selig, it’s always something.
However, in regard to the statue, I digress. Selig, who long ago sold the Brewers to
a group headed by Mark Attanasio, is being honored
for his contributions to the Milwaukee franchise. This couldn’t be more fitting if he had invented bratwurst.
The Brewers are a huge part of their city, and there might not be big-league baseball in Milwaukee if not for Selig. He fought back after the Braves jumped to Atlanta, succeeding in getting the Seattle Pilots to move after one season in the Pacific Northwest. He eventually spearheaded the effort to build Miller Park, which secured Milwaukee baseball for the foreseeable future.
Selig has had this day coming for a long time. Here’s hoping he’ll treat his friends to another little dance.