One man resurrected a woeful, ailing franchise, forever changing a city’s image in the Deep South.
The other repaired, refurbished and nurtured an industry to its greatest prosperity and peace in its history.
Former commissioner Bud Selig and former general manager John Schuerholz will be linked in baseball folklore, elected together Sunday night into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era ballot.
Schuerholz, architect of two World Series championships, five pennant winners and 16 playoff berths, was a unanimous choice by a 16-member committee.
“I know some Hall of Famers, saw many Hall of Famers perform,” Schuerholz said, “but never in my imagination did I imagine someone would pick up the phone and say, ‘Congratulations, you have been elected into baseball’s Hall of Fame.’ Those words will ring in my head and brain for the rest of my life.”
Selig, the fifth commissioner to be inducted, received 15 votes, missing unanimous selection by one. Former manager Lou Piniella received seven votes — five shy of what he needed for induction.
“To say this is a great day in my life would be an understatement,” Selig said. “I’ve looked forward to this day for a long time. I’m truly honored, to say the least.”
Selig, the ninth commissioner in baseball history, arguably was the best. He took over at a time when baseball was at war with the union, prompting the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, and the rampant steroid era. Selig was in control when baseball cleaned up those messes. And today, baseball has the longest run of labor peace of any sport in North America — 26 years by the time the new labor agreement expires in 2021 — and the most comprehensive drug testing program in professional sports.
“Baseball’s a metaphor for life,” Selig said. “Those were tough moments. And ’94 was a very, very tough moment. It was terribly painful. It broke my heart. It was painful, but I think it served as a great lesson.”
Just like the steroid era, where many of baseball’s greatest stars and some of the finest records were found to be tainted because of the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“It was painful, with a lot of ups and downs,” Selig said. “But the fact of that matter is that we did what a social institution should do. We solved our problem and now have the toughest testing program in American sports. For a sport that never had a drug testing program, we came a long ways.”
And, oh, yes, there’s that money, with revenue that eclipsed a record $11 billion last season, Selig said, compared with $1.2 billion when he took over in 1992.
“We were living in a system that was archaic,” Selig said. “There were a lot of things I’m really proud of, but the economics, to grow in popularity and revenues, I’m very proud of that.”
Schuerholz brought that same hope and turned a franchise that was a laughingstock into a dynasty. The Braves had finished in last or next-to-last in six consecutive years, averaging 96 losses a season, and had failed to win a playoff game since 1958, when the Milwaukee Braves won the World Series. Schuerholz, the architect of the Kansas City Royals’ 1985 World Series championship team, joined forces with Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox after the 1990 season, and the duo led the Braves to 14 division titles, five pennants and one World Series title from 1991 to 2005.
Schuerholz became the first GM to win a World Series in each league — a feat since matched by Pat Gillick and Theo Epstein — but considers his greatest accomplishment the streak of 14 consecutive division titles.
“It’s easy to build a championship team,” Schuerholz said, “but very difficult and challenging to sustain it. It’s hard to say one trumps another. I’m proud of what we did in Kansas City and Atlanta, overcoming the challenges we had and being successful and winning consistently.”
Now, after being friends for the last 40 years, and rivals back when Schuerholz began with the Baltimore Orioles and Selig owned the Milwaukee Brewers, they are reunited again.
This time in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The proudest triumph of their baseball careers has arrived.