Bud Selig: By the Book

The former baseball commissioner, whose new memoir is “For the Good of the Game,” was a voracious childhood reader, “mostly about sports,” and especially “novels about the Brooklyn Dodgers.”

What books are on your nightstand?

I have just finished reading “Dinner in Camelot,” by Joseph A. Esposito. It’s a compelling story about a dinner that took place in April 1962, during the height of the Cold War, in which President John F. Kennedy and Jackie invited numerous Nobel Prize winners along with other prominent writers, scientists and scholars to the White House. It was a remarkable evening at a time when intellect and culture were respected and appreciated in the center of the American political world. Next, I will read “The Washington War: FDR’s Inner Circle and the Politics of Power That Won World War II,” by James Lacey. I just read a review and am anxious to begin reading.

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most? Any sportswriters you especially respect?

As an avid reader of history, particularly those writers who recreate the lives of American leaders who shaped the 20th century, I especially admire David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Robert A. Caro and Jon Meacham. I also enjoy the novelist John Grisham. And I have great respect for the Washington Post journalist George Will. Also, I admire and am very friendly with numerous sportswriters whom I’ve dealt with throughout my career in baseball. But they are too numerous to mention here and I would hate to inadvertently leave any of them off the list.

What’s your favorite thing to read? And what do you avoid reading?

I was a history major in school at the University of Wisconsin and had planned to become a history professor. I was fascinated by the subject. I still am, especially with American history throughout the 20th century. I’ve always been intrigued with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and, over the years, have read everything related to his presidency that I could. I read other nonfiction works as well, and some fiction but not much. I can’t say I actually avoid subjects but I don’t really get around to reading self-help books.

Do you have a favorite historian?

I have several, especially those who have written about World War II. One of them, Stephen E. Ambrose, is probably best known for “Band of Brothers,” which traces a company of soldiers from their landing in Normandy through the end of the war. He was affiliated with the history department at the University of Wisconsin, as I am today. (I teach a course there on baseball history. I also teach at Arizona State University in Tempe and at Marquette University School of Law in Milwaukee.) In addition to Ambrose, I have great regard for Cornelius Ryan, who wrote, among others, “The Longest Day” and “A Bridge Too Far,” as well as Antony Beevor, whose histories cover both the eastern and western fronts of World War II.

What do you read when you travel?

As mentioned above, I read a great deal of historical nonfiction — both at home as well as when I travel.

How do you like to read? Paper or electronic? Morning or night?

I read books. Other than a cellphone, I haven’t really kept pace with the new technology. As for when I read, probably mostly in the evening but it depends on when I have free time.

What’s the best book about baseball?

There are many excellent books about our national pastime, but a couple that come to mind are “The Boys of Summer,” by Roger Kahn, and “Summer of ’49,” by David Halberstam. They are both classics. Kahn tells the remarkable story of the Brooklyn Dodgers during the 1950s — the days of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider and others: how they triumphed and the effect the club had on America. The author, Roger Kahn, was a sportswriter who covered the Dodgers during those days. And Halberstam tells an equally remarkable story, primarily about the pennant race between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox that wasn’t determined until the very end of the season. The book reminds me of the time that Bart Giamatti and I wandered the streets of New York in the dead of night reliving those wonderful days of the summer of 1949. Bart was a lifetime Red Sox fan who then was president of Yale and later became National League president and baseball’s seventh commissioner. And I would be remiss not to mention two of my favorite baseball biographies: “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created” and “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” both by Jane Leavy.

What’s the last book you recommended to a member of your family?

I recommended Doris Kearns Goodwin’s most recent book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times.” My wife and daughters are big fans of hers, as am I. In “Leadership,” she describes and explains the leadership qualities of the presidents that she has studied in great depth: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

What kind of reader were you as a child?

I was a voracious reader. I read mostly about sports. My favorite writer was John R. Tunis, a novelist and sportswriter best remembered for his series of novels about the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s and ’50s, even though he was born in Boston. I read all of his books that were available at the time. I loved them all, but one of my favorites was “Highpockets.” It’s a great story and teaches life lessons like the importance of telling the truth and treating others with respect.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Roy Hobbs, the main character in Bernard Malamud’s novel about baseball, “The Natural,” is my favorite. I really enjoyed the Hobbs character when I first read the book as a young man in the 1950s and even more so several decades later with the release of the movie version of the book, which starred Robert Redford.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

I would suggest a couple of books. First, “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Homefront in World War II,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This Pulitzer Prize winner provides a great example of how the leader of our country operates from the White House during times of crisis. I would also suggest another Pulitzer Prize winner, “Truman,” by David McCullough, which again depicts our country’s leader during difficult times and how he confronts and deals with those problems.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

John Grisham, for one. He’s my favorite novelist. I would also invite two historians, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Robert A. Caro. Doris’s book about F.D.R. and Eleanor is one of my all-time favorites. I believe I’ve read everything she has written and, given my background, I especially loved “Wait Till Next Year,” her memoir about growing up with baseball. I am also a big fan of Robert A. Caro and especially his multivolume series on Lyndon Baines Johnson.

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