NEW YORK – Gene Budig, the self-effacing educator and baseball fan from small-town Nebraska who became the head of three major universities and the last president of the American League, died Tuesday. He was 81.
His death was announced by the commissioner’s office and the Charleston RiverDogs, a minor league team he co-owned. No cause was given. He had been in hospice in South Carolina.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that Budig was a “friend to many” in baseball and praised his “lifelong connection” to the game. Former Commissioner Bud Selig said Tuesday he “appreciated his work and his support,” calling him a ”wonderful person."
Budig succeeded Bobby Brown as AL president in 1994 and augmented his staff with Larry Doby, the first Black player in the AL. Budig held the job until baseball owners abolished league presidents under a reorganization urged by Selig in 2000.
By then, with interleague play already a part of the game and umpires being put under the control of the commissioner’s office, it was clear those longtime positions were being phased out.
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was among those skeptical of Budig’s credentials. To the bombastic Boss, the outsider -- small in stature, owlish in appearance, exceedingly soft-spoken -- belonged more in school than in sports.
Incensed by a suspension imposed on pitcher Mike Stanton following a brawl between the Yankees and Baltimore Orioles in 1998, Steinbrenner thundered about Budig: “I’m not sure when the last time he wore a jockstrap was.”
Budig, whose childhood dream was to play second base for the Yankees, didn’t publicly respond. Rather, he brandished his razor wit. He contacted old pals at the Kansas University athletic department, had them ship him the largest jockstrap they had in stock, signed it and sent the undergarment to Steinbrenner.