Gene Budig, a 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 Sept. 8 in South Carolina. He was 81.

His death was announced by the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office and the Charleston RiverDogs, a minor league team he co-owned. No cause was given.

Dr. Budig succeeded Bobby Brown as AL president in 1994 and augmented his staff with Larry Doby, the league’s first Black player. Dr. Budig held the job until baseball owners abolished league presidents under a reorganization urged by commissioner Bud 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, Dr. Budig was a baseball outsider — small in stature, owlish in appearance, exceedingly soft-spoken — who belonged more in a college classroom 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 Dr. Budig: “I’m not sure when the last time he wore a jockstrap was.”

Dr. 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 University of Kansas athletic department, had them ship him the largest jockstrap they had in stock, signed it and sent the undergarment to Steinbrenner.

In 2007, when Dr. Budig moved to South Carolina, he became a part-owner of the Charleston ­RiverDogs, a Yankees affiliate in the Class A South Atlantic League. By then, he and Steinbrenner were on much friendlier terms.

A chancellor at Kansas and president at West Virginia University and Illinois State University, Dr. Budig also was a newspaper reporter, a governor’s assistant, a major general in the Nebraska Air National Guard and a professor at Princeton and his alma mater, the University of Nebraska.

Mixing his passion for academics and athletics at Kansas, Dr. Budig oversaw a smart move in 1988. With many prominent alumni clamoring for the program to hire a big name to succeed Larry Brown as men’s basketball coach, Dr. Budig instead backed someone who had never been more than an assistant in college: Roy Williams, a future Hall of Famer.

“Ol’ Budig knew a little something,” the professor liked to say about many subjects, with a wry smile.

Dr. Budig remained close to Williams and they were part of a regular breakfast gathering in the Charleston area that featured present and past coaches in college basketball and football.

Gene Budig was born May 25, 1939, and was adopted from an orphanage shortly after birth. He grew up in McCook, Neb., and earned three degrees at the University of Nebraska — a bachelor’s in journalism in 1962, a master’s in English in 1963 and a doctorate in education in 1967.

Dr. Budig was a reporter and editorial writer for the Lincoln Star and Lincoln Journal while attending school, then worked as chief of staff to Nebraska Gov. Frank B. Morrison (D) in the 1960s. He also served in the Nebraska Air National Guard, retiring in 1992.

He was a professor of educational administration at Nebraska, where he also served in several jobs in the university’s administration, including director of public affairs.

He moved to Illinois State in 1972 as a vice president, dean and professor of educational administration and its youngest full professor. He became acting president in 1973 and president later that year.

Dr. Budig was appointed president of West Virginia University in 1977 and was hired as Kansas’s chancellor, the university’s top executive position, in 1981. He visited every county in the state during his first year and presided over a campus expansion. He also helped lobby the state for money to rebuild an auditorium following a fire, and the building was renamed Budig Hall in 1997.

After serving as AL president, Dr. Budig taught at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Survivors include his wife, Gretchen Van Bloom Budig; four children; a brother; and five grandchildren.

— Associated Press