He was noted for his ability to assess and utilize talent, which gave his teams a great opportunity to be successful. His success is measurable in that he won five NL titles with the Beaneaters, including three years in a row from 1891 to 1893. After he left Boston, he went on to manage in Chicago where built the basis for the Cubs' later success by signing and utilizing the talents of Frank Chance, Joe Tinker, and Johnny Evers. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999 for his managerial achievements.
Selee was born in Amherst, New Hampshire. He has been described as a "balding little man with a modest demeanor and a formidable mustache that gave his face a melancholy cast", and shy and reticent in public. He left a factory job in Waltham, Massachusetts in 1884 to form a minor league team. His was success in the minors, which led his eventual move to the Major Leagues in 1890.
Noted for having a keen ability to assess talent, Selee managed the Boston Beaneaters (1890–1901) and the Chicago Cubs (1902–1905). His Beaneaters captured five NL pennants during his tenure (1891–93, 1897–98). His 1892 team, aided by the first 150-game schedule in history, became the first team to win 100 games in a season.
In June, 1905, he became too ill to manage and surrendered his team to Chance, who went on lead the Cubs to four National League titles and two World Series victories. The last Cubs' title under Chance in 1910, eight of top thirteen players from the 1905 team were still major contributors. In total, he had 1,284 victories in 2,180 games as manager during his 16-year career, with a winning percentage of .598.
An animated representation of Selee appeared, as a speaking role, by name, in the 1991 episode "Batter Up" in Back to the Future: The Animated Series, which involved Marty and the Brown children traveling back to 1891 to help one of Marty's ancestors, a player for the Beaneaters, to improve his game.