A new commissioner will come, if not Thursday then some other day and presumably by the time Bud Selig is supposed to retire in January, but the game lately is running thin on absolutes.
Baseball’s 30 owners are gathered in Baltimore, where they are attempting to identify Selig’s successor, otherwise known as the man most likely to preserve the status quo and/or change everything. Their choice, for the moment, is Rob Manfred, Tom Werner or Tim Brosnan. The first to 23 votes wins.
For the first time in more than two decades, the owners will not have Selig to shepherd them to grudging agreement, which, in the Selig years, came to be known as unanimous, hold-hands-and-smile-for-the-cameras-dammit agreement. Oh, they know where Selig leans on this, and his man – Manfred, his COO and a commissioner’s office executive since 1998 – is the frontrunner, if surely not a shoo-in.
In his time on Park Avenue, Manfred has been out in front of the labor negotiations, drug testing and once famously had a note delivered to Alex Rodriguez’s grandstanding lawyer on national television. During the Biogenesis affair, the Miami New Times called Manfred “a charming bulldog with an upstate New York accent,” which just about covers it.
Werner is chairman of the Boston Red Sox. He was managing general partner of the San Diego Padres in the early ’90s. In a very short period of time, he managed to tick off every Padres fan and introduce the country to Roseanne Barr the anthem singer. He’d be the out-of-the-box candidate, though, granted, it’s a really small box.
Simplifying, Brosnan is Selig’s money guy. As executive vice president of business, Brosnan has overseen domestic and international business functions, including licensing, sponsorship and – trumpets, please – broadcasting, since 2000. When Selig talks about $9 billion in revenues, Brosnan blushes. Or should.
By Thursday afternoon, it could be one of those guys. It could be a combination of two of the three. It could be none of them. Jerry Reinsdorf will get back to you on that. See, Reinsdorf allegedly is rallying votes against Manfred, because the notion of ongoing labor peace, economic stability and great personal wealth isn’t sitting well with him. On every owner’s mind, presumably, is the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current one, negotiated under a different union chief and, soon, a different commissioner, will expire after the 2016 season. Both the union and the owners seem to believe they were taken in the last negotiations, so, you know, here we go.
The three candidates made presentations to the owners on Wednesday and would sit for follow-up questions and challenges later Wednesday and into Thursday. The vote will come Thursday. Someone will reach the required 23 votes or the seven-member search committee, headed by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., will continue its search.
What we do know – or at least suspect – is that, after 22 years, there will be a new commissioner, and it won’t be Bud Selig. Maybe it’ll be too much for some and not enough for others, but leadership change is coming for the first time since the Toronto Blue Jays were knocking out World Series championships. In a job that by definition is subordinate to the whims of 30 owners, Selig had become bigger than that. And now you wonder if the job is even the same job anymore. The next guy won’t be startled by steroids, labor conflicts or other issues of Selig’s day, but neither will he be sitting in the chair when the Internet arrives or when TV revenues restructure the game’s economy. Selig hired some bright people with broad visions and then was smart enough himself to ride along. Do the coming years promise an entirely new media frontier? Maybe.
Selig’s success, in part, was a product of the era. He was a lead-with-his-heart, counter-with-his-conscience leader the next generation might be inclined to send straight to the wood chipper, because the next generation sends everybody straight to the wood chipper.
Congress once attacked him and now it praises him. You know how long it takes, how hard it is, to turn that aircraft carrier?
Can the next guy match that? Does international expansion cover it? Do pace-of-play measures cover it? Does a friendly CBA outcome cover it?
Selig’s long, often fruitful, sometimes choppy act won’t be an easy one to chase. It’s a hard job. By the looks of things, it’ll only get harder.
Still, on Wednesday afternoon, three men stood before baseball’s most powerful men and requested that job, and hoped to appear commissioner-ish, and hunted their votes.
Maybe one of them will be the next guy, and then he’ll be in charge of the absolutes.
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