How Will New MLB Commissioner Be Different From Bud Selig?

MLB, MLBPA Announce New Labor Agreement
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The reign of Bud Selig as Major League Baseball Commissioner has lasted over 22 years, which included the lowest point in memory (the 1994 strike) and the current high point of fiscal health ($8 billion in annual revenue) for the game. After the election of new commissioner Rob Manfred was confirmed August 14, many are wondering how the man considered Selig’s trusted lieutenant would differ from the departing commish. In fact, it appears Manfred was endorsed as the figure most likely to continue Selig’s legacy.

Alternatives to Manfred

Manfred is the Chief Operating Officer of MLB who has the reputation of an efficient executive who tackled some unpleasant jobs Selig delegated to him in recent years, among them the Biogenesis scandal and labor agreements with the MLB player’s association (MLBPA). While Manfred strengthened the drug policy and succeeded in suspending star players from Manny Ramírez to Alex Rodriguez, rival candidates for the commissioner post had aims to challenge the MLBPA, often considered the country’s most powerful union.

Tim Brosnan, a top MLB business executive with the game’s lucrative TV deals on his resume, withdrew from the process at the beginning of the August 14 vote. Tom Werner, a Red Sox executive who appeared poised to take on the MLBPA with different challenges, represented the only legitimate faction (with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf behind him) that stood in opposition to Manfred’s bid. The New York Post reports that at one point in the proceedings, Werner had 10 of the 30 owners’ votes to Manfred’s 20.

So what made the three to four team owners move over to Manfred’s side?

The Werner contingent must have seen no way forward as Manfred built momentum toward the 23 votes he needed to become the tenth MLB Commissioner in baseball’s history. Selig ordered a symbolic vote afterward that had all 30 owners agreeing unanimously on Manfred. No word of what compromise shifted the votes of the three owners emerged after the meeting. According to Werner, there was none.

“It’s not that there was any arrangement made, but I think that we also agree on the constructive ideas,” Werner said, according to The New York Times. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to assume the Werner faction got something in the bargain, though confirming Manfred was avoiding any battle with the MLBPA in the near future.

Status quo for baseball

What most observers took from the drama yielding a Bud Selig successor was MLB’s status quo — including fantastic wealth and little threat of labor disputes — would continue. Selig indeed presided over the 1994 strike in which the first World Series was ever cancelled, yet he learned from that bitter struggle that challenging the union could only be done with bona fide leverage. If some owners were willing to take on the MLBPA with Werner at the helm, many more of baseball’s 30 powers decided the status quo was too lucrative to drop.

Should Werner’s suggestions about speeding up play or showcasing the game internationally be heeded? There were numerous ideas Werner brought forward that would help the game. Many believe that the player’s union is too powerful for its own good. Yet the alternative of battling the MLBPA and risking a firestorm reminiscent of 1994 was unacceptable. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos summed it best after the meeting adjourned with Manfred as the new commissioner.

“The other candidates are excellent also,” the Post reported Angelos saying, “but [Manfred]’s got the experience, and everyone’s looking to him to solve the problems that baseball has and to expand on the success of baseball.”

Selig’s legacy is unprecedented popularity in the modern era and overwhelming revenues for baseball’s 30 owners. In short, there may be minor, incremental changes ahead for MLB, but Rob Manfred appears set to continue the Selig era. Success sells.