SBJ/Aug. 18-24, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Rob Manfred stepping to the plate

Manfred will face new challenges from owners as MLB’s next commissioner

Rob Manfred was all smiles after owners ended a long day of voting.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The Rob Manfred Era of Major League Baseball didn’t begin with anything resembling a coronation, and his pending administration will be anything but as well.

Last week’s owners vote in Baltimore to make Manfred, previously the league’s chief operating officer, the league’s 10th commissioner had none of the typical political hallmarks of Bud Selig’s tenure. Rather than a typical Selig 30-0 vote that wouldn’t even be called until everything was lined up and concluded with minimal debate, the succession vote came several weeks before most owners previously thought it would and required at least five ballots last Thursday to complete.

SBJ Podcast:
Baseball writer Eric Fisher and Executive Editor Abraham Madkour discuss the vote in Baltimore and the challenges Rob Manfred faces as the new MLB commissioner.

While the final vote was a symbolic 30-0 gesture toward Manfred, the path to the result was a bruising and at times personal battle, after a block of eight teams favoring rival finalist candidate and Boston Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner extended the debate into an arduous daylong marathon.

The lack of owner unanimity is only beginning for Manfred. The voting process showed there is a strident group of clubs, led in part by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, for whom Manfred was not at all their first choice. And with a wide range of troubling issues awaiting Manfred (see related story), choppy political waters are ahead.

But while the process may not have been the traditionally clean one, owners felt its result was a success.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf (with Commissioner Bud Selig at Allen & Co.’s Sun Valley Conference in July) was part of a group of owners supporting Tom Werner’s candidacy, but in the end Manfred, Selig’s chosen successor, won enough votes to become commissioner.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
“I deeply believe in constructive dissent,” said Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting, one of the seven owners on the Selig-appointed succession committee. “And this was not a locked-down thing. This was not at all a pre-determined process. There was open and spirited debate with two really great candidates at the end, but critically toward a common goal. I think that’s healthy for any organization. The process here worked.”

One primary reason for Manfred’s relative lack of owner control is clear. Selig over his 22 years running the sport played a critical if not singular role in placing many club owners in their current positions, with those clubs in turn owing their existence in MLB to the retiring commissioner. That allowed over the years for a powerful flexing of political
Photo by: AP IMAGES
muscle.

Manfred himself acknowledged he has very large shoes to fill when it comes to Selig’s political muscle in building consensus.

“I’m going to work very hard to maintain the tradition of unity [created by Selig] as we move the game forward,” Manfred said.

During the press conference introducing Manfred as the next commissioner, Selig was beaming, having posted perhaps a final major political victory in his lengthy career for his
Candidate Tom Werner speaks to reporters after the final vote.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
favored Manfred.

The election of Manfred arrived at the end of a long, two-day process in which Manfred, Werner, and Tim Brosnan — MLB executive vice president of business — each gave presentations on their visions for the future of baseball and then were extensively questioned by team owners. After many years in which individual club voices were not necessarily always heard, club executives said they truly relished the rare opportunity to openly debate at considerable length how the sport should operate.

THE FINAL TWO

Rob Manfred
■ Age: 55
■ Family: Wife: Colleen; children: Megan, Michael, Jane, Mary Clare
■ Education: B.S., Cornell, 1980; J.D., Harvard Law School, 1983
Career
■ MLB chief operating officer, 2013-present
■ MLB executive vice president of economics and league affairs, 2012-13
■ MLB executive vice president labor relations and human resources, 1998-2012
■ Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner, 1991-98
■ Morgan, Lewis & Bockius associate, 1984-91
■ Law clerk to U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, 1983-84

Tom Werner
■ Age: 64
■ Children: Teddy, Carolyn, Amanda
■ Education: B.A., Harvard University, 1971
Career
■ Liverpool FC chairman, 2010-present
■ Boston Red Sox chairman, 2002-present
■ Fenway Sports Group co-founder and chairman (originally New England Sports Ventures), 2001-present
■ San Diego Padres general managing partner and chairman, 1990-94
■ Carsey-Werner Co. co-owner, 1980-present
■ ABC Television producer and executive, 1972–80
After the final question-and-answer periods, Brosnan withdrew his candidacy, a move he said was designed in part to make the voting process “more efficient.”

“There was considerable debate and dialogue, to be certain, but that’s all right,” said Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. “This was all about a process.”

Numerous club and industry executives said the Manfred era will in many ways resemble those of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, each of whom was also a No. 2 league executive who was elevated to his league’s top job, and both have subsequently shown a greater level of inclusiveness with team owners than their predecessors.

“No matter who was coming in after Selig, even if it was Judge Landis returning from the grave, the political climate was going to be more turbulent,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant who frequently works with MLB and member clubs. “Bud Selig is a unique facilitator, and really the kind of executive you don’t see anymore. But this is about the evolution of the business of baseball. You’re going to see the beginning of an era where individual owners are heard from more, and that’s OK. It’s happened under Goodell and Silver as well, and they’ve both performed remarkably.”

For much of the day Thursday, support for Manfred vacillated between 20 and 22 votes, short of the necessary 23 votes for inclusion. Fervent support for Werner lie in a group of clubs that was believed to be Reinsdorf’s White Sox along with Oakland, Boston, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Arizona, Toronto, Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

The group’s support for Werner lie in two key points, a belief Manfred had grown too soft in his relationship with the MLB Players Association, and a preference for the commissioner coming from team ownership as Selig did as opposed to a staff position.

Club executives described the process to get from that divide between the Manfred and Werner camps to consensus behind Manfred alone as not a singular pivot point, but more gradual over the many hours of debate.

The political fallout for owners in the pro-Werner camp is likely to be varied. One industry source said Reinsdorf “got his ass handed to him” as a result of the Manfred election, and his status as a baseball industry kingmaker is now certainly winnowed. A statement from Reinsdorf called the commissioner selection “likely baseball’s most important in my remaining time as owner.” Other owners, such as Boston’s John Henry and Arte Moreno of the Angels, remain on many key MLB committees and represent key markets for the sport.

“Everybody worked very hard to get to the end,” said Oakland A’s owner Lew Wolff, diplomatically adding the sport is in “good hands” with Manfred. “I really enjoyed the process, and you have to remember that there’s a history for this kind of thing with commissioner votes in baseball.”

Manfred at MLB: Career highlights

1987 1990 1995 1998 2005 2011 2012 2013
As an associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, Manfred becomes involved in baseball when the firm is retained as counsel for MLB’s Player Relations Committee. Manfred assists in collective-bargaining negotiations during the spring training lockout. During the 1994-95 strike, Manfred serves as outside counsel for the owners. MLB hires Manfred as executive vice president of labor relations and human resources. MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new policy on performance-enhancing drugs, a cause that Manfred will continue to help direct. Manfred plays a lead role for MLB in labor negotiations, as he did in 2002 and 2006. All three new collective-bargaining agreements are reached without work stoppages. Manfred heads baseball’s charge to force out Frank McCourt as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig changes Manfred’s title to executive vice president of economics and league affairs.
Manfred is promoted to chief operating officer.

Previous commissioner selections

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis (1921-44)
After the 1919 World Series scandal, Landis was approached by team owners about becoming baseball’s first commissioner. He would be elected to the position in January 1921.
A.B. “Happy” Chandler (1945-51)
After Landis’ death in November 1944, Chandler, a Kentucky senator, was named MLB’s second commissioner April 24, 1945.
Ford Frick (1951-65)
Frick, the National League’s president, and Cincinnati Reds President Warren Giles were the finalists to be baseball’s new commissioner. Giles would later withdraw from the race after a stalemate in the voting. Frick was named commissioner, and Giles replaced him as NL president.
William Eckert (1965-68)
Eckert, retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant general, was elected baseball’s fourth commissioner Nov. 17, 1965, by a unanimous vote of major league club owners, after Ford Frick retired. More than 150 names appeared on the original list of nominees for the position.
Bowie Kuhn (1969-84)
The race for a new commissioner came down to two candidates: Mike Burke, president of the New York Yankees, and the San Francisco Giants’ Chub Feeney. During a gridlock in the voting, baseball’s legal counsel, Bowie Kuhn, was mentioned as a possible candidate and was later elected by unanimous vote.
Peter Ueberroth (1984-88)
Peter Ueberroth was selected as baseball’s sixth commissioner by a unanimous vote of the 26 club owners on March 3, 1984. He took office later that year, after his success organizing the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
A. Bartlett Giamatti (1988-89)
By unanimous vote of the 26 team owners, Giamatti was named baseball’s seventh commissioner. Giamatti’s tenure as commissioner would last less than a year before he died of a heart attack.
Fay Vincent (1989-92)
Vincent was named baseball’s eighth commissioner, and its third within a year, in a unanimous 26-0 vote of major league owners on Sept. 13, 1989.
Bud Selig (1998-present)
After serving as the acting commissioner since September 1992, Selig was elected commissioner July 9, 1998, by a unanimous 30-0 vote.

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