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Volume 20 No. 42
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Owners to drive commissioner search

St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., chairman of MLB’s newly created commissioner succession committee, said last week the panel would be remiss if it didn’t seek out the opinion of outgoing Commissioner Bud Selig during the search process.

But going to Selig for such counsel is likely to be more deferential than truly influential, as the creation of the committee and its makeup represents a firm move by team owners to assert their collective voice in choosing the league’s next commissioner and, more broadly, regaining some power from the forceful hand of Selig.

The committee will be made up of seven team owners representing a cross-section of economic position, tenure and geography: DeWitt, Bob Nutting from Pittsburgh, Jerry Reinsdorf from Chicago, Dick Monfort from Colorado, Jim Pohlad from Minnesota, Arte Moreno from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Dave Montgomery from Philadelphia. But DeWitt last week vowed to “get input from all the clubs.”

To that end, several team owners last week privately said that they will be driving the search efforts, as opposed to Selig anointing a preferred choice behind the scenes that would then be simply rubber-stamped by the committee.

“We’re really going to be running this process,” said one team owner, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak for the group. “I don’t think this is going to be a thing where Bud just picks someone.”

There is no designated heir apparent to Selig. Because of that, the shift in power back toward the owners and the divergent views they represent is a marked turn from much of the Selig era, in which votes were typically not even called until he determined he had not only a majority but unanimous consent.
The history of owner-led search committees for new commissioners has not been particularly fruitful. A search committee in 1994 to find a permanent replacement for the ousted Fay Vincent was abruptly called off amid mounting labor woes with the MLB Players Association, and a then-acting Commissioner Selig stayed in the post. Another search four years later never meaningfully moved beyond owners again prevailing upon Selig to remain on board. And in 1982, Selig, as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, led an effort to identify a successor to Bowie Kuhn, ultimately finding Peter Ueberroth, former chief organizer of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Ueberroth, not a baseball insider, did not serve out his five-year contract, and his tenure is marked by a collusion scandal that poisoned labor relations with the players for years.

Thus, the new succession committee finds itself with a unique opportunity to find a new commissioner without chaos and rancor, as generally has been baseball’s history since the departure of Kenesaw Mountain Landis 70 years ago. And for once, this also could be an MLB committee that quickly does important work and then dissolves, unlike so many other still-functioning special league committees. But even DeWitt acknowledged the job will be anything but easy.

“This is a really tough act to follow,” DeWitt said of Selig.

 MEDIA CHANGES: Last week’s owners meetings also marked the beginning of a newly merged board of directors for MLB’s in-house media and technology assets, MLB Advanced Media and the MLB Network. The two entities historically had been separate operations, each with its own board. But last month, Selig implemented a restructuring that placed both MLBAM and the network under the leadership of MLBAM President and Chief Executive Bob Bowman.

MLB initially said following that restructuring that the separate boards would remain as is. But a subsequent merging has brought the two bodies together under the leadership of Kansas City Royals owner David Glass, who has been MLBAM’s board chairman since 2010. Two owners who had worked with the network but not MLBAM, Montgomery and Cincinnati Reds Chief Operating Officer Phil Castellini, are now part of the larger body.

The outside minority equity stakeholders in the network — DirecTV, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications — will remain able to participate in board meetings as they choose.