Major League Baseball named its 10th commissioner on Thursday, and he's
Jerry Reinsdorf's second/third/fourth choice current Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred.
Manfred was Bud Selig's handpicked successor, which made Reinsdorf's preference for another candidate -- eventually Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner -- counterintuitive. After all, Reinsdorf and Selig are close friends and allies, so the guy who figured to perpetuate Selig's platform would slot right into Reinsdorf's weltanschauung, right?
Apparently not. Going back to May, when Reinsdorf and the New York Times had a testy exchange, it became clear that Reinsdorf wanted somebody else besides Manfred as the heir apparent. Reinsdorf didn't deny that in subsequent interviews -- he only waved away any contention with Selig, saying this was one of many disagreements they've had over the years.
Why did they disagree? The common threads between multiple reports suggest Reinsdorf:
- expected more transparency from Selig in generating a favored candidate.
- isn't close to Manfred, so his considerable influence might be jeopardized.
- believes Manfred isn't tough enough on the MLBPA.
The first two make sense, in that power brokers seem to like brokering power too much to voluntarily cease brokering it. The third point makes only superficial sense, in that Manfred, who has negotiated the past three collective bargaining agreements, hasn't engaged in an all-out labor war with the union to install a salary cap or some other equally severe measure.
Reinsdorf isn't alone on that last point, as Red Sox principal owner John Henry is said to believe baseball has the weakest CBA in professional sports. But I'd figure the average owner would be pleased with the way MLB has come out ahead over the last two CBAs. There's no salary cap, but the league has maintained labor peace while the other three leagues have experienced stoppages, and it has chipped away at the union's hull thanks to infighting among players.
The players have agreed to the most stringent PED-testing program, leaving themselves vulnerable to the league breaking ethical boundaries in the Biogenesis investigation, which Manfred directed. Likewise, the draft and international budget systems lowered the price of amateur talent because the union negotiated away the rights of its not-yet members (creating situations like Bud Norris sniping at Jon Singleton for signing a cut-rate, pay-to-play contract with the Astros). That development has benefited the White Sox as much as any other team.
Then you have the TV and Internet money flowing to the clubs, which allows teams to sign their young players to extensions they can more easily absorb, diminishing the reliance on free agency. Add it all up, and players are grabbing a shrinking piece of the revenue pie. It's almost as if salaries have capped themselves.
Maybe Reinsdorf didn't honestly think he and several other owners could seriously reverse Manfred's momentum. The early forecasts suggested Manfred had something like 20 votes, and the first several votes all checked in at 22-to-8, or one vote short of the 75 percent threshold needed for election. But maybe stalling the inevitable was a way to tell Manfred that the transition isn't going to be seamless (the Times said Reinsdorf gave Manfred one last grilling).
Reinsdorf, for his part, gave Manfred the nod in the final (unanimous) vote, and issued a statement congratulating Manfred while acknowledging a difference:
"The process of selecting the next commissioner was about making certain the future of baseball remains as bright as its past. Bud Selig has done a tremendous job during his tenure as Commissioner, and we look forward, collectively, to Rob's stewardship of this great game. The decision to select the next commissioner was likely baseball's most important during my remaining time as an owner, and it was a decision that deserved our full scrutiny, discussion and debate.
"It was our obligation and responsibility as trustees of the game to take the time and diligence to uncover the best candidates, despite public reports that sometimes inaccurately misrepresented and sensationalized our internal discussions. While Rob may not have been my initial choice for commissioner, the conclusion of a very good process was to name Rob as the person best positioned to help baseball endure and grow even stronger for the next generation of fans."
The Werner candidacy could be an exercise in brinksmanship -- something like a missile test -- while the situation is fluid, or maybe it's a harbinger of a more significant fracture in the owners' bloc, which tends to happen in the game. I'm not familiar with jockeying and jiu-jitsu with stakes such as these, and hey, Reinsdorf and Selig were seen speaking before the 30-0 vote, so perhaps this is the new normal for the course for a position nobody should want and we can't relate to anymore. At the fan level, we just want there to be a baseball season after the current CBA expires in 2016, and with Manfred receiving support from large-market and small-market teams, he seems to have as good a shot as anybody in keeping the train rolling.