One thing that wasn’t mentioned in Bud Selig’s retirement announcement yesterday is who will take his place following the 2014 season. So who’s it gonna be?
While people like to speculate about big names or political figures -- Bob Costas! George W. Bush! -- such speculation, if made seriously, evinces a lack of understanding of the job of commissioner. It’s not a political or p.r. position, even if there are some elements of that involved. It’s also not a job that an outsider can or should be considered for. Baseball tried that with Peter Ueberroth and Fay Vincent, each of whom came from corporate America (Ueberroth’s intervening years were spent organizing the 1984 Olympics) and each were failures who lost support of the men who hired them: baseball’s owners.
Selig’s success as commissioner was largely attributable to the fact that he was always in tune with what his 26-30 owners wanted and felt. He was one of them, after all, and he knew what was important to them. He kept in constant communication with them and when he wanted to get something done he worked them like crazy, building a consensus before acting. The man never fired before aiming and never picked a fight without knowing that the majority of the owners had his back.
You can bet your bippy that those who will be in charge of choosing the next commissioner will have that at the front of their minds. If, for no other reason, than because Selig himself will probably be involved somehow. With that in mind, you can further bet your bippy that the next commissioner is already employed by Major League Baseball or one of its clubs. Some guesses along those lines:
- Rob Manfred: Executive vice president of MLB
Manfred is Selig’s right-hand man when it comes to labor issues, crisis management and all other things that requires a trusted fixer. He is like Roger Goodell was to Paul Tagliabue or Adam Silver to David Stern. A man who will be sure to carry on the same management style of a predecessor who left a tremendously large mark. Open question as to how much trust baseball’s other owners have in him given that, unlike Selig, he can’t pat them on the back and say “I know, I was there too once, you know,” but if Selig wants Manfred to be his successor, you figure it will happen.
- Robert Bowman: CEO of MLB Advanced Media
If the owners want a forward-thinker to lead them into the future, Bowman could be their man. As the man who basically created baseball’s entire digital presence -- and the copious financial benefits thereform -- the MLBAM boss has an argument for the job couched in progress and vision. The downside of Bowman’s case: he really doesn’t deal with the owners in significant day-to-day ways his current role and there is no sense as to whether he’d have their confidence. Remember: when I talk about leading owners into the future, I’m talking about leading them into the late 20th century for the most part.
- Sandy Alderson/Dave Dombrowski/Stan Kasten/Derrick Hall
None of them specifically, but that class of guy. A team president or high-ranking executive who has both experience in working with ownership and the league’s overall executive structure but who also is considered a forward-thinker. Someone whose baseball and business of baseball bona fides are beyond question. Again, whether all owners would support such a person is an open question -- some may consider it odd to have someone they feel should be their underling as a commissioner -- but when you think about it, the commissioner does answer to owners, so the dynamic should not be terribly odd.
At this point, of course, we’re just speculating. And we probably will be up until Bud Selig’s successor is chosen. We won’t have a public search process. Indeed, I feel like we will simply have the decision announced like the next pope or something.