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Rob Manfred Could Be The Next MLB Commissioner

What would Manfred's selection mean to the future of the game?

Patrick McDermott

Maury Brown's latest for Forbes posits that Bud Selig's successor will be his deputy commissioner:

With Selig retiring, and Michael Weiner’s death, baseball is at a historic crossroads.

So, the next commissioner of Major League Baseball is stepping into a critical point in baseball’s history. Given the backdrop of Selig’s tenure, and league restructuring of key executives, there seems to be a high probability that Rob Manfred will be baseball’s next commissioner.

Manfred has worked for Major League Baseball since 1998, most recently served as Executive Vice President for Economics & League Affairs, responsible for major economic matters such as revenue sharing and the debt service rule, as well as franchise-specific matters involving the 30 Major League Clubs. Shortly after Selig announced his plans for retirement, he made Manfred the new Chief Operating Officer of Major League Baseball. In doing so, a position that had been missing since Bob DuPuy left the league in 2010 was filled: ostensibly a full second in command.

Bud Selig has been commissioner (or his previous title, "Chairman of the Executive Committee") for so long that it's somewhat difficult to remember that his two predecessors -- Fay Vincent and Peter Ueberroth -- were cut out of different cloth than Selig. That is to say, they were corporate executives (Vincent with Columbia Pictures and Coca-Cola and Ueberroth in the travel industry before he headed the 1984 Olympics) rather than baseball people.

Baseball executives aren't going to want that when moving forward with Selig's successor, although executive experience will be valuable. For better or worse, baseball has become much more corporate in its view and outlook since Selig took office. For example, there are no longer two separate "leagues"; neither the AL nor the NL has had a president since 1999. Operations and staffing for things like umpiring crews have been centralized under the commissioner's office and MLB Advanced Media has taken tight control over all the team websites (which began as separate endeavors) and distribution of television broadcasts outside of local markets. Thus, someone more familiar with the baseball industry would be a better choice.

The latter is one of several major issues that will confront the new commissioner. TV blackouts are the scourge of the industry, criticized by almost everyone for the ridiculous territorial map which prevents many Cubs fans in Iowa from watching their team, or Dodgers fans in Las Vegas. This helps no one. Selig has, for his part, appeared to act as if this is the 1970s and there are still just three or four TV channels in most markets. Obviously, that's not the case, and the next commissioner should recognize that people consume baseball on TV in many different ways in the 2010s.

In addition, the situation with the Athletics and San Jose will have to be resolved; Selig has dithered for almost four years on this mess.

And at some point, a decision will have to be made on the designated hitter. You all know my position on this issue, but the bottom line is, baseball can't continue with two different sets of rules.

Manfred is well-respected both by most owners, and also the Players Association, which, as noted, also has new leadership after Weiner's death, far too young. The new executive director of the MLBPA, Tony Clark, is a former player who also has the respect of the owners.

Going outside baseball for a new commissioner is probably unwise at this time. Unlike the other major sports, MLB hasn't had a labor stoppage since 1995, and the current Basic Agreement, which goes through 2016, ensures more than two decades of labor peace. The players and owners have, at last, apparently realized there's enough of this multibillion-dollar pie to go around for everyone. The office of commissioner has changed since Kenesaw Mountain Landis ruled with an iron fist. The position is more like a CEO now, and Manfred has significant experience qualifying him for such a role, as noted in Brown's article -- he has been the chief labor negotiator for the owners in each of the last three collective bargaining sessions with the players, respected by players as well as management.

Further, Selig hinted that Manfred would be the choice when he named him baseball's COO (chief operating officer) last September.

One last thing. Though they were both commissioner more than two decades ago, both Ueberroth (who is 76) and Vincent (who is 75) are younger than Selig, who will turn 80 next year. Manfred is 55. It's time to get younger leadership in place in baseball. Sounds like Rob Manfred is the right man for the game, and the times.