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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who Will Succeed Bud Selig?

Late last year, Bud Selig announced that he would step down as Commissioner of Baseball after his contract expires (at the end of 2009, I believe). The announcement wasn't met with a lot of fanfare. I didn't see many articles waxing eloquent about whether or not the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers was good for baseball or wasn't. Likewise, I didn't read any articles about who might succeed him in his post.

I offer a few suggestions:

1. Rob Manfred, who now serves as head of baseball's player relations committee and banged out the new labor agreement with players' union head Donald Fehr in record time and with almost no publicity at the end of 2006. It's obvious that the owners place a great deal of trust in Manfred, and since labor relations is at the heart of what the owners-players relationship is all about, Manfred is a logical choice. It appears that he's earned the respect of the union, and that's not easy to do.

2. There could be someone from the current roster of owners who might make sense. Look, the owners plucked Selig from their ranks, and they'll have kept him for almost 17 years by the time he retires. On the one hand, the players' union still has the upper hand in this game (after all, there isn't a salary cap), but on the other, Selig got the upper hand in terms of drug testing, at least to a point. There are those who argue (I am among them) that he and his administration whiffed on the steroids era (they benefitted from it with mammoth home runs, large home run totals and increased gates) and compromised too readily on drug-testing and discipline standards that aren't as strong as they could be. At any rate, I think that MLB can do better than Selig the next time around.

3. Naturally, there are tons of outsiders who would crave this job. For example, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a native New Yorker, just was re-elected governor and has said he's done running for office. Rendell is in his early 60's now, and he'd be a great front for the sport. He's positive, he's effusive, and most people who know him or have worked with him like and respect him. Still, he'd be walking away from the last two years of his term, and he might not believe it's appropriate to do that. While employers may not discriminate on the basis of age, they might not want a 64 year-old rookie commissioner (and Rendell will be 64 at the time of the succession planning).

4. President George W. Bush. The odds are against this. President Bush didn't have that much to do with the daily operations of the Texas Rangers when he was a part owner, and because his public approval ratings are what they are, I think that MLB would pass and say "thanks, but no thanks," if he expressed interest.

5. ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg. Greenie, as he is known to the faithful listeners of ESPN's "Mike & Mike in the Morning Show," jokes that he'd be a serious candidate after Selig retires. He is very knowledgeable on the air, evenhanded, and a graduate of Northwestern. Plus, he's only in his late 30's, which means that he'd be able to hold the post for decades. While I doubt that Greenberg would be a serious candidate, the owners could do far, far worse.

Then there's the debate of whether you'd want a politician, owner or business person to run MLB. I don't think that MLB should hire an owner for the post at this time. Football and basketball haven't gone that route (although basketball is a mess), and MLB shouldn't take the risk again. Selig hasn't been a disaster, but he hasn't been All-Star caliber, either. There could be an up-and-comer who has had profit-and-loss responsibility at a major consumer products company that might be an excellent fit for the job. She/he could be an unknown to the public, but could help re-fortify baseball. If that person has had involvement in sports marketing to a serious degree, she/he might really have a shot.

I haven't given any thought to any members of the baseball media. To me, some report the day-to-day goings on well, but they all missed the huge issue of steroids, and that's pretty amazing given the access that they had and their responsibilities as journalists. Yes, Peter Gammons is revered, but, no, he's not worthy of being the commissioner. After all, the writers and broadcasters watch games for a living; someone in the commissioner's seat is actually in the arena and does things. There's a big difference in responsibility and skill sets.

So who will replace Bud Selig? I'm sure that the owners are giving this issue a lot of thought, as they should. Basketball hired their principal outside lawyer after Walter Kennedy retired, and David Stern has done a good job selling merchandise and filling the coffers of the owners (even if the quality of the product has begun to wane). After legendary commissioner Pete Rozelle retired from the NFL, the football league hired their principal outside counsel, Paul Tagliabue, and he did a fine job during his tenure. Upon Tagliabue's retirement, the NFL stayed in-house and elevated Tagliabue's deputy. The NHL hired one of the NBA's top deputies, Gary Bettman, once one of the NBA's top lawyers, for its top job, and he's done a nice job so far of helping restructure a league with problems.

That's where Manfred has some particular advantages. Prior to joining MLB, he was one of the Player Relations Committee's principal outside lawyers Since being at ML&B, he's been one of the principal deputies, and, perhaps, the most important one for Bud Selig. If you look at what the other leagues have done in hiring their commissioners, you can say that Manfred has all of the things on his resume that make him very qualified for the top job in Major League Baseball. It would be a sensible hire, but these owners always haven't done the sensible thing.

Which means that the race to succeed Bud Selig as Commissioner of Baseball is, well, anybody's ball game.


Blogger Chad said...

If I were given the ability to single-handedly select the next commissioner of baseball, I'd choose Bob Costas without even thinking twice.

11:22 AM  

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