MLB owners swallow hard, vote Manfred next commissioner

MLB owners swallow hard, vote Manfred next commissioner
August 14, 2014, 3:45 pm
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It’s a bit like herding feral cats high on angel dust and covered with poison-tipped spikes, all while trying to peel a pineapple with your teeth.
Ray Ratto

So it was the cookies they brought in to the owners’ room.

Maybe Rob Manfred baked them.

Hey, it’s baseball. Anything is possible.

After hours of a stalemate that had a chance to be months of a stalemate, Major League Baseball’s owners swallowed hard and voted Manfred, Bud Selig’s right-hand man, as Selig’s successor. Manfred is now the game’s 10th commissioner, and his first duty will be to paper over the divisions in the ownership before the next collective bargaining negotiations.

Despite the announced 30-0 vote for Manfred, which is always the vote after the real vote, there is a split in the ownership that Manfred will have to spend his time repairing. There are lots of issues for him -– the hot mess in Washington and Baltimore over television rights, the cold mess over the Oakland A’s, the on-field issues (time of game, replay, blah blah blah) –- but he can’t get any of it done without developing a coterie of owners around him who will be what Jerry Reinsdorf was for Selig over all but the last few years of their relationship.

[RELATED: Candidacy, or lack thereof, for Selig's replacement]

Reinsdorf stopped Manfred earlier in the day by gathering a group of eight owners to back Boston Red Sox part-owner Tom Werner, who was probably more a straw candidate to block Manfred than an eager choice.

The seven owners who helped were John Henry (Boston, and Werner’s majority partner), Phil Lind (Toronto, Rogers Communications), Mark Lerner (Washington), Arte Moreno (Los Angeles Angels), John Fisher (Oakland), Ken Kendrick (Arizona) and Bob Castellini (Cincinnati).

Some wanted the next commissioner to be tougher with the union, Lerner wanted a better outcome in Washington’s dispute with Baltimore, Fisher (or Lew Wolff, the minority owner) was unhappy with the way MLB did nothing about the Oakland-San Jose impasse, and Henry was backing his guy for reasons too obvious to restate here. Toronto is interesting, as it is the one member of the group run by a media corporation, but it has also long been an advocate for greater cost controls in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox.

But after a break for extracurricular arm-twisting and wallet-greasing, Werner’s support eroded and Manfred got the job he has coveted lo these many years -– the big office with the big chair and the big phone he has to use to keep the owners who dislike him from convincing the owners who could go either way on him from overwhelming the owners who like him.

Commissionering is an odd process anyway, because as we know, a commissioner has to know the vertebral alignments of all the 30 owners so that he can scratch them in the most effective ways possible. It takes someone who knows how to schmooze billionaires, and worse, billionaires who often come in competition with other billionaires. It’s a bit like herding feral cats high on angel dust and covered with poison-tipped spikes, all while trying to peel a pineapple with your teeth.

But it’s a job anyone would want because the owners know they have to pay for such service. Selig was pulling down $30M a year for doing the dance, and until the last year of his tenure, he had been careful never to get out ahead of his supply lines.

[RELATED: MLB executive Rob Manfred voted next commissioner]

Like most short-timers, Selig became obsessed with his legacy, and part of that was his relatively benign record on labor relations. Reinsdorf is also concerned with his legacy, but he intended to burnish it by restoring the owners’ dominance over the players union, which hasn’t existed since before Reinsdorf bought the White Sox.

Thus, Reinsdorf decided to strike out against Selig the best way he know –- by sinking the vessel of his legacy, Manfred. Hence, Werner.

But that collapsed when it occurred to the owners that the best they could hope for is to drag the process out until their postseason meeting. It happened somewhere between the cookies that were brought in and the dinners that were allegedly ordered, and reports that the final vote for came from Lerner and Washington finished the deal.

So now it’s Rob Manfred’s turn to pretend to be in charge, and in a couple of days, baseball fans can begin the process of turning on him as they did on Selig. Because that, too, is part of the job –- catching the grief that the owners don’t want to catch.

Hey, you have to do something for your $30 mil.

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