White smoke can be seen billowing from atop 245 Park Avenue in Manhattan as Major League Baseball has selected its new commissioner.
With the list of finalists narrowed to MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president for business Tim Brosnan and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, the league will remain in strong hands.
Given that outgoing commissioner Selig promoted Manfred to chief operating officer late last year, he is the presumptive favorite. Moreover, would team owners turn their collective backs on Selig, and quash his final contribution to the game he has led since 1992? It’s a possibility, but highly unlikely given how MLB operates and its unspoken protocols.
Owners will likely vote to affirm Manfred next week during the final day of the quarterly owners’ meetings. He will need a minimum of 23 of the 30 votes cast by team owners to be elected. The likelihood that Selig has either overlooked or otherwise miscalculated eight “no” votes is unfathomable. He simply does not operate that way; he doesn’t let an issue go to a vote if the outcome is uncertain. Selig has not only earned the ability to select his successor, he has been empowered to do so. So whether it’s Manfred or one of the other finalists, one thing is certain – it will be Selig’s choice.
Presuming Manfred bests Brosnan and Werner, he is a safe and appropriate selection. A labor and employment lawyer by training, Manfred joined MLB in 1998 as executive vice president for economics and league affairs. Having navigated many sports business cycles requiring him to deftly address labor strife, economic uncertainty and the perennially disappointing Chicago Cubs, Manfred is a compelling steward of the game. In short, he has shepherded the sport into an era marked by labor peace and revenue growth, and has done so while endearing himself to enough of the owners to justify his ascension.
Since he will serve at the behest of team owners, Manfred appreciates that he will be tasked with increasing franchise values and he knows the cornerstones to doing so include ensuring strong media distribution, a stable labor force and the ability to successfully manage government relations. To increase franchise values, he must continue to unlock and extend revenue streams, both domestically and abroad, as well as those linked to new technologies and the gameday experience. He knows he must accomplish this while further elevating the game’s stature and credibility with those that finance the sport. Ultimately, he will be mandated to protect and defend the best interests of the game in perpetuity.
Since perpetuity begins on day one, Manfred will need to coalesce his senior management team, paying keen attention to those colleagues that may have been passed over during the selection process. Additionally, and as I have previously written, he will need to address issues ranging from the game’s pace and its aging fan base, to lagging attendance in many markets and an ever-burgeoning large market/small market divide caused by regional TV deals.
So, make no mistake about it: As the smoke clears, the commissioner-elect will have his hands full, and I sense he is more than up for the challenge.