We learned last night that there are three finalists to succeed Bud Selig as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. They are Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer; Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president of business; and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner.
However, most people playing close attention to all of this say that (a) Rob Manfred is Selig’s hand-picked successor; and (b) he is the favorite to get the job, by far. If so, why are the other two candidates hanging around?
One possible answer is that the owners really haven’t decided on Manfred yet. I sort of doubt that. The people reporting that Manfred is the guy tend to know what they’re talking about. Another answer is that the owners want to make it look like they are considering a lot of options if, for no other reason, than for the optics of it all. I doubt that too. For one thing the owners have never really cared about optics. For another, they also don’t want to waste unnecessary time on this, and putting up p.r.-driven candidates is a waste of time. Plus, there are better p.r. candidates than Brosnan and Werner if that’s what they were thinking. That’s not it.
What I think is really going on here is that a message is being sent to Manfred. A preemptive one and possibly even a friendly one, but a message all the same. And that message is this: you work for us. You are not a king and you will not be crowned. You will be selected.
This is sort of important to the owners, I’d assume. While Bud Selig started out on shaky ground as commissioner, he has grown into a pretty powerful force in the game. That, combined with the (mistaken) public impression that the Commissioner is baseball’s leader and/or dictator, likely gives the owners pause. They know what the commissioner’s job really is: to work for them and to make them money and not to do things they don’t want. Maybe they worry that a guy who is not from their ranks — like Manfred — may forget that at some point. Maybe they want him to be grateful that he was chosen as opposed to feeling as if he assumed the job by divine right and Bud Selig’s grace.
And, while this three-man finalist thing may have an element of hazing to it, it may be useful all the same. Bud Selig was successful as Commissioner — with success being defined as getting done what he wanted to get done — because he never forgot who he worked for. He rarely if ever launched an initiative that he did not feel had the support of the owners and he never aired disputes publicly. To the extent commissioners have run into trouble — Fay Vincent comes to mind, but many others do too — it’s because they think they’re organizing the entire trip when they are really merely driving the bus.
I predict that Rob Manfred gets the job next week. And I think, when he accepts it, it will be with the acknowledgement that a message has been sent by the guys who really run baseball.