In the end it went the way Bud Selig wanted it to go: a unanimous vote for his hand-picked successor in Rob Manfred. The protest candidacy of Tom Werner and the potential compromise candidate in Tim Brosnan are now reduced to historical footnote. No matter what happens in the final five months of Selig’s tenure, and no matter what ceremonies and held and what honors and gifts are given to him as he leaves office, Manfred’s selection as the next commissioner is Selig’s final triumph.
Final of many, actually. Say what you will about Bud Selig, but after driving baseball into the ditch by helping foment the 1994 strike, he learned that he couldn’t simply impose his will on the game of baseball. He needed to deal. He needed to compromise. Both with the players and the other owners. And occasionally politicians and media executives. No one thinks of Bud Selig as a charismatic leader. Many like to talk about him as if he is a failure. But can you name a thing that he has wanted and not gotten in the past 15 years or so? Or, at the very least, a thing he hasn’t wanted that he has, nevertheless, been able to spin as his own personal victory? I can’t.
He got what he wanted by abandoning the aggressive and confrontational approach which catapulted him into office in the first place. He led a coup against his predecessor, Fay Vincent, and declared war on the MLBPA. When he lost, he changed. Not many people with his power survive such losses. Even fewer manage to change and find success. Bud did. And he dragged 30 team owners along with him, despite the fact that team owners tend to be a non-learning, non-compromising lot by nature. He got them to play by his rules and as a result baseball has flourished and has been free of labor difficulties for the better part of two decades.
The candidacy of Red Sox CEO Tom Werner to succeed Selig can only be seen as the old guard — many of Bud’s old friends, actually — trying to take things back to where they were in 1994. Jerry Reinsdorf and seven other owners who wanted to take a harder line with the players union. Or with dissenting owners. Or with anyone, really. Owners who were not fans of Selig’s mode of consensus or, at the very least, not fans of not getting their way like they used to. Owners who do not appear to be big fans of a powerful commissioner like Bud Selig has become. They wanted to deny him the right to name his successor, which is what Rob Manfred’s candidacy was all about. They wanted to end a state of affairs in which they follow the commissioner’s lead rather than dictate to him like they used to do before Bud Selig came along. In putting up Wener, they were trying to impose their will, like Bud used to do in the heady days of pre-strike Major League Baseball.
But, as has so often been the case for the past 15 years or so, Bud Selig’s opponents were playing checkers while he was playing chess. At some point on Thursday afternoon, after Manfred had continued to fall one vote shy of victory following several rounds of balloting, Bud Selig was seen talking to his old friend but current adversary, Reinsdorf, in a hallway at the owners meetings. And then, a couple of hours later, Rob Manfred was elected on a 30-0 vote. The opposition either fought off or bought off, but gone either way. Selig got what he wanted. Because Selig always gets what he wants. He knows how to do that now. He could probably do it in his sleep.
As of right now, 30 owners of major league baseball teams have decided that Bud’s Way is the way of the future. They may sour on Rob Manfred later, or give him problems that they can’t really give Bud, but for now they have agreed that Selig’s consensus-building approach should continue on, even if Bud Selig has decided that he doesn’t want to anymore. They have abandoned their objection to Selig essentially naming his heir.
And by doing so, they have ensured that Bud Selig’s reign will become Bud Selig’s dynasty.