FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The search for a new baseball commissioner inched forward last night, when the search committee presented its recommendation during the opening session of a three-day owners meeting, but it remains unclear whether any candidate will be able to garner enough votes for approval.
The committee was set to present its candidate at a meeting of Major League Baseball's Executive Council, which would then decide whether to put the name in front of the full ownership tomorrow. But the divisive atmosphere created by a stalemate on revenue sharing may make it impossible to get the 21 votes for election.
Though the link between the revenue-sharing issue and the xTC eventual choice of commissioner remains unstated, it is more apparent than ever that the factional competition over economic restructuring could have an effect on the outcome of the commissioner search. That's why there has been increasing speculation that Brewers owner Bud Selig will remain as acting commissioner for another year.
Atlanta Braves chairman Bill Bartholomay, who heads up the search committee, did nothing to alter that notion when he briefed reporters before the Executive Council meeting. He indicated that there were four candidates still under consideration, but wouldn't rule out the possibility that Selig would remain in place.
"I can't speculate on that," he said. "All I can say is that he has done a great job."
Selig doesn't want the job permanently, or so he has insisted since he assumed the interim role. But he would not comment on the contingencies if the owners are unable to come out of this three-day session without a permanent commissioner.
"I haven't changed my mind," he said. "I've had no change of mind in 16 months. Let's not get into ifs."
The divisiveness among the owners is no longer a theoretical concept. The stalemate between the big-revenue clubs and small-revenue clubs has spilled over into the other issues facing the sport.
That much has been obvious by the hard-line stance that several of the large-revenue clubs have taken since the unsuccessful attempt to resolve the revenue-sharing issue two weeks ago in Chicago.
New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was the latest to take a broadside at some of the teams that hope to get a bigger piece of his substantial revenues.
"I have legitimate concern for teams like Milwaukee and Pittsburgh who have lost free agents because the market is such that they can't afford to sign them," Steinbrenner said before yesterday's meeting. "I have no concern about big-market teams that have not done a good job and are saying 'Give me.' "
Steinbrenner was making obvious reference to teams such as the California Angels and the two Chicago clubs, which have aligned themselves with the small-market clubs.
"The 'small-market' teams -- I say that with a grin," Steinbrenner said, "because that includes two Chicago teams and one in California and Montreal. If they are small-market teams, then my geography teacher didn't teach me very well."
There appears to be a sense of growing frustration among the owners, who must agree on a plan to share revenue before they can set about the more difficult task of convincing the players union to accept a revenue-based salary cap.
Player Relations Committee president Richard Ravitch will try to get a consensus on the issue again today, but there is little reason to believe this meeting will produce different results than revenue-sharing summits in Kohler, Wis., and Chicago.
Nevertheless, Ravitch again expressed optimism that a revenue-sharing program would be put in place before the owners went home tomorrow.
"I would be very surprised if we left Fort Lauderdale without a decision," he said. "I've heard many owners say, 'We're not leaving until it gets resolved.' I would say there is an overwhelming disposition to stay here until it's resolved."
If nothing is resolved, it seems likely that the vote on a commissioner also will be tabled.
The search committee was expected to present outgoing Northwestern University president Arnold Weber as its No. 1 candidate last night, but it seems unlikely that he -- or any of the other candidates -- could come close to the necessary vote of approval if the revenue-sharing issue remains undecided.
Ravitch denied there was any link between revenue sharing and the choice of a new commissioner.
"Only in the sense that if they don't resolve it, I'll feel sorry for the guy who gets the job," he said.
Bartholomay tried to be noncommittal, but he seemed to hint that the sense of urgency to name a commissioner was dissipating . . . and that Selig might remain in an interim role. "In my opinion, it's a technical vacancy and not an actual vacancy," he said. "As I've said, I think Bud has done a great job."
Interestingly, the owners haven't actually even agreed on the job description for the new commissioner. The restructuring plan that would redefine the commissioner's role has been approved by the Executive Council, but it is scheduled to go before the full ownership tomorrow.