Owners meetings in Baltimore all about picking Bud Selig's successor

It'd be a great time for baseball to award the 2016 All-Star Game to the city or provide a resolution to the television rights dispute between the Orioles and the Nationals

August 12, 2014|Peter Schmuck

To put it mildly, Baltimore is an interesting choice for the potentially historic owners meeting this week that is expected to determine who will be baseball's next commissioner.

Representatives of the 30 clubs will come together Wednesday at the Hyatt Regency for two days of meetings and politicking that could shape Major League Baseball for the next generation.

That's great. We love it when important things happen in Baltimore, but we'd probably love it a lot more if the election of baseball's new fearless leader came along with an announcement that the 2016 All-Star Game will be at Camden Yards or some kind of resolution to the long-simmering television rights dispute between the Orioles and the Washington Nationals.

It seems like an obvious time and place for a discussion of those issues, but they are not on the agenda. This quarterly summit will be all about reaching a strong consensus on who will replace Bud Selig, whose 22-year tenure as both acting and permanent commissioner is set to end in January.

Selig is retiring at age 80 after steering the national pastime through its most noxious labor period and dragging the sport kicking and screaming into a new era of strict testing and discipline for performance-enhancing drugs. The selection committee has narrowed the list of candidates to three finalists — MLB chief operating officer Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner — one of whom must be approved by at least 23 of the 30 clubs.

Manfred long has been considered a likely successor to Selig because of his deep involvement in just about every major issue that has faced MLB over the past couple decades. His relationship with Selig dates back to his role as outside counsel to the owners during the sport's disastrous work stoppage in 1994-95.

He remains the apparent commissioner-in-waiting, but the walk-up to this week's election has not been without intrigue. There have been rumors of a rift between Selig and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and speculation that Werner was promoted as a candidate by a group of owners hoping to get enough votes to keep Manfred from achieving the necessary super-majority.

There was enough smoke, in fact, that last week both Reinsdorf and Selig felt the need to publicly deny any personal animosity between them, and Selig went a step further by insisting in a statement released Friday that there has been no internal discord among the owners with regard to the candidates or the selection process.

Selig arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday and held a news conference at Camden Yards, where he expressed satisfaction with the process but declined to get too specific about what will happen over the next couple days.

"The process has worked just the way I thought it would. … I don't want to make any other predictions other than that," he said. "It should be a fair process. We have quite a 48-hour process where we'll look at things. A lot of other people are making predictions. I'm staying out of that business, really because I don't know."

That's classic Bud.

He has always cast himself as the consensus commissioner — spending long hours on the telephone getting the pulse of baseball ownership on every issue. That's why he has been so popular with the owners and held the commissionership so long, but don't be fooled into thinking he doesn't get what he wants when he wants it.

Still, it is not out of the realm of possibility that the selection process could stretch well beyond Thursday if a group of eight or more owners hunker down to keep Manfred from being rubber-stamped. Selig obviously wants this to be over soon so he can begin transitioning into retirement, but he dismissed the notion that a protracted period of indecision would be damaging to the sport.

"I know that when I went through this in '83 and '84, Bowie [Kuhn] was leaving, it was a tough time," Selig said. "I wound up the chairman of the search committee, [former Orioles owner] Edward Bennett Willams was on it … I've been through all of that, and it went on for a long time. People were saying we'll never recover. We recovered. We have a thorough process.

"Clubs are entitled to vote the way they want. And we'll see what happens, but talking about damage and so forth, I reject that completely. I think that's nonsense. If there were something flawed in the process, that would be one thing. But this seven-man committee has done really good work. We'll see what happens."

There is only one thing that seems absolutely certain. Selig, who was a magnet for criticism during baseball's most volatile period of labor unrest and was accused of looking the other way during the early years of the steroid era, will exit the commissioner's office in an era of unprecedented labor peace, PED oversight and economic prosperity.

That's not a bad legacy.

Now, about that All-Star Game.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Baltimore Sun reporter Dan Connolly contributed to this column.

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