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The Strike Zone

Five realistic candidates to succeed Bud Selig as MLB's commissioner

After 22 years on the job, Bud Selig is retiring as MLB's commissioner after the end of the 2014 season. (Nick Wass/AP) After 22 years on the job, Bud Selig is retiring as MLB's commissioner at the end of the 2014 season. (Nick Wass/AP)

The search for Bud Selig's replacement has begun. On Thursday, Selig announced that a succession committee tasked with nominating candidates to replace him has been formed; Selig is retiring at the conclusion of his contract on January 24, 2015, by which point he hopes to have a new commissioner in place. Candidates nominated by the succession committee will be voted on by the owners of the 30 major league teams, with 24 votes required for election to the office.

According to the committee's chairman, St. Louis Cardinals CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., the search for candidates will not be a public process. "We're not going to announce when we get a list together or who the potential candidates are, whom we've talked to or any of that," he said on Thursday. But while there's already been ample speculation about who some of those candidates might be, and while it may be fun to throw around big names such as Joe Torre, Bob Costas, and George W. Bush, Selig's successor is far more likely to be both a lower-profile executive and a younger man.

Selig was just shy of his 64th birthday when the "acting" modifier was removed from his title in July 1998, but that was mostly a formality. When he took over as acting commissioner in September 1992 at 58 years old, Selig was the oldest man ever to assume the position. Ford Frick and William Eckert were both 56; Kenesaw Mountain Landis was a week shy of 54. On the other end of things, Bowie Kuhn was just 41 when he was elected to the position in 1969. That history suggests that a number of big names have already aged out of the competition. That includes the 73-year-old Torre, who is currently MLB's Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, the 67-year-old Bush, and 69-year-old Tony LaRussa, to name a few. Other possibilities, like Braves president John Schuerholz, author and noted baseball enthusiast George F. Will, former Yale University president Rick Levin, NBC Sports' Dick Ebersol, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, former MLB president Paul Beeston, and former deputy commissioner Steve Greenberg, are all 65 or older.

Costas is a relatively spry 62, but has said he has no interest in the position and considers himself unqualified for it. Given his lack of executive experience, I'm forced to agree. The position of Commissioner of Baseball is first and foremost an executive position. Of the nine previous commissioners, two were former league presidents (Frick and A. Bartlett Giamatti, the latter of whom also spent eight years as the president of Yale), four had law degrees (Landis, Happy Chandler, Kuhn, and Vincent), and the other three had business backgrounds (Eckert, who also had a long career as an officer in the United States Air Force, Peter Ueberroth, and Selig). The elimination of the league offices under Selig in 2000 closed that route to the commissioner's office, but given the massive expansion of baseball's revenues, branding, international reach, and business ventures under Selig, it seems more important than ever that the commissioner be comfortable and competent in the business side of baseball.

ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer, who just turned 56, would seem like an ideal candidate, but he took his name out of the running in February. As with Costas, Bodenheimer's lack of interest would seem to reaffirm the belief that, as with the Presidency, anyone wise enough to excel at the job is also wise enough not to want it (though the President of the United States doesn't earn upwards of $22 million, Selig's reported salary in 2011). Bodenheimer's reluctance greatly increases the chances of the position being filled from inside the game. Here, then, are five top candidates, all of them veteran baseball executives, all but one under the age of 60.

1. Bob Bowman, President and Chief Executive Officer, MLB Advanced Media

Bowman has helmed MLBAM since its inception in 2000 and has helped it become one of the game's greatest assets, one that generates more than a half a billion dollars in revenue annually. MLBAM hasn't merely brought the grand old game into the 21st century; it has pushed MLB into a leadership role in online media. Most people think of MLBAM as being limited to MLB.com, the official team websites, MLB.tv and the At Bat app, but MLBAM also runs MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, distributes online video for other organizations — including ESPN, the WWE and the NCAA — and as of last month, has oversight of the MLB Network as well.

MLBAM has been a hit not only because of the quality of its technology but also because of its understanding of its audience and its affection for the history, aesthetics, and minutia of the game. Given that and Bowman's 30 years of executive experience (formerly as Treasurer of the state of Michigan in the 1980s and CFO and COO of the ITT Corporation in the 1990s) backed up by an Ivy League education at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, it's difficult to find a reason not to favor him as Selig's successor.

2. Rob Manfred, Chief Operating Officer, MLB

Selig is just the second of baseball's nine commissioners to step down voluntarily at the end of his contract — Landis and Giamatti died in office, the other six were all forced out to one degree or another. That amicable departure makes it very likely that Selig will play a large part in the selection of his successor, making his second-in-command Manfred — who was appointed COO in September to, in Selig's words, "facilitate an orderly transition and . . . position Major League Baseball's operations for sustained prosperity well into the future" — the odds-on favorite to be MLB's next commissioner.

Manfred lacks the dynamism and progressive track record of Bowman, but he has strengths Bowman lacks. Specifically, Manfred is a lawyer with an Ivy League education to match Bowman's (Cornell undergrad, Harvard Law School) and experience in the trenches of baseball's labor strife dating back to the 1994 strike, when he was outside counsel for the owners. Manfred has been MLB's point man in negotiations with the union since joining the league in 1998, overseeing the implementation of new Basic Agreements in 2002, 2006, and 2011, each coming without a work stoppage. Prior to 2002, MLB hadn't executed a new collective bargaining agreement without a work stoppage since the very first one in 1968, and that recent record of labor peace stands as one of the most significant accomplishments of Selig's tenure. Manfred has also been instrumental in two of Selig's pet projects: Revenue sharing and the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, both of which have been generally successful, though the latter did result in Manfred getting some dirt on his hands and egg on his face via the Biogenesis scandal and his related appearance on 60 Minutes.

Stan Kasten is currently president of the Dodgers and former GM of the Nationals. (Alex Brandon/AP Stan Kasten is currently president of the Dodgers and is a former president of the Nationals. (Alex Brandon/AP)

3. Stan Kasten, president and co-owner, Los Angeles Dodgers

As owner of the Milwaukee Brewers from 1970 to 1998, Selig was the first man to have owned or worked for a team prior to becoming Commissioner of Baseball, and his status as an owner was the primary reason that he retained the "acting" label for so long. There was an obvious stigma associated with having someone with so strong a team affiliation become commissioner, particularly in the wake of the 1994 strike and in an era of increased economic disparity among teams. That stigma appears to have faded over Selig's two decades in the position, however, and Kasten's experience would seem to be broad enough and his association with the Dodgers new enough (his group has owned the team for less than two and a half years) that his current team association would seem unlikely to be a stumbling block.

Prior to his group's purchase of the Dodgers in January 2012, Kasten was president of the Washington Nationals from 2006 to 2010 and president of the Atlanta Braves from 1986 to 2003. He was also the founding president of the Atlanta Thrashers from 1999 to 2003, and was general manager and president of the Atlanta Hawks, holding the former position from 1979 to 1990 and the latter from 1986 to 2003. His experience in three of North America's four major sports leagues, including the better part of two decades in MLB, and Columbia University law degree make him arguably the most qualified of the frequently mentioned candidates for the job, though at 62, he is also the oldest man on this list.

4. Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President, Business, MLB

If Bowman is the hip guy with nerd appeal, Brosnan is the nerd who has been working to make baseball hip. Say what you want about the MLB Fan Cave, one of Brosnan's pet projects, but it is a reliable source of viral video and has done a great deal to show the fun, human side of some of the game's best players (seriously, I could watch this video of Andrew McCutchen recreating Tom Cruise movies every day).

Brosnan's impact has been far greater than a few viral videos, of course. It was Brosnan who oversaw the game's new national television contracts, worth a combined $12.4 billion, the launch of the MLB Network, and MLB's $650 million deal with SiriusXM, then the largest non-television media deal in sports history. He is also in charge of the game's licensing and sponsorships and has had a particular focus on international branding and marketing since joining the Commissioner's Office as Vice President of International Business Affairs way back in 1991.

Brosnan, who predates Selig at MLB, also has both a business and law background, having earned a law degree from Fordham and having started his professional life as a lawyer and political appointee in New York state, and was the captain of Georgetown's baseball team as an undergrad. All of that said, his marketing and branding efforts have also been responsible for much of what is garish and obnoxious about the league's aesthetic. Upset about MLB's continued relationship with FOX or the proliferation of gaudy alternate and specialty uniforms and caps? Blame Brosnan, but don't accuse him of failing to maximize MLB's revenue potential.

5. Ruben Amaro Jr., general manager, Philadelphia Phillies

Okay, this probably isn't going to happen, but one glaring omission I've noted in the extensive lists of potential Selig replacements being offered up elsewhere is the complete lack of minority candidates. Given Selig's own 1999 directive requiring teams to consider minority candidates for managerial and front-office positions, it seems especially problematic for the list of Selig's potential replacements, a list measured in dozens, to consist exclusively of white men.

The highest ranking MLB executive who is not a white male is Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Mariner, but Mariner is an accountant whose experience has been very narrowly focused on finance. Hall of Famers Frank Robinson, currently MLB's executive vice president of baseball development, and Hank Aaron, currently a senior vice president with the Braves, have been longtime Selig advisers and associates, but are 78 and 80 years old, respectively. Despite Selig's minority hiring efforts, Amaro is the only minority general manager in the game, and the only minorities in team president, or equivalent, positions are the White Sox's Ken Williams and the Marlins' Mike Hill.

Of those three, Williams might be best prepared to move into the position having moved from general manger to executive vice president of the White Sox in October 2012. However, Williams is the only one of the three, all of them former ballplayers, who was drafted out of high school. Given the Ivy League credentials and/or advanced degrees of the other men on this list, it seems unlikely that baseball would prefer a candidate who didn't attend college at all. The same can be said of the Padres' vice president of baseball operations Omar Minaya, a long-time Selig favorite who was also drafted out of high school as a player.

Hill attended Harvard and has worked in the front office of three teams, the Rays, Rockies and Marlins, but at 43 would be the second-youngest commissioner ever and lacks the sort of standing within the game that might motivate such a selection. That leaves Amaro, who graduated from Stanford and has been in the Phillies' front office since 1998 and the team's general manager since 2008, among team executives.

An even longer shot would be MLB's senior vice president for baseball operations, Kim Ng, the game's top-ranking female executive, who has worked for the White Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, and American League and will turn 46 in November. Baseball received an A for its minority hiring practices on last year's Racial and Gender Report Card from the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports at the University of Central Florida, but the game's lack of a front-line minority candidate for commissioner is a reminder of how much work remains to be done before the executive offices of the sport can be said to be satisfactorily diverse.
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