Rob Manfred has been MLB's chief operating officer since the end of 2013. (Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Has Bud Selig already decided on his successor as commissioner? According to a story published today in The New York Times, he at least already has someone in mind: Rob Manfred, the chief operating officer of Major League Baseball and Selig's longtime second-in-command, is reportedly the favorite to become MLB's next boss.
According to the Times' Michael S. Schmidt, Selig "has orchestrated his succession plan with secret meetings that, several owners said, have left little doubt about his wishes. Mr. Selig, they believe, would like the sport’s 30 owners to anoint his deputy, Rob Manfred, as baseball’s next commissioner." That Manfred is the favorite should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with baseball's power structure; he's been with the league since 1997, when he became the head of MLB's labor relations department, and became COO after the 2013 season, filling a position that had been vacant since 2010. Last week, Cliff Corcoran put Manfred on his short-list of candidates to take Selig's position after he retires at season's end, noting the close relationship between Selig and Manfred, as well as Manfred's experience negotiating with the players union and his work on revenue sharing agreements and the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
However, should Selig decide to pass the league's matrix of leadership to Manfred, he'll apparently have to overcome some stiff opposition from an unlikely source: Chicago White Sox owner and close friend Jerry Reinsdorf. According to the Times, Reinsdorf "has raised questions about Mr. Selig’s transparency as commissioner and argued that Mr. Selig should play only an advisory role in picking his successor. Mr. Reinsdorf argued that, unlike owners who have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in their teams, Mr. Selig has no ownership in the game after he retires."
Reinsdorf, who is on the seven-person committee created by Selig to find MLB's next commissioner, reportedly is concerned that his influence with the commissioner will fall if Manfred takes over. In contrast to Selig, with whom Reinsdorf has been close since the two worked together to remove Fay Vincent as commissioner in 1992, Reinsdorf has never been particularly chummy with Manfred. Schmidt also reports that Reinsdorf is worried that Manfred's familiarity with the players union will lead to him being soft in any upcoming collective bargaining agreement negotiations.
Reinsdorf isn't just angling to stop Manfred's rise, however. The Times reported that the 78-year-old Reinsdorf, who has owned the White Sox since 1981, suggested to Selig last year that he and two other owners should serve as a sort of triumvirate for MLB, instead of the league having one full-time commissioner. The Times also noted that Selig initially had no plans to make public the news of a search committee:
It was at one of Selig’s executive council meetings — at his office in Arizona in February — that he told his trusted circle of a dozen or so team owners, including Mr. Reinsdorf, that they would play a role in picking the next commissioner, and they discussed forming a formal search committee.
Mr. Selig suggested some specific candidates — nearly all from within the game — but gave the committee no authority to begin interviewing them. It was important, the commissioner cautioned, that the committee’s task remain confidential. He did not even want anyone else in baseball to know of its existence.
When news of that meeting began to leak through MLB front offices, Selig backtracked and announced the creation of a committee publicly during owners meetings in New York.
Along with Manfred, the Times reports that four other candidates are being considered. They are: Disney chief executive Bob Iger; San Francisco Giants president and chief executive Larry Baer; Atlanta Braves chairman and chief executive Terry McGuirk; and Detroit general manager, president and CEO Dave Dombrowski. Notably absent from that list are Bob Bowman, who currently serves as the president and CEO of MLB Advanced Media, and Tim Brosnan, the executive vice president of business for MLB.
As for the rumored other candidates, Iger has been the chief executive of Disney since 2005, succeeding Michael Eisner, and was behind the corporate behemoth's moves to acquire Pixar, Lucasfilm and Marvel Entertainment. Baer has been CEO of the Giants since 2012 and was a part of the ownership group formed in 1992 to keep the team in San Francisco. McGuirk, as well as serving as the Braves' CEO, is also the vice chairman of Turner Broadcasting System. And Dombrowski, along with his time spent as the Tigers' GM, formerly ran the front offices of the Expos (1988-91) and Marlins (1991-2001).
Whoever Selig recommends — or chooses — as the next commissioner will need the approval of 23 of baseball's 30 owners. Should Selig's candidate ultimately be Manfred, the opposition of Reinsdorf and others could make for a potentially difficult transition after nearly 20 years of relative harmony atop the league.