There will be a changing of the guard for Major League Baseball.
Rob Manfred was elected baseball’s 10th commissioner Thursday, winning a three-man competition to succeed Bud Selig and given a mandate by the tradition-bound sport to recapture young fans and speed play in an era that has seen competition increase and attention spans shrink.
The 55-year-old Manfred, who has worked for Major League Baseball in roles with ever-increasing authority since 1998, will take over from Selig, 80, on Jan. 25. It’s a generational change much like the NBA undertook when Adam Silver, then 51, replaced 71-year-old David Stern as commissioner in February. And like Silver, Manfred was his boss’ pick.
Manfred beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in the first contested vote for a new commissioner in 46 years. The third candidate, MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, dropped out just before the start of balloting.
“I am tremendously honored by the confidence that the owners showed in me today,” Manfred said. “I have very big shoes to fill.”
Selig has led baseball since September 1992, first as chairman of the sport’s executive council following Fay Vincent’s forced resignation, then as commissioner since July 1998. After announcing his intention to retire many times only to change his mind, he said last September that he really, truly planned to leave in January 2015.
Manfred has been chief operating officer since September 2013, a role in which he reports directly to Selig and oversees functions such as labor relations, baseball operations, finance, administration and club governance.
Manfred had spent the previous 15 years as MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, and received an expanded role of executive vice president of economics and league affairs in 2012. He was the point man in negotiating the past three labor agreements, with all three negotiated without a work stoppage for the first time since the rise of the MLB Players Association in the 1970s. He also helped lead negotiations for the first joint drug agreement that was instituted in 2002 and has been strengthened repeatedly.
Manfred started with baseball in 1987 as a lawyer with Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who assisted in collective bargaining.
Manfred has been to Selig what Silver was to Stern — a longtime trusted aide who negotiated labor deals, handled crises such as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ bankruptcy saga and was intimately involved in major issues ranging from drug testing to revenue sharing. Manfred has taken criticism in recent months, however, for some of the methods baseball employed in its controversial Biogenesis investigation.
“There is no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament, the experience to be a very successful commissioner,” Selig said, “and I have justifiably very high expectations.”
Manfred — whose term was not specified but is expected to receive a three-year contract, according to multiple reports — grew up in Rome, New York, about an hour’s drive from the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He must address issues that include decreased interest in baseball among younger people and an average game time that has stretched to 3:03, up 30 minutes from 1981. And he will be leading an opinionated group of multimillionaires and billionaires.
“I think some of Rob’s greatest attributes are his ability to reach consensus,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the committee that picked the three candidates.
If you’ve read my blog for a few years, you know I’ve never been a fan of Bud Selig. I’ve always assigned him the primary blame for the 1994 strike and all the ridiculous “contraction” talk a few years after that. Don’t even get me started on the whole PED fiasco and the resultant mess that Hall of Fame voting has become. That said, baseball has had tremendous growth lately, they’re at the forefront of online media, there’s been a 20 year run of labor peace that should continue with the next collective bargaining agreement, and they’ve finally taken some steps to modernize umpiring and make it more accountable via instant replay. Selig deserves credit for those things, and to the extent that Rob Manfred can build on them, baseball will continue to be in good shape. I wish Rob Manfred the best of luck in the new gig. Deadspin, the NYT, MLB.com, and Pinstripe Alley have more.