Rob Manfred the Right Man for the Job
I don’t have any great enthusiasm for the fact that the owners have elected Rob Manfred to be baseball’s next commissioner. That said, I do believe he’s the right man for the job in terms of what the job of baseball’s commissioner really is.
Long since past are the days (or at least they should be) when people thought that the commissioner was someone who looked out for the best interests of the game and didn’t take sides between the owners, the players and other persons or entities with a stake in major league baseball. The commissioner is selected solely by the owners, paid solely by the owners, and serves solely at the sufferance of the owners. He is the owners’ man.
There is probably a little mystique left in the commissioner’s title, but I would hope not much. Bud Selig was the right man to be the commissioner, simply because as a former owner, he had the owner’s interests at heart, which is the real job of the commissioner.
The players have the players’ association and its executive director and staff to look out after their interests, and the owners have the commissioner and a lot of high-paid lawyers. The moment that anyone starts to think that the commissioner’s job is to look out for the best interests of the game, at least to the extent that those interests differ in any meaningful way from the opinions of the majority of owners and/or the most powerful of the owners, they are just kidding themselves. In fact, up until Bud Selig, commissioners were routinely sent packing the moment they thought their role was anything other than hauling the owners’ water.
Commissioners for about 50 years thought they had more power than they really had because of the special circumstances of the first commissioner Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis. The owners selected Landis in the first place because he was a judge who had ruled in favor of the owners no matter what the circumstances during his judicial career.
Although Landis was a reactionary bigot, he was a bright man who used his decisive action to ban the players involved in the Black Sox scandal (after they had been acquitted by a jury in a criminal case) and other baseball gamblers and game fixers and the reputation it brought him to pretty do what he wanted to do as baseball commissioner. Some owners didn’t always like it, but there were no major owner rebellions against him because deep down his sympathies and his decisions lay with the owners. However, when Landis died, the owners were damn sure never to allow another commissioner to have the relative independence that Landis had enjoyed.
Anyway, the reason I think Rob Manfred is the right man for the job is that he has been the owners’ point man on negotiations with the players’ union for the last 16 years. He understands collective bargaining, that it involves give and take and genuine negotiating, and he understands that strikes are an enormous bullet to the head in an industry which enjoys enormous and growing profits year after year, even if there are legitimate concerns about the aging fan base and the fact that games have gotten too long with too much down time.
Manfred is a guy who has carried the owners’ water for 16 years (27 if you count the time he was outside legal counsel), so he’s got to know how to do the job, which egos he needs to stroke, who he needs to go to to get things done, etc. Assuming that Manfred isn’t as much of a moron as Bowie Kuhn, who also got his start as the owners’ outside counsel, he should be able to do the commissioner’s job just fine.