Let’s have an inter-sport lottery. It won’t cost you a penny, but then you won’t win anything either. Competing is the prize. It’ll be fun, and it’ll last a long time. We probably won’t know the outcome for at least a couple of years. This is the lottery of the commissioners.
Which commissioner will retire first, Bud Selig or David Stern?
The game is prompted by Stern’s declaration this past weekend that he planned to retire sooner rather than later. The National Basketball Association chief offered no specific time but said he would retire before the new labor deal expires, which could happen in 2017.
Instant speculation was that Stern, who has been commissioner since 1984, would step down much sooner than that, perhaps within two years.
Selig, whose retirement always comes later than sooner, has already missed three retirement dates, accepting an extension of his tenure each time. The latest extension takes him through the 2014 season.
Baseball officials and executives I spoke with believe this time it will be for real, that Selig, commissioner in some fashion since 1992, will retire in three years. These are the reasons:
- He could have had a five-year extension but said no to that length.
- He will be 80 years old.
- He wants to be here when he is elected to the Hall of Fame, and that can’t happen until six months after he has retired, meaning his earliest induction couldn’t be until July 2016.
- He wants out before the current labor agreement expires following the 2016 season. The long-range forecast is that the next labor negotiation will be “brutal,” to use the word of one executive, and Selig won’t risk his legacy of having presided over more than two decades of labor peace.
But the primary point of this exercise isn’t to speculate on when Selig might retire but whether, when he does announce his retirement, he will follow Stern’s example by announcing who his choice would be as his successor.
Stern spoke so strongly in support of his deputy commissioner, Adam Silver, as his successor that it seemed as though he made the announcement about his retirement just to make his endorsement publicly and get Silver’s name out there.
Selig doesn’t have a deputy to endorse. In fact, it’s not very likely that he would endorse anyone. Selig likes to rule by consensus, and consensus could be difficult to achieve for a successor. Election requires assent from 23 of the 30 owners. There is widespread skepticism out there that any candidate could get 23 votes.
There is another problem. Anyone who might want to be considered for the job can’t disclose his interest publicly or privately. You might call it Selig’s law.
The commissioner doesn’t like anyone speaking about his job as long as he has it and until is certain he no longer wants it.
I’ve recalled this example previously, but it remains instructive. When Selig was only the acting or interim commissioner in the mid-1990s, after the owners induced Fay Vincent to resign as commissioner, he repeatedly, almost daily, said he didn’t want the job permanently. Selig said it so often and so convincingly that some people believed him.
Len Coleman was one of them. Then the National League president in the days when the leagues had separate presidents, Coleman figured if Selig didn’t want to be commissioner, he would throw his hat into the ring. He quietly let some N.L. owners know he would be interested.
Not that any of the owners acted to block him, but word got to Selig that Coleman was on the prowl, and that ended Coleman’s future in Major League Baseball.
In the same period, George Bush was the managing partner of the Texas Rangers but also had interest in becoming the commissioner. He let Selig know of his interest, and when time passed with no response, he asked about it. This went on for a while, and Bush finally told Selig he had to know because Republicans in Texas wanted him to run for governor and he had to give them an answer.
You can guess the rest. Selig became commissioner and Bush became president.
Selig has denied this story, has denied knowing that Bush was interested in being commissioner, but Bush years ago related it to a person who told me and whom I consider an unimpeachable source.
More recently, there was Bob DuPuy. A Milwaukee lawyer who did legal work for M.L.B., DuPuy became baseball’s president and chief operating officer in 2002. He resigned in 2010.
There is a widespread belief in baseball that DuPuy resigned as a result of a fight with Selig over his retirement. DuPuy, the belief was, thought that Selig was going to retire and he’d succeed him. The two men supposedly got into a fight, and DuPuy was out.
DuPuy vehemently, if not angrily, denied the story.
“Absolutely not,” he said in a telephone interview, agitated that anyone would say he left out of anger with Selig. “You can’t get anyone who would attribute that statement to me. I said I was happy doing my job. I agreed with Bud’s wife that he wouldn’t retire. It’s not true.”
Asked about the reasons for his departure, DuPuy said, “I’m not going to go into that. I’ve been gone a year and a half.”
DuPuy, his baseball career over, has divided himself into three parts. He is a partner at his old law firm, Foley & Lardner, he teaches law at Cornell Law School and he is a consultant with Evolution Media Capital, the investment banking arm of Creative Artists Agency.
He is not expected to be a candidate to succeed his friend Bud as commissioner despite Selig’s words of praise when he left:
“Bob has served Major League Baseball and its 30 clubs with diligence and dedication since he joined our offices in 1998.”His legal expertise has been invaluable in the resolution of numerous challenging issues that have faced our industry.”
Is there an obvious candidate or candidates? Among names that have been mentioned, though not by anyone who will be in the business of selecting the new commissioner, are present or former club executives Andy MacPhIail, Larry Lucchino and Dave Dombrowski.
An excellent candidate, not currently in baseball, would be Steve Greenberg, who was deputy commissioner under Vincent and now is a managing director at the investment bank Allen & Company with abundant involvement in the sale and purchase of baseball teams.
When the time comes, though, the No. 1 candidate may be Rob Manfred, the executive vice president for labor relations and human resources since 1998.
Besides Selig, Manfred has been the most visible executive from the commissioner’s office. He has been the face of baseball’s program against illegal performance-enhancing substances, and at times he speaks for Selig. In addition, he has established good relations with all of the teams with his involvement in salary arbitration and player contract negotiations.
“I think he’s got the best chance of anybody,” a veteran club executive said. “He’d be great.”