Former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said he’d be surprised if the sport turned to an outsider such as Walt Disney Co. (DIS:US) Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger to replace the retiring Bud Selig.
Selig, 79, is stepping down as commissioner in January and the list of leading candidates to replace him is said to include MLB Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred and Iger, along with front-office personnel such as Atlanta Braves CEO Terry McGuirk, San Francisco Giants President Larry Baer and Detroit Tigers President and CEO Dave Dombrowski.
“It would be very aggressive to bring in an outsider,” Vincent, who was replaced by Selig in 1992, said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The NBA showed that there’s an awful lot to be said for an insider.”
Adam Silver was David Stern’s hand-picked successor when he officially took over as commissioner of the National Basketball Association in February. Three months later, he moved to strip ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers from Donald Sterling after Sterling made racist remarks. Silver joined the league in 1992 and had been the NBA’s No. 2 official since 2006.
Selig two weeks ago announced the formation of a seven-member search committee of team owners to help select his successor. The group is led by St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. and includes Jerry Reinsdorf of the Chicago White Sox, who the New York Times reported last week has opposed any plan to transition from Selig to Manfred.
The selection of baseball’s next commissioner would need approval from at least 23 of 30 teams.
“Seeing them put together this diverse committee of owners, this is just telling me that baseball has a lot of legitimate candidates, but nobody right now can get the required 75 percent vote,” said Wayne McDonnell, an assistant professor of sports management who created the “Business of Baseball” course at New York University. “I don’t think the committee has a clear vision yet of what they’re looking for.”
Baseball spokesman Pat Courtney said in a statement that out of respect to the formal process in place that includes input and participation of all 30 clubs, it’s inappropriate to comment on the selection committee’s efforts.
Vincent, who resigned under pressure as commissioner 22 years ago, said the most important requirements for Selig’s successor are a strong relationship with the players’ union, an understanding of the business of baseball such as media rights and sponsorships, and a grasp of the internal politics needed to work with the league’s 30 owners.
“Bud was certainly the master of that,” Vincent, 75, said. “He was a former owner, the owners respected him and he was able to get things done. A lot of what’s going on today is him saying to the owners, ‘I’ve done a good job, Rob Manfred is the expert on union affairs and you want to leave things in place.’ That’s a respectable argument.”
Manfred, an MLB employee since 1998, was promoted last year to chief operating officer less than a week after Selig said he’d retire when his term expires in January. Manfred, 55, had been executive vice president for economics and league affairs, and is now responsible for day-to-day management of the commissioner’s office in New York.
“There’s been some internal debate that some of the owners might not think he’s their guy,” McDonnell said by telephone. “That basically he’s been an extension of Bud Selig for the past several years with regard to the drug cases and collective bargaining agreement.”
Iger, 63, succeeded Michael Eisner as Disney’s CEO in 2005 and is scheduled to step down in 2016. Disney is the world’s largest entertainment company, with more than $45 billion in sales, and Iger would immediately bring leadership and credibility as MLB commissioner, McDonnell said. A Disney spokeswoman declined to comment.
Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter said the team had no comment on Baer’s possible candidacy for commissioner. Braves spokesman Brad Hainje said the team would have no comment on the search for a new commissioner. The Tigers didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
“The other side you have to look at is what’s going to be his learning curve to intimately know all facets of this industry,” McDonnell said. “Whether you liked Bud Selig or not, he intimately knew every aspect of the baseball industry. That has produced some beneficial results for the sport.”
Vincent said he isn’t surprised by the uncertainty surrounding the process of finding the next commissioner.
Before Selig was appointed, Vincent said he’d met or spoken with George W. Bush, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo and former U.S. Senator George Mitchell -- all of whom he said thought they’d become the next commissioner.
“It does show that this process is not unusual,” he said.
How long it takes is another question. Selig will officially step down on Jan. 24, ending a tenure that included the sport’s steroid scandal and an era of labor peace after losing the 1994 World Series to a players’ strike.
Selig’s reign is second in length only to Kenesaw Mountain Landis, who led the sport from 1920 to 1944 as its first commissioner.
McDonnell said he anticipates the search will extend through the end of this year. He added it could go a number of directions, based on whether the search committee wants a CEO type, an owner, or an experienced mediator who knows what two decades of labor peace mean to the economics of the sport.
Vincent said he thinks Manfred will ultimately be the next commissioner and that Selig will remain involved in some capacity, possibly with a committee of owners who help decide the future of a sport with $8 billion in annual revenue.
“The thing I keep coming back to is that Bud Selig has built such enormous credibility,” Vincent said. “Baseball is just doing so well that it would be astonishing for me that the owners wouldn’t recognize that it’s a very good horse and to get off it runs some substantial risk.”
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