Major League Baseball tried to elect a new fearless leader Thursday. And for a while -- in the tradition of outgoing commissioner Bud Selig's decision to let an All-Star game end in a tie -- it appeared they might choose no one.

Finally, after a long day of politicking, the 30 owners emerged from their hotel meeting room in Baltimore and announced the winner.

There were no astonished reactions or calls for video replay. The new man's name is Rob Manfred. He has been MLB's chief operating officer since last year. Before that, he was a MLB vice-president in charge of labor relations. For the past several months, Manfred had been the front-runner to replace the 80-year-old Selig, who is retiring in January.

But apparently, when Manfred faced the owners Thursday, things were more contentious than expected, according to a New York Times report. He underwent pointed questioning from one faction in the room that didn't like his style -- or maybe just didn't like the idea of a lawyer being in charge of their game.

The dissenting group favored Tom Werner, who is part of the Boston Red Sox ownership group and has a network television background. He was executive producer of "The Cosby Show."

For sure, Thursday's meeting was no congenial visit to the Huxtables. To be elected commissioner, a candidate needed 23 of the 30 votes. Numerous news outlets reported that Manfred received 20 on the first ballot. After an adjournment for arm-twisting and then another meeting that lasted a few more hours, he found the additional support to go over the top.


Advertisement

The decision was a crucial one. Selig has ruled baseball since 1992. A similar term by the new man would put him in charge through the 2036 season -- or longer. Manfred is 55 years old, three years younger than Selig was when he began his reign.

Support for Werner was led by Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who supposedly didn't like the way Manfred had been too nice to the players in keeping labor peace for almost two decades.

The A's also supported Werner, at least on the first ballot. Reinsdorf has been a Lew Wolff ally on other issues. Also, Wolff was among those owners who thought Werner might do a better job of raising MLB's overall national media profile in an age when the NFL dominates the American sports marketing landscape. But somehow by sundown, Manfred acquired the right number of votes to win.

The biggest question for Bay Area citizens, of course, is whether Selig's successor will adopt a different policy toward the never-ending A's ballpark situation and Wolff's desire to move to San Jose. Because under Selig, the issue was bogged down in quicksand inside Silly Putty inside hot lava.

Many never grasped the weird dynamic at work between Selig and A's co-owner Wolff. It existed because of their longtime friendship. They were college fraternity brothers at Wisconsin. The assumption was that this would work in Wolff's favor when he proposed that the team move to the South Bay despite the Giants' claim to territorial rights there.

Instead, the Selig-Wolff relationship led to just the opposite result. Selig doggedly delayed any action on the A's possible move -- and could, because he knew Wolff would not protest. There were times when Wolff was angry enough to make threats about calling an owners' vote to overturn the Giants' territorial rights -- as was the case Monday, 23 votes would have been necessary -- but Selig always talked his old pal out of it. Selig would remind Wolff of their friendship and also note that the A's were making big profits with their team because of the commissioner's revenue-sharing initiatives.

With Manfred, will things be different? It is known that, when Oakland officials balked at signing a 10-year Coliseum lease extension for the A's earlier this summer (although the lease has easy opt-out clauses for the team), Manfred got on the horn to city politicians and threatened to let the A's move to San Jose or some other city if they didn't agree. Oakland ultimately agreed to the lease.

We'll see where the journey goes next, under the new guy. Wolff has not revealed his ultimate strategy. But here's a good guess: He is gambling that the Raiders will run into a dead end in Oakland and leave town. He is also expecting that the proposed "Coliseum City" redevelopment plan, fraught with unrealistic expectations, will fall apart.

When all of that occurs, Wolff surely will be ready with his own proposal to Oakland and Alameda County: He will work with them to pay off the roughly $140 million in current stadium debt if they give him the entire 120 acres of Coliseum property to develop profitably, then use those profits to build a ballpark as part of the project.

And if Oakland should instead reject Wolff's idea, or throw all of its financial and political support behind the Raiders to give them preference at the Coliseum site? Wolff then turns to the new MLB commissioner, Manfred, and demands to either share AT&T Park with the Giants or finally receive approval for a San Jose move.

If it gets to that point, Thursday's decision in Baltimore will have ramifications that will define baseball in Northern California for a long, long time.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy.

INSIDE
Rob Manfred is elected baseball's
10th commissioner, winning a three-man
race to succeed Bud
Selig.
PAGE 3