Electing Rob Manfred next commissioner should have been a simpler process for MLB

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MLB commissioner Bud Selig, right, and MLB vice

MLB commissioner Bud Selig, right, and MLB vice president of labor relations Rob Manfred react during a news conference announcing a five-year collective bargaining agreement in New York. Photo Credit: AP, 2011

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David Lennon David Lennon has been a staff writer for

David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.

BALTIMORE - Tucked behind two security guards and a series of glass doors, Major League Baseball's 30 owners gathered to elect a new commissioner.

A process that usually amounts to a news release for other sports was turned into a form of conference-room warfare, with verbal attacks and stubborn personalities creating what felt like an intractable situation.

Owners left, then returned, offering little hint of what was transpiring behind those walls -- other than the fact that a decision had yet to be reached.

Rob Manfred, the obvious successor to Bud Selig, could get only 22 votes as the secret ballots kept returning without the 23 he needed. And there he stayed. One. Vote. Short.

"There was a long delay before the 23rd vote came in," said the Orioles' Peter Angelos, who reportedly was in the anti-Manfred camp at the start. "But ultimately it came in and it was expected it would come in. Despite the excellent quality of the other two candidates, they don't have his background and his success."

Fortunately for baseball -- and Selig, for that matter -- the opposition group eventually came to its senses without putting up a fight that could have lasted until November, when the next quarterly meetings are scheduled. Maybe they just tired themselves out.

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So minutes before dinner was ordered, word leaked out from the boardroom that Manfred finally had been elected. Unanimously, of course. Just like that, everyone was buddies again. One big happy family. All that supposed animosity and back-channel sniping? Gone.

"You never know how the sausage is made," Giants president Larry Baer said. "But all that has a shelf life of about 20 minutes."

Very true. As soon as those doors swung open, what was there to be angry about? These are fabulous times to be an MLB owner, with lucrative TV contracts, skyrocketing franchise values and a digital enterprise that has turned the Internet into an ATM for anyone lucky enough to have a piece of it.

That being the case, why wouldn't the 30 owners want to stick with the status-quo candidate in Manfred? Neither Tim Brosnan, MLB's executive vice president of business, nor Red Sox chairman Tom Werner held the promise of continuing Selig's policies. Manfred not only was following in Selig's footsteps, he was integral in carving out that path in the first place.

To us, Manfred's election should have been a simpler process, such as Roger Goodell following Paul Tagliabue in the NFL and Adam Silver replacing David Stern in the NBA. Those moves didn't come with much political in-fighting. Just an email and subsequent news conference. Painless, and good PR.

For MLB, however, things have never been that easy. Selig has only made it look that way.

Before Selig took over for the ousted Fay Vincent in 1992, MLB's owners seemed to fight repeatedly on just about everything -- especially about topics such as revenue sharing and player salaries. But Selig has maintained a relative calm over the sport -- a very lucrative calm -- and there really was no point in messing that up in trying to promote a successor, especially with a qualified candidate in Manfred at the ready.

"In the end, Manfred was elected because of his dynamic leadership, his passion for the game, his overall ability to deal with labor issues and really all aspects of the game," said Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the search committee.

"When we put together all the requirements of a commissioner, he really checked all the boxes."

Then why all the drama? Wasn't Manfred the ideal rubber-stamp candidate? We understand the need for due process, but his competition -- which took more than three months to put together -- didn't seem like serious contenders. Brosnan dropped out Thursday morning, before the voting even began, and Werner couldn't come close to beating out Manfred.

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But after two days of discussing the job in detail, with all 30 owners involved, maybe this really was good for baseball in the final analysis -- as long as Manfred wound up the winner.

Now we can all get back to the games.

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