In choice of Rob Manfred, the bottom line was the bottom line

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In this Nov. 14, 2013, file photo, Major League Baseball Chief Operating Officer Rob Manfred talks to the media following baseball's general managers' meetings in Orlando, Fla. Photo Credit: AP

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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.

The results of the election were only a few minutes old, and with most of the owners already fleeing the lobby of Baltimore's Hyatt Regency to their waiting airport limos, the man who will replace Bud Selig stepped to the microphone in a cramped conference room 15 floors above the fray.

"It's not about making friends," Rob Manfred said Thursday. "It's about making sure the other side understands where you're coming from."

That particular answer was in response to a question involving labor negotiations, something that Manfred, in previous roles under Selig, knows plenty about after spearheading MLB's efforts to prevent any work stoppages since the World Series was canceled in 1994.

First hired by MLB as an outside legal counsel for labor issues and graduating to chief operating officer in 2012, Manfred has been the point man on three collective-bargaining agreements -- 2002, '06, '12 -- that kept the peace through one of the most lucrative periods in the sport's history.

Manfred's ascent to the commissioner's job, however, did not come from being pals with the 30 owners who ultimately voted him in, reportedly on the sixth ballot, cast in secret, with unmarked envelopes.

Selig's path to office started in 1992, when, as owner of the Brewers, he took over as acting commissioner -- through the urging of his colleagues -- after the ouster of commissioner Fay Vincent.

Manfred's close ties to Selig made him the favorite, but his no-nonsense work ethic probably pushed him over the top.

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If Selig was respected for his deal-making ability among the owners, a skill that greatly increased everyone's wealth during the past two decades, then Manfred won over that disparate group by selling them on the fact that he was committed to ensuring that continued.

"A lot of people saw him as a guy that gets to the office at 7 in the morning," said Larry Baer, president and CEO of the San Francisco Giants, "and doesn't leave until the last thing is crossed off his list at 11:30 at night."

The hard part about agreeing on Manfred was the fear of the unknown. Few current owners were around before Selig came into power. Those who initially opposed Manfred preferred Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, if only because, as a team owner, he was one of them. Werner seemed like the safer choice for their interests.

But for all the legwork by the search committee, a seven-owner group chaired by Cardinals principal owner and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., Manfred was more qualified than either Werner or MLB executive vice president of business Tim Brosnan, who dropped out Thursday morning before the voting began. In addition to the key labor issues, Manfred has been at the forefront of MLB's joint drug agreement, which is continually evolving and is considered the strongest of any professional sport.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he has the training, the temperament and the experience to be a very successful commissioner," Selig said. "We justifiably have very high expectations."

Then why the boardroom battle Thursday?

Manfred made light of the contentious process by mentioning he had the best seat in the house -- upstairs in his hotel room, watching a game with Tony Petitti, president and CEO of MLB Network.

When asked further about Manfred's appeal, DeWitt explained how baseball's insistence on a three-quarters majority -- 23 of the 30 owners -- made his election that much more impressive. The NFL requires only a two-thirds majority to appoint a commissioner.

"You have to have broad-based support," DeWitt said. "I think so many people in all aspects of the industry -- large, middle and small markets -- talked about how he was sensitive to each of their needs. I think that's a tremendous aspect of a commissioner, to treat everyone equally."

As if 16 years working alongside Selig wasn't enough, Manfred spent two days making presentations and participating in Q&A sessions during the quarterly owners meetings in Baltimore.

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After the election, Manfred refused to discuss the details of his agenda -- he doesn't take office until the end of January -- but did not sound too concerned about the faction that opposed him.

"What I said to the owners when I came down after the vote is that I didn't really want to even think about who was on what side of what issue at points in the process," Manfred said. "My commitment to the owners was that I would work extremely hard, day in and day out, to convince all 30 of them they had made a great decision."

As some owners emphasized, the game is much more complicated now than when Selig took over 20 years ago, and Manfred -- "a classic CEO type," as Baer said -- has the right profile for those challenges.

It's no longer just about avoiding player strikes or lockouts. There is an urgency to keep growing the sport globally as well as to keep it relevant for the next generation, one that can watch anything it wants at any time from wired handheld devices.

Selig got that ball rolling, so to speak. Manfred's job is to maintain that momentum.

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"There will never be another commissioner like him," Yankees president Randy Levine said. "He's revolutionized the game. I think Rob is going to try to continue to expand that."

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