Who will be Selig’s heir apparent?

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The day is coming.

Oh, it’s not today, and it may not be when he said he’d step down in 2009, but one day, Bud Selig won’t be commissioner of Major League Baseball.

I’m not Doug Pappas, and Doug, wherever you are, you know this more than anyone. Doug, the former chair of SABR’s Business of Baseball committee, passed away in May of 2004, and with him went one of Selig’s biggest critics.

Doug knows I’m not a Selig hater. “Selig”, as a topic, is something where I land on the agnostic side of things.

History will paint him, most likely, in broad mostly positive tones, especially if the next round of collective bargaining goes smoothly. I’ll remember him for riding along with Congress and forcing the MLBPA to break open the contract, not once, but twice to get a substantive drug policy. I’ll remember the ’94 Strike, that image of him throwing his hands up in the air after the tie at the All-Star game in his hometown of Milwaukee, and the proliferation of stadium development, mostly through public subsidy. And, barring a catastrophe this year, he’ll be remembered for seeing the light along with Don Fehr and avoiding work stoppages, which had not been done previous to the 2002 agreement.

Selig’s going to be remembered, one way or the other, but the point of this article is that Bud will be a historical point of reference one day, and not a “here and now” discussion. There will be baseball long after Bud Selig leaves the game.

When Bud goes though, who will get the hot seat? Who will be his replacement and hired by the Lords of baseball? Let’s think about that.

One thing that is patently clear: the former-owner-to-commissioner paradigm has worked out well for the owners. The Great Lakes Gang—Selig of the Brewers, Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, Stanton Cook of the Cubs, William Bartholomay of the Braves and Carl Pohlad of the Twins—were the architects of Fay Vincent’s ouster in 1992, and the majority of these men are still well entrenched in MLB to this day.

It seems very likely that the Lords will, once again, look inward to promote a commissioner.

Who would that individual be? While nothing would surprise me when it comes to MLB, the idea of an interim commissioner that still has real or perceived ownership powers over a club while holding the position of commissioner seems out of the question. That means it would need to be an owner who has power in the Lodge and is ready to get out of the ownership game and into the leadership chair.

If you were going to go through all the owners, the one that wields more power than any other would have to be Jerry Reinsdorf. Many over the years have said that during Bowie Kuhn’s tenure, that it wasn’t Kuhn running baseball, but the Dodgers’ Walter O’ Malley. The situation with Selig and Reinsdorf isn’t quite the same, in that they seem to be more joined at the hip—Jerry the sounding board and advisor, in tandem with Selig the consensus maker.

And, it was clear, even before Vincent’s ouster, that he saw the value in having an owner at the controls of MLB. As he said to Vincent, “I hate all commissioners. It’s nothing personal to you. All these guys get to be commissioner and then you come up with something called commissioner-itis where you think you’re more important than us, and we own the game. All of us have money up. You don’t have any money involved. You have no financial interest in us doing well and I don’t think a commissioner should be running the sport. I think we should get rid of all of them and an owner should run the game.”

Reinsdorf is certainly the one owner that has been at the table of many of the power committees within MLB, including the Executive Council and Relocation Committee, which are but two of the key, high placed positions he has held.

Is Jerry ready to sell? Well, he’s certainly in a position to unload the White Sox at a considerable profit, after winning the World Series last year, if he chose to do so.

Would he want to? Given Jerry’s ego, one could make a solid case for him. Yes, he’s getting up there in age (he’s 72 going on 73), but Jerry’s probably a good bet.

How about someone younger then? Here’s where things get a bit less certain in the tea leaf reading department.

While the mostly private financing deal for the China Basin site created chagrin for most of the owners looking for public subsidy of stadiums, Peter McGowan might be a choice. He certainly has made Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park a model ballpark, and, along with Barry Bonds, turned the Giants into a solid revenue and profit-making machine. The problem with McGowan might be the thorny issue with the A’s and the territorial claims that were not rescinded in the ‘90s when Lurie was looking for a new stadium in San Jose. That issue has blocked the A’s from moving south.

It also may be that Magowan would be uninterested in selling at this time. Certainly Barry Bonds’ days are numbered as an active player and with his departure will come a marketing hit. Is it a good time to consider selling, or a time to hold on and see if the A’s move out of the Bay Area? Imagine the value of the Giants if they controlled the whole of the Bay Area?

Of course, maybe baseball will look just below Selig and promote one of Selig’s key lieutenants. If that were the case then Bob DuPuy may be a serious consideration.

I would have said Sandy Alderson was a likely suspect, but Alderson appeared to not be as appreciated while within the inner-sanctum, and wisely left for the Padres, where he can be more hands on. Still, he is one of the brighter minds in MLB, and might be on the radar.

It is possible that the owners could look outside their own house and hire someone who hasn’t been in the ownership game. I find this an outside possibility, but the likes of Bob Costas and George Will always seem to crop up. When I interviewed Costas in 2003, I asked about this. Costas, whatever your opinion may be of him, was extremely open and easy to talk to. When I brought up the idea of him as commissioner, one could almost see the smirk come across the phone line. “I have never been coy about it” Costas said. “Never led anyone to believe it. Never have said anything like, ‘Well, maybe’, or ‘Gee, they will never ask me,’ so it is a moot point. I have always flatly said I am not interested. I am not qualified. And I use the example that if someone’s a good political columnist that doesn’t mean you think he or she should be Senator or President.” He’s got a good point. George Will may have been on the Blue Ribbon panel and may be one of those that have an inside take on what’s going on within baseball, but getting in mix with the likes of Reinsdorf, or Angelos, or Pohlad would make getting into it with Sam Donaldson look like Don Zimmer lunging at Pedro Martinez in Game 3 of the 2003 ALCS.

Maybe the paradigm will shift to something completely different. Maybe the commissioner will be a name, while in function being something more realistic than the impression that the Commissioner of Baseball is still an extension of what many saw in Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis.

I asked sports economist and author Andrew Zimbalist about who he thinks the new commissioner might be. Zimbalist’s next offering, due to hit shelves of bookstores on Mar. 1, can be pre-ordered now, and is entitled, In the Best Interest of Baseball? The Revolutionary Reign of Bud Selig. Given Zimbalist’s interest in Selig, what does he think?

I think it is too early to speculate. The owners still have too many issues to work out among themselves between now and 2009. What is clear to me is that whether or not it is another owner, I believe the job will be clearly defined as that of a CEO, not the mythical, omnipotent commissioner who looks after everyone’s best interests. When Selig took the reins in 1992, it marked a new era—one where MLB declared itself to be a business and had nothing to apology for.

So, maybe beyond who will replace Selig, the discussion might be “what” the commissioner’s position will be like. If that’s the case, all political leanings aside, is it possible that a former owner of the Texas Rangers might be a serious consideration? A former US president as the next commissioner? Would George W. Bush be interested in the position?

As I said at the beginning of this article, Bud is here for the time being. One day Bud will leave, like the others have before, and it we’ll look at whether his legacy is a positive or a negative against his peers. And someone new will take the chair, and the game will have a new steward. Will the business end of baseball be altered dramatically for better or worse, after Selig the game? That is be the question.

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