Bud Selig today let the world know that it's officially official that he's officially retiring baseball's commissionership on Jan. 24, 2015. He will leave behind a sport basking in unprecedented revenue growth and continuing to deodorize itself from ceaseless performance-enhancing scandals, a game that embraced the digital revolution more than any but struggles to find a foothold among youth. He is evermore a study in contradictions.
His singular grip on baseball has been perhaps the greatest constant throughout his 22-year reign. He is the same man every day: eating the same lunch, wearing the same red-colored tie and crisp white shirt, espousing the same rhetoric about the sport he genuinely loves and wants to see thrive. For better and, considering fan enmity toward him, often worse, he has been the face of the game.
Through that prism, the question of his replacement always has been more rhetorical than realistic. Who's going to replace Bud? Nobody, because Bud is and always will be the commissioner. There's a joke inside the sport that Selig really is baseball's Charlton Heston, and that they'd only take the job from his cold, dead hands. Twice before he has said he was retiring, and twice before he signed new long-term contracts before he could follow through. It's gotten to the point where even Selig jokes about it.
Never before has Selig done this – put out the word through the league office that he's done – and so even if skeptics do remain, the likelihood of a new person running baseball is greater than ever. Because of Selig's grip on the role, of course, it is entirely unclear throughout all areas of the sport, from the league office to the union to inside clubhouses, who will be the sport's 10th commissioner.
The odds-on favorite is Rob Manfred.
"Rob is Hillary Clinton in 2007," one source said Thursday.
When handicapping the presidential race in 2007, Clinton was the likeliest candidate. Of course, someone a little more charismatic and a little better at campaigning and salesmanship dashed that hope, and she was relegated to a secondary position.
That's where Manfred has been for more than a decade: Selig's No. 2, his consigliere, the man who has negotiated labor deals and understands the inner workings of the sport better than anyone. Used to be that every labor negotiator for MLB would be fired after negotiating the latest collective-bargaining agreement because Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr would lay waste. That's no longer the case: Manfred has earned respect from the union, which has helped lay the foundation for unprecedented labor peace in the sport, the sort of which has fueled the growth to a $9 billion industry.
"Manfred is the Peyton Manning pick," another source said, and he meant that Manfred is safe and smart. Compared to other potential successors within the commissioner's office, Manfred's advantage is having weathered all aspects of the job. The three relations (labor, public and player), the specter of PEDs, the business side – he is intimately familiar with each.
Tim Brosnan, who runs MLB's business operations, is even better versed in the money-making operations, and some consider him a stronger candidate than Manfred. And while Bob Bowman has helped grow MLB Advanced Media into one of the greatest new-media success stories there is, and is considered among the most brilliant people in the sport, two sources said his reputation as someone who is abrasive could hinder him from getting a job that relies so much on public perception.
If baseball desires a great ambassador who could let others do the dirty work, Joe Torre is a possibility. Of course, Torre is 73 years old and has shown little desire publicly for the job. He would be a popular choice. He is just an unlikely one.
Others on the periphery, who could be the Obama to Manfred's Hilary, include Tigers president Dave Dombrowski, a highly respected figure with important positions on MLB committees; Sandy Alderson, the Mets general manager who has worked at MLB and has decades of experience; and Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall, who at 44 is considered young for the job but has significant behind-the-scenes allies who could thrust him into consideration.
Want a darkhorse? How about two? The first is Steve Greenberg. Chances are you haven't heard of him. He likes it that way. Greenberg, the son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, is baseball's television rainmaker, the man who has negotiated a number of significant local TV deals that have led to the sport's massive revenue growth. Some high-ranking league sources consider him to be the best candidate, although they're wary that he would want the job considering how he likes to do his work today with little fanfare.
The other: George W. Bush. He once owned the Texas Rangers. He has expressed interest in the job in the past. He did run the entire country for eight years. And best of all, the worst war he could wage is in the labor department, so that's a step up.
Selig will be intimately involved in choosing the next commissioner, two sources said, and in giving the league 15 months to do so, baseball should be able to vet all of the above, and more, and figure out who has that combination of business savvy, public-relations smoothness, respect from the union and, above all, consensus among a fractious group of 30 owners.
Whoever it is, he (or she) will need 24 of those owners to vote, "Yay." Then, and only then, will the most important job in baseball be pried, against all odds, from Bud Selig's warm-and-alive hands.