For as long as anyone can remember, Jerry Reinsdorf has operated in this completely incongruous sphere of the baseball universe: a large-market owner with a small-market worldview. One would think the billionaires who own ballclubs these days would see through the façade and recognize the endgame: Reinsdorf values power over money. The latter can lead to the former. The former always leads to the latter.
Naked as Reinsdorf's intentions are, the low-revenue teams have fallen in line behind the Chicago White Sox owner because he has what they don't: Bud Selig's ear. Reinsdorf and Selig are comrades from the old labor wars in which the two helped inspire owners to collude against players on multiple occasions. When you fight and fight dirty against the most powerful union in the United States, it's no surprise to see the bond last for more than three decades.
And yet even Selig, whose greatest attribute as baseball's commissioner has been his political acumen in keeping those large and small markets from warring as revenue increased seven-fold, should have seen this coming. As Selig pushes for his deputy, Rob Manfred, to take over as the next commissioner upon his retirement after this season, Reinsdorf is doing what he does best: whipping votes in a manner that would make Frank Underwood proud.
Reinsdorf has somewhere between 12 and 14 votes in his pocket at any given time, and he is deploying them in an effort to block Selig from delivering the commissionership to Manfred without so much as a discussion, sources familiar with ownership politics believe. That plan, as the New York Times outlined, failed, as did Reinsdorf's counter that would have implemented a three-man cabal atop the sport – including him.
It was a savvy play, certainly, and that Reinsdorf still wields as many votes as he does – while some have absconded, sources said, Manfred remains shy of the 24 he would need for confirmation – speaks to the nature of how well he plays the game. When men in power see that power waning, their most desperate instincts take over.
Truth is, Manfred represents much of what owners have come to value in a commissioner. He grabbed ahold of the changing power dynamics in labor relations and returned them to MLB after the union spent decades wiping the floor with the league. He is exceedingly bright and devilishly funny. He will fight and, in keeping with the tack of MLB past, fight dirty. He knows the game, the people. He wrote the labor agreements that have kept peace for nearly 20 years.
His sin in Reinsdorf's eyes is two-fold. Manfred recognizes the large markets ultimately run the game because they're the ones that generate massive revenue. That one is forgivable because, well, it's true. More egregious is this: Manfred calls Reinsdorf out on his politicking. And the only thing more dangerous than a powerful man is one who tells the truth about how he lassoed that power.
Reinsdorf's move put Selig in an interesting position. The fallout is just beginning. Owners were fighting to get on the succession committee that will recommend candidates, sources said, fearful that were it up to him …
1. Bud Selig would railroad Manfred right to the top. Selig's rationale makes sense. Rob Manfred knows where all the bodies from the Selig Era are buried, and nothing would ensure the key to that graveyard gets lost quite like emboldening its possessor.
Other names are being kicked around because they must. Each makes some sense, from Braves CEO Terry McGuirk (broadcasting background, stadium-funding experience) to Giants CEO Larry Baer (success in business, even with the A's stadium debacle largely on account of San Francisco asserting its territorial rights), Tigers president Dave Dombrowski (well-respected and -connected in the commissioner's office) to Disney chairman Bob Iger (big name, big brand).
They're all still long shots, seeing that –
2. Rob Manfred has support in a lot of the right places. The Yankees stand firmly by him, the prosecution of Alex Rodriguez a big plus. Red Sox owner John Henry has told others he appreciates how Manfred views large-market teams: not just as revenue generators but teams whose support of smaller markets is vital to the game's health.
More than anything, a look at the history of commissionerships shows a distinct trend. Now, certainly, the sample size is minute, and the four major sports each operate differently, but succession lines say something.
• NFL: Bert Bell (NFL owner) to Pete Rozelle (NFL executive) to Paul Tagliabue (NFL lawyer) to Roger Goodell (NFL COO)
• NBA: Larry O'Brien (politician) to David Stern (NBA lawyer) to Adam Silver (NBA lawyer)
• NHL: Clarence Campbell (NHL referee) to John Ziegler (NHL owner) to Gil Stein (NHL lawyer) to Gary Bettman (NBA lawyer)
Though only baseball has a history of bringing in outsiders – from Fay Vincent to Peter Ueberroth to Spike Eckert, the Air Force Lieutenant General – that's far too imprudent today. Especially with a labor agreement expiring in 2016 and the union wanting to get back some of what it lost in the 2011 CBA.
In the eyes of ownership whose return on investment continues to mushroom, status quo will suit them just fine. Of course, status quo is what got the …
3. Boston Red Sox to the point they're at now: losers of 10 in a row before scratching out a win Monday afternoon, sporting a grisly .420 winning percentage and wondering where the mojo of 2013 went. Boston's offseason amounted to re-signing Mike Napoli, replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia with A.J. Pierzynski and hoping the exact same rotation as last year would perform just as well.
It hasn't. Clay Buchholz is a mess. Felix Doubront isn't a whole lot better. Their second-biggest signing this offseason, reliever Edward Mujica, brought ERA under 7.00 on Monday for the first time since the Boston's opening series. Dustin Pedroia's OPS is down more than 200 points from last May 24. Daniel Nava just got back from Triple-A after a banishment on account of Grady Sizemore, who seems to have left his comeback in Fort Myers.
The frustration showed when Boston’s bench had its little feelings hurt by Yunel Escobar stealing third base with a five-run lead Sunday. Perhaps the greatest sign of a team on tilt is when unwritten-rules violations turn into benches-clearing affairs. Whatever Escobar said to Boston doesn't matter. When a team is on its way to falling one defeat short of a record for a year-after-championship losing streak, it needs to wear every indignity. Brawling doesn’t show fight. Having the self-discipline not to brawl does.
The Red Sox aren't this bad. They're not close. It's difficult to lose 10 games in a row. No, really. Even if you believe the Red Sox are a .420 team – and talent says they're far better than that – the chances of them dropping 10 straight is 0.017 percent, about one in 5,882. Right now they're better than only the Astros, Cubs and Diamondbacks, and the …
4. Toronto Blue Jays are 8½ games up on Boston and at least two on the rest of the AL Least. Not only does the East have the worst run differential of any division – the closest to its minus-34 is the AL Central at minus-27 – its future doesn't look altogether great, either.
Boston is lost. The Rays are still without three-fifths of their opening day rotation. Baltimore just traded for Nick Hundley because it worries more by the day Matt Wieters will need season-ending elbow surgery. The Yankees' rotation is a hot mess. And there are the Jays, with their immensely talented offensive cornerstones, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and Mark Buehrle destroying hitters at 83 mph, and a chance. Their bullpen remains a fire hazard, even with the return of Casey Janssen, though the Blue Jays can find help there.
More imperative is whether they've got a big move in them. Remember, the team's highest-paid veterans agreed to defer money during spring training to land Ervin Santana. They dabbled in several trade discussions, including ones that will pick up steam in the coming weeks, seeing as …
5. Jeff Samardzija should hit the market anytime now as the Cubs look to cash in on the most superlative stretch of winless baseball in history. The 29-year-old's 1.68 ERA is one one-hundredth of a point behind Adam Wainwright for the major leagues' best. Samardzija's zero victories going into Monday, meanwhile, ranked last.
Getting off the schneid, naturally, took Samardzija giving up the most runs he had all season. The Cubs happened to give him some run support finally, and his 10-strikeout, no-walk performance against the Giants was emblematic of how he has pitched the rest of the season. An 0-4 record going into the game was truly the most misleading number in all of baseball this year. Now, that title belongs to Samardzija's 1-4 record.
Over the past five years, 19 regular starters had gone this deep into the season without a victory. They weren't terribly good company. Jeremy Hefner led the major leagues in winless ERA last year – at 5.00. The closest imitation to 2014 Samardzija came from Ryan Dempster in 2012, when he was with the Cubs, because of course he was. Through seven starts, he had gone 0-2 with a 2.28 ERA, about three-quarters of a run worse than Samardzija with half the loss total.
When the Cubs do trade him – and they will, seeing as their austerity plan is stretching much longer than anticipated and doesn't include nine figures for a guy without a long track record and in his 30s – they can say they're offering the best pitcher in baseball this season and not be exaggerating that much. For anyone other than …
6. Troy Tulowitzki to make the same claim on the hitting side of the ball would be practically actionable. He still leads the major leagues in hitting. And on-base percentage. And slugging percentage. And runs. He's right there with 14 home runs. He's got the third-highest walk-to-strikeout ratio, and is one of just 13 players with more walks than Ks. He is also, according to the two most popular defensive metrics, either the second- or third-best fielder in the game. So there's that. Plus, when San Francisco alluded to him maybe stealing signs at home, his walk-up music was "The Sign" by Ace of Base.
How good has Tulo been? Let's say he goes into a crazy funk, and that for the rest of the season he hits at the 10th percentile of Baseball Prospectus' forecast for him: .259/.328/.458. Even with those mediocre numbers over the final three-quarters of the year, he still would finish the year at .288/.366/.525.
In history, only 20 shortstops have triple-slashed that line or better in a full season. Derek Jeter did it just once. Same with Barry Larkin. And Cal Ripken. And Robin Yount. And Lou Boudreau and Joe Cronin and Arky Vaughan and Travis Jackson and Honus Wagner. Troy Tulowizki has done it four times. If he does it this year, he'll tie Alex Rodriguez for the most seasons at those thresholds. They're arbitrary, yes, but at least they lend some credence to those already anointing Tulowitzki the game's best player when it's clear …
7. Mike Trout still deserves that title. Granted, Tulowitzki is making a far better argument than anyone else has the last two seasons, but such titles don't exchange hands because of a quarter of a season, no matter how great that quarter was.
It's not like Trout turned into some hack overnight. He's OPSing .913. He's got 10 home runs. He's playing center field like a man possessed. Plenty have groused about the strikeouts (they're too high) and stolen bases (too low), and both concerns are legitimate, particularly for a 22-year-old who heretofore hadn't exhibited any flaws worth griping about.
The closest thing to a complaint about Trout heading into this season was his mediocre outfield arm. And there he was Friday night, unleashing a rope from right-center field to nab Nori Aoki trying to tag up and take third base. Trout took that criticism to heart. He started long tossing more, building up arm strength. And voila. Another reason …
8. Miguel Cabrera still lags behind Trout and didn't deserve either MVP the last two years.
(Ducking. Hiding. OK, safe to come out yet? No. All right. Simmer down now. Just an opinion. Rooted in facts. Fine. Let's agree to disagree. So long as you know you're wrong.)
Still, after Cabrera's brutal first month, watching him tee off to the tune of .385/.419/.641 since April 22 has allowed for a wonderful month-plus of Detroit baseball. Even better than Victor Martinez's .353/.406/.664, which is saying something, because he looks like a switch-hitting reincarnate of someone sharing his surname. Victor doesn't walk as much as Edgar Martinez, but he damn sure can hit, allowing Detroit to forget about …
9. Prince Fielder, although, reality is, he was forgotten long before the Tigers traded him to the Rangers. Detroit wanted to purge its organization of Fielder's long-term commitment. Texas took it on, and now it's without a first baseman – and without much of a sense where to go this year – following the diagnosis that Fielder needs neck surgery.
Coming back is not impossible. Coming back well is indeed trying, though considering Fielder's deal, he's got all the time in the world to remedy it. The Rangers need a healthy Fielder. Even if their revenues are bigger, they're not the Yankees or Dodgers. They can't afford a nine-figure mistake. That's the sort of spirit …
10. Bud Selig has embraced in recent years: Don't waste money, make it. For all the questions about his real legacy, those who default to steroids or the strike or the All-Star tie should know better. Bud Selig's story is about how the ultimate outsider became the ultimate survivor.
All these years surrounded in boardrooms by arrogant alphas looking to one up another, and Bud Selig, with his ubiquitous red tie, running the thing, a master puppeteer. He formed alliances of his own, like with Jerry Reinsdorf, and they proved very loyal.
He loaded his succession committee with friendly faces from big markets (Reinsdorf, Phillies president Dave Montgomery and Angels owner Arte Moreno) and small (Pittsburgh owner Bob Nutting and Minnesota owner Jim Pohlad). He put St. Louis owner Bill DeWitt Jr. in charge. He told them to find a new commissioner, even though they knew who he wanted.
Where Selig goes next will be fascinating. He's not afraid to roll heads. He got rid of his close friend and COO Bob DuPuy because he believed DuPuy was too hungry for the commissionership. That was Selig's. His name, his office, his story.
It's all so alluring, even at 80 years old, and it makes you wonder: What if the Reinsdorf caucus works in blocking Manfred? And what if no other viable candidate separates him or herself from the rest. Would it really happen? After all this fanfare? The succession panel knows one candidate it absolutely loves, and his name is Bud Selig. He insists he is done. Mind you, he insisted the same at least twice before and didn't retire then, either.
Until then, the politicking on Park Avenue will go in full force. Usually, one source said, "What Jerry wants, Jerry gets." Only that's changing. Reinsdorf's power is melting away, ceding to a new regime. One that, if it really is up to Bud Selig, will look an awful lot like the old one.
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