Manfred's selection as baseball's 10th Commissioner was a great day. It gives the sport its best chance to continue building on the success it has experienced under Selig, who became interim Commissioner in September 1992.
||Years in office
|Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis
|Albert Benjamin "Happy" Chandler
|Ford Christopher Frick
|General William D. Eckert
|Bowie Kent Kuhn
|Peter Victor Ueberroth
|A. Bartlett Giamatti
|Francis T. Vincent Jr.
|Allan H. "Bud" Selig
|Robert D. Manfred Jr.
"Probably the single biggest challenge is filling the shoes of the gentleman who stands to my right," Manfred said early Thursday evening. "He'e established a great tradition of unity among the 30 clubs. I'm going to work very hard to try to maintain that tradition of unity as we move the game forward."
Selig, 80, is stepping down as the greatest of Major League Baseball's Commissioners. He got to know Manfred during labor negotiations, when his duties with the Washington firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius included work as outside counsel for MLB. Manfred was named as executive vice president of labor relations in 1998, and working alongside Selig, he helped end baseball's history of recurring work stoppages.
With ownership's ranks more unified than in previous negotiations, MLB reached labor agreements with the MLB Players Association in 2002, '06 and '11 -- a run of labor peace that was almost unthinkable back in the 1980s and '90s. Manfred was named COO last September, seemingly signaling his selection as Selig's heir apparent.
"He's smart," Phillies chairman Bill Giles said Thursday. "He's got great integrity. He has a great passion for the game of baseball. … Bud and Rob have been a big team for baseball."
Manfred calls Selig "a friend and a mentor." Selig sees a leader who can be tough when needed -- Manfred was in charge of the 2013 Biogenesis investigation that led to the suspension of Alex Rodriguez and others -- but he will never put himself in front of his sport.
Selig praises Manfred's experience, which he said has been tested in every area.
"There's no doubt in my mind he has the training, the temperament, the experience to be a very, very successful Commissioner," Selig said. "I have justifiably very high expectations."
Manfred will be his own man in office, for sure, but may find it impossible to escape the internal wiring implanted within him by daily conversations with Selig. One of the lessons Manfred has learned is the value of building agreement before taking a course of action.
"You have to have broad-based support," said Cardinals chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr., who headed the selection committee. "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 for a Commissioner -- to treat everyone equally. It's about 30 clubs. It's not about one club or one group of clubs. It's about all 30 clubs, and I think that's how Rob sees it."
When Selig's fellow owners put him in charge of the game, it was his ability to build consensus, to keep them informed, that they talked about. Manfred has maintained strong relationships with a variety of union leaders (Donald Fehr, the late Michael Weiner and Tony Clark) during his tenure.
"I think the most important part of good labor relations is ongoing communications between the bargaining parties," Manfred said. "I think it's very difficult to deal with labor in a distinct six-month or one-year period. You have to work at it day in and day out. … It's not about making friends. It's about making sure that the other side understands where you're coming from. I think the entire labor-relations department in New York has done a great job of that over a long period of time."
For Selig and Manfred, their finest hour came in 2002, when they got a deal that led to testing for performance-enhancing drugs.
There was a very real chance of a strike that year, but negotiators worked around the clock to reach a deal. They succeeded in the wee hours in Manhattan, on the day of the deadline, with Manfred running on fumes. He had gone at least two days without sleep, and probably more. Manfred was so tired taking the train to his home after a morning news conference that he couldn't remember where he left his car.
Manfred must have felt just as delirious, if not quite as punchy, Thursday.
While Manfred was known to have Selig's support, he had to have some nervous moments when multiple ballots were required for him to get the necessary 23 votes for approval. Red Sox chairman Tom Werner appeared to have the support of a faction of owners, but, as usual, Selig got his wish.
Throughout the Selig era, as baseball has grown its revenue to $9 billion, that has proven to be a very good thing. Now it's up to Manfred to keep the streak going.
Manfred's first act after his election speaks well about his chance to do that.
"What I said to the owners when I went into the room [after the vote] was I didn't even want to think who was on what side of the issue at any point 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 that they made a great decision today."
If the owners had their first wish, they would have found a way for Selig to remain Commissioner forever. Replacing him with Manfred was the best alternative.
Let history show this decision typical of others in the Selig era. Score it a choice in the best interests of Major League Baseball.