It’s essentially an oligarchy. When the MLB owners gather in Baltimore next Thursday to choose the next baseball commissioner, 30 of the richest men in America will vote on a new leader in an election filled with backroom deals, simmering political divisions, and potential backstabbing. The only election less transparent is for pope.
At first we thought the vote might be a formality, another unanimous pick in Commissioner Bud Selig’s era of consensus. Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer and Selig’s second in command, has been the heir to the throne for a while now. It looked like the commissioner was comfortably guiding him to a coronation in an effort to continue Selig’s policies and legacies uninterrupted. Think of Manfred as the “establishment” candidate; if this is like a House leadership election, he’s John Boehner.
But a breakaway faction of owners isn’t so keen on seeing the status quo continue. The White Sox’ Jerry Reinsdorf, Red Sox’ John Henry, and Angels’ Arte Moreno believe that MLB needs to be tougher on the baseball players’ union, the MLBPA, and that the sport needs a fresh direction to overcome creeping demographic problems. Strongly opposed to Manfred, they’ve set into motion a gambit reminiscent of House Republicans’ past (and future?) attempts at Boehner’s political life.
It allegedly began in May, when Reinsdorf—long an ally of Selig—revealed he did not support Manfred’s continuation of the Selig regime. Spurning his decades-long friendship with the commissioner, he began plotting with the other owners who shared his concerns. They secretly went around shopping for an insurgent candidate who could sink his campaign—the options allegedly ranging from Red Sox Chairman Tom Werner to MLB Executive Vice President Tim Brosnan to Yale President Rick Levin.
The trio had little luck coalescing support around any of them until a few weeks ago, when Werner gave a particularly good interview to MLB’s search committee, apparently winning over some hesitant owners. The mutinous faction now believes they have enough votes to block Manfred from winning the 75% of the vote (23 of 30 owners) he needs. Their hope is that an inconclusive result on the first ballot will result in a chaotic constitutional crisis—a free-for-all in which all previous allegiances go out the window. In that sense, Werner is more a stand-in candidate than a legitimate contender; on subsequent ballots, most people think the owners would have to settle on a third, dark-horse candidate (mystery team!) in order to build a consensus of 23 votes. If they cannot do so after multiple ballots, however, the vote will be postponed until November. This would be a big blow to Selig but also could open the door for Selig to stay on one more year if the owners want to stop the political bloodshed.
The owners just found out on August 4 that the vote will take place on August 14—earlier than expected, perhaps a move by Selig to blunt Werner’s momentum. That means Reinsdorf, Henry, and Moreno had scarcely a week to whip votes for Werner (or Brosnan, the third official candidate, who is also looking to block Manfred but does not have nearly as much support) while Selig’s allies target the same voters for Manfred. Like an old-fashioned party convention or House leadership scrum, it’s got us chattering classes on the edge of our seats.
Although the sensitive competition is expected to unfold outside the public eye, Baseballot will monitor the news for leaks and information about each side’s vote counts; check back often. Here’s what the rumor mill currently says about how your team will vote:
Pro-Werner (4): According to the New York Times (and pretty much every other published report), the White Sox, Red Sox, and Angels are definitely voting for Werner. CBS Sports states that the Brewers’ Mark Attanasio is also "solidly behind Werner."
Likely pro-Werner (3): The New York Daily News reports that the Athletics’ Lew Wolff and John Fisher, the Blue Jays’ Paul Beeston, and the Diamondbacks’ Ken Kendrick are also in the Werner camp. However, CBS is a little less definitive, saying those three clubs are merely leaning toward Werner—hence this less definitive category for them. Oakland's and Arizona's preferences were first noted by the New York Times, which reported on August 7 that the pro-Werner insurgents were counting on their support. (It's speculated, however, that the Diamondbacks may just be voting for Werner to throw the nomination process open, in the hopes that their celebrated president, Derrick Hall, will eventually nab the post.) The Toronto defection was first made public by an earlier report in the Daily News. Previous reports said that the Werner campaign had offered one of Manfred’s close friends a top job in the Werner administration if he betrayed Manfred. Separate reporting from CBS implied that that friend is Beeston, who served alongside Manfred for five years as a former executive with MLB. The Daily News suggested that, if Werner wins, he will make Beeston his right-hand man, as well as keep Brosnan on as executive vice president for business, forming a unified opposition ticket.
Likely anti-Manfred (1): The Times also listed the Reds’ Bob Castellini as a possibility to vote against Manfred, and now the Daily News and CBS are both reporting that Cincinnati will vote for Brosnan, a close friend of Castellini’s. Even though Werner is emerging as the clear opposition candidate, it makes sense that the Reds would prefer not to vote for him. As a small-market team, they would not be well served to see a big-market executive serving in baseball’s most powerful post. UPDATE: Jon Heyman reports that Brosnan has dropped out, so it's unknown who the Reds will vote for. Maybe Werner if the rumors of a Werner-Brosnan ticket are true.
Tossup (2): CBS describes the Nationals’ Lerner family and the Rays’ Stuart Sternberg as "wild cards who could go either way." However, the Daily News disagrees; it reports that the Nationals are “leaning toward Manfred” and that the Rays are in fact a safe vote for Manfred. The Times had previously reported that the Nationals were one of the votes in play for Werner but was silent on the Rays. For now, these two owners are the biggest source of suspense.
Likely pro-Manfred (2): The Daily News lists the Royals’ David Glass and the Rangers’ Ray Davis as Manfred votes, but they hold political beliefs that may align them more with Werner. According to the Sunlight Foundation, the Royals and Rangers are the most conservative baseball clubs, based on their political donations. Glass, the former CEO of Wal-Mart, is notably anti-labor. If part of Werner’s platform is being tougher on the MLBPA, that could be appealing to those two clubs. For now, however, intelligence indicates they are on Manfred's side of the fence.
Pro-Manfred (18): CBS Sports and the Daily News agree that the Mets’ Fred Wilpon, Yankees’ Hal Steinbrenner, Dodgers’ Mark Walter, Rockies’ Dick Monfort, Pirates’ Bob Nutting, Phillies’ David Montgomery, Twins’ Jim Pohlad, Giants’ Charles Johnson, Cardinals’ Bill DeWitt, and Cubs’ Tom Ricketts are in the bag for Manfred. The Daily News adds the Orioles’ Peter Angelos, Braves’ Liberty Media, Indians’ Larry Dolan, Tigers’ Mike Ilitch, Astros’ Jim Crane, Marlins’ Jeff Loria, Padres’ Ron Fowler, and Mariners’ Nintendo to that list for a total of 18.