MLB Insider: Manfred has more peace to keep than just labor

08/16/2014 5:24 PM

11/12/2014 7:52 PM

Rob Manfred still has five months before he ascends to the baseball throne as the 10th and next commissioner of Major League Baseball, whose owners finally elected him Thursday as successor to Bud Selig.

The process wasn’t as seamless as the final score — a 30-0 unanimous vote of approval — would indicate, though the owners who have spoken in the aftermath of a long day in a Baltimore hotel have tried to downplay all the haggling among 1 percenters.

That includes Jerry Reinsdorf, who drew out the process by directly thumbing his nose at his old pal Selig’s desire to have Manfred selected. Reinsdorf, who with Selig’s help directed baseball to the 1994 strike, still wants to rein in player salaries even though his Chicago White Sox have never been worth more thanks to Manfred’s work under Selig.

Manfred has successfully negotiated the past three collective bargaining agreements that have prevented another strike like the one that crippled the game until Cal Ripken’s famed march past Lou Gehrig and Mark McGwire’s juiced-up chase of Roger Maris.

Baseball is now a $9 billion-a-year operation. TV contracts continue to soar in almost every market. While its naïve to think that performance-enhancing drugs have been eliminated, Selig, with Manfred’s help, put a serious dent in PED usage with a comprehensive testing program.

Maybe it will sink in with Reinsdorf that strikes and PEDs are bad and Manfred is good before Selig heads off to the retirement mecca of Milwaukee in January. Maybe Reinsdorf, who had convinced nine other owners to hold out on the Manfred vote, will retire, too.

(Angels owner Arte Moreno was one of the dissenters, the same Moreno who has used his team’s TV clout to lure Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to town with gigantic contracts and also to lock up Mike Trout to another handsome deal. Manfred had better make repairs there or else he will wind up sitting high in right field every time he visits Angel Stadium.)

The man the Reinsdorf 10 backed over Manfred, Tom Werner, is the chairman of the Boston Red Sox with a background in show business. The prevailing thought is that Werner could help reverse baseball’s declining TV ratings and help make the game cool with the kids again.

Never mind that Werner was a train wreck of an owner with San Diego and that he now presides over a franchise worth $2 billion and with a payroll of $156 million. The Reinsdorf hypocrisy had no bounds.

But Manfred can’t just stay with the status quo.

PEDs are always ahead of the testing, and baseball could be facing some ugly times with Biogenesis ringleader Tony Bosch facing jail time. Manfred, though, has been on the front line of making MLB’s drug policy tougher.

The sagging TV ratings, in part because games keep getting longer and longer, are a legitimate concern. If the game is going to continue to grow, people have to want to watch games and go to them. If Manfred wants to keep his job, he needs to keep lining the owners’ wallets.

Manfred can’t forget his calling card, either. He needs to keep the labor peace by helping negotiate a new CBA in 2016.

That might not be easy, with the powerful Selig’s thumb no longer over the owners. Selig could control Reinsdorf, who relented to the Manfred vote after a private meeting with Selig. Reinsdorf, not the players association, could be Manfred’s biggest problem when bargaining begins again.

And, for the love of all things holy, Manfred needs to do something about the stadium disasters in Oakland and St. Petersburg.

Even Reinsdorf, whose U.S. Cellular Field isn’t exactly a palace, has to agree with that.

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