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Baseball Owners Call Up Commissioner Bud Selig's Relief


Unless you are really into baseball labor relations and drug scandals you probably don't know the name Rob Manfred. Well, he is major league baseball's chief operating officer. And yesterday he was elected to become the sport's tenth commissioner. He'll take over from Bud Selig in January. Sports writer Stefan Fatsis joins us now. Hi there.


SIEGEL: Tell us about the new commissioner.

FATSIS: Rob Manfred is 55-years-old. He graduated from Cornell and Harvard Law School. He was an outside counsel to baseball during the 1994-95 player strike that saw the cancellation of the World Series. He then joined Major league baseball. He was the point person in the last three labor deals with players in 2002, 6 and 11 - all of which were achieved without a work stoppage. Manfred also helped negotiate baseball's first drug testing and that even in the steroids era was not that easy to get. This is not a glamour appointment. This is a pragmatic appointment.

SIEGEL: This is an inside man. It certainly feels like a change in style for baseball in terms of whom it hires to run the game.

FATSIS: Well, yeah. Think about Manfred's predecessors here. Bud Selig was a team owner. Fay Vincent was a Coca-Cola and Columbia Pictures executive. Bart Giamatti was the president of Yale. And Peter Ueberroth ran the Olympics. It's hard to believe that the current owners seriously considered any of the celebrity names that were being tossed around in the media like George Bush or Bob Costas. Leagues have changed. They've come to the conclusion that they need leaders with long experience in labor and business affairs who worked inside the central office. That was the case of the NBA's new Commissioner Adam Silver, who apprenticed under David Stern, and with Roger Goodell at the NFL. And now with Rob Manfred - three career insiders elevated to the top job.

SIEGEL: And yet there was some opposition to Manfred. I gather it was led by one of Bud Selig's longtime allies, Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns the White Sox.

FATSIS: Yeah. There seemed to be a hard-lined group of long-time owners who wanted to regain some sort of absolute power over the players that they enjoyed for a century. You know, baseball there's still no salary cap in the sport. And that means that there's a free market in which some owners hand out over-long contracts to older players and that rankles some of ownership the wrong way still. But it's hard to imagine that any reasonable owner wants the sport to go back to that time - to the '70s, the '80s and the '90s - endless labor fights, work stoppages, collusion among the owners that cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. And it's not like Manfred is some pro-union Gandhi. The labor deals that he negotiated weren't walk-overs. Manfred was also front and center in baseballs recent sort of of noir-ish investigation of Alex Rodriguez and the biogenesis outfit.

SIEGEL: Manfred was Selig's point man in the front office. So does that mean that baseball continues on the same track?

FATSIS: It's hard to predict. I mean, Goodell and Silver both faced unanticipated crises that quickly shaped their public images - concussions for Goodell, Donald Sterling for Silver. Selig has been a consensus builder. That's helped him achieve a lot - new teams and divisional realignment, expanded playoffs, and early play, instant replay. And really importantly I think thanks to revenue-sharing, payroll taxes and smarter roster strategies more competitive balance in baseball than ever. The sport is generating $8 billion a year. It's got huge local TV deals, robust attendance but Manfred is going to face new threats. He's going to have to find new ways to grow the game.

SIEGEL: Well, what do you think might be on his agenda?

FATSIS: Well, one, I think is making the sport really appeal to younger people. It's slow by nature and it's going slower. Manfred needs to get serious about speeding up the pace of games. After 40 years it's got to be time for one set of rules, designated hitters in both leagues - the sport needs to do better overseas and in the inner cities - both for its fan base and its player pool. And it's been very smart about digital media and that's got to continue as the TV landscape evolves. Finally, the current labor deal expires in 2016. That's been Manfred's specialty. He'll be looking at that big challenge.

SIEGEL: Designated hitters in both leagues will break some National League hearts, Stefan.

FATSIS: It's time to break those hearts, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis is a panelist on Slate's Sports Podcast "Hang Up And Listen." He talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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