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Thursday, September 26, 2013
Who will succeed commissioner Bud Selig?


You're going to hear all sorts of tantalizing names flying across the sky, now that Bud Selig has announced he really, seriously, absolutely, definitely, he really means it this time, c'mon no kidding, is retiring as commissioner of baseball after next season.

I can predict many of them now.

Bob Costas … Peter Gammons … George Bodenheimer … George W. Bush … Bill Clinton … Andy MacPhail … John Schuerholz … Jerry Seinfeld … Ben Affleck … Alyssa Milano … Ron Burgundy … and many more like them.

And guess what? They all have pretty much zero chance.

Just a few months back, I did a major piece on the potential successors to the commish -- who at that point had only said he was going to retire but apparently hadn't announced he was going to retire. And back then, here's what I was told, over and over and over … and then a few billion more times:

The next commissioner is not coming from outside baseball. Not unless it's going to be a whole different sort of job than it's been under Bud Selig.

Why? It's this simple: Every time this subject comes up, I need to issue the same important reminder. The job of commissioner of baseball, as it now exists, is not a gig that calls for a commissioner of the people, by the people or for the people.

This is a commissioner who truly answers to just 30 people -- the 30 owners. And those 30 owners are not going to choose a commissioner they don't know, can't predict and possibly can't even trust.

So it would be a monumental upset if they pick someone from the outside. And if they stay inside, there's an excellent chance it will be one of these three men:

Rob Manfred

Current role: Executive vice president, economics and league affairs, MLB

Who's the most comparable figure in sports to Manfred? It would have to be Adam Silver, who is about to graduate from David Stern's most trusted assistant to the man who succeeds Stern as commissioner of the NBA.

Manfred has kept a relatively low profile through the years. But he has been the point man who has negotiated multiple labor deals, handled crises such as the Dodgers' bankruptcy saga and been intimately involved in both formulating and enforcing baseball policy in a bevy of major issues, from drug testing to revenue sharing.

Manfred's biggest selling point: His experience in every one of those trenches. As one baseball executive put it last summer, "Think about all the biggest issues we've faced over the last 10 or 15 years. Rob has been right in the middle of all of them."

Tim Brosnan

Current role: Executive vice president, business, MLB

Brosnan has worked in the commissioner's office for 20 years. And unlike Manfred, who gets stuck with all the crises, scandals and dirty work, Brosnan has been the exec Selig has turned to in helping to shape where the sport is heading in all sorts of critical areas.

He has had his hands in every significant broadcasting, licensing and sponsorship issue in baseball for more than a decade. He has played a massive role in one of Selig's most high-priority goals -- the globalization of the game. And Brosnan has been a key voice inside the sport, working to soften the image and culture of baseball, to make it more accessible to the masses.

Brosnan's biggest selling points: Exceptionally well-liked, with the most connections in the business and broadcast community of anyone in the sport.

Bob Bowman

Current role: CEO, MLB Advanced Media

Mention Bowman's name to anyone who has worked or dealt with him, and words like "brilliant" often come up. He has used his relentless energy and creativity to become the driving force behind one of his sport's biggest success stories -- the digital marketing of baseball to millions of online subscribers and mobile users on pretty much every continent.

The drawback in Bowman's case, according to people inside the game: He can be very strong-minded, in pushing the issues most important to him. So sources indicate he might have the most difficult time of these three men in attracting the three-fourths majority of owners he'd need to get elected.

If you were a betting man, you should wager that a year or so from now, when the new commissioner is officially anointed, it will be one of those three movers and shakers. But does the list of baseball insiders have to stop at those three? Of course not.

Tigers president, CEO and general manager Dave Dombrowski is a name to watch. So is Indians president Mark Shapiro. Both very well-regarded, among multiple constituencies.

Joe Torre and Tony La Russa both work in the commissioner's office these days. Both would be fascinating names and popular choices -- but aren't viewed as the CEO type these owners will most likely be looking for.

There will be current owners/team presidents whose names you are likely to hear -- names like Larry Baer (Giants), Derrick Hall (Diamondbacks) and Mark Attanasio (Brewers), among others. They're the types of names that are likely to well up if it becomes clear that neither Manfred, Brosnan nor Bowman have the votes to get elected.

But the question is: Can any of these names get 24 votes from a group of owners who are looking for someone who can do this job exactly the way Bud Selig did it all these years?

I was told, flatly, by multiple sources this summer that, right now, there isn't anyone on this planet who could get those 24 votes. But the situation is different now. It changed dramatically Thursday, with one quick press release.

That release, and Bud Selig's big announcement, were clearly designed to send a message to his fellow owners:

On Jan. 24, 2015, he's walking out that door. And he isn't coming back. So they'd better find somebody they can live with, deal with and vote for, because this time he means it.

He's outta here. Really. Seriously. Absolutely. Definitely. C'mon, no kidding.