BALTIMORE — In a vote of support for Bud Selig’s tenure, Major League Baseball owners elected Rob Manfred as its new commissioner Thursday evening after hours of deliberation and voting. Manfred, Selig’s longtime deputy, will assume the position in January when the current commissioner retires after more than two decades.
Manfred, 55, is MLB’s chief operating officer and worked his way up through the league office since he started in 1998. He will be MLB’s 10th commissioner , one of the most powerful positions in sports. Manfred beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner in a unanimous final vote. MLB Executive Vice President Tim Brosnan, one of the three final candidates, dropped out early Thursday afternoon because of a lack of support.
“I’m tremendously honored in the confidence that the owners showed in me today,” Manfred said at a news conference soon after his election.
The first contested commissioner’s elections in more than four decades were marked by politicking among owners. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was believed to lead a small group of owners backing Werner, a former television producer, because Reinsdorf and other owners wanted someone who would take a harder stance in negotiations with the players’ union. The current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season.
To be confirmed, Manfred needed 23 of 30 votes, a three-quarters majority. The first vote was scheduled for 1:30 p.m., and owners deliberated and took several votes until a final decision was reached around 6. At one point early during the voting, Manfred was one vote shy of election.
“There were differences of opinion, but in the end we came together,” Selig said.
Manfred’s election means the majority of owners were pleased with Selig and his tenure , which will be remembered for steroid scandals and the 1994 strike but also unprecedented growth in attendance and revenue, including from television rights fees .
“I think there’s a lot of confidence that the game grew well in the period with Bud, and somebody at his side is well positioned to foster further growth,” San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said.
Manfred, a lawyer before joining MLB, has long been viewed as Selig’s handpicked successor. Selig, 80, touts his record of two decades of labor peace, and Manfred, who was a key figure in negotiating the past three labor contracts and the 2002 joint drug agreement, is seen as a continuation of that legacy.
“There’ll never be a commissioner like [Selig],” New York Yankees President Randy Levine said. “He’s revolutionized the game, and I think Rob is going to try and continue and expand that.”
Manfred declined to discuss his initial goals when he assumes the office, but he said he wanted to continue the modernization of the game, such as instant replay, which was implemented this season. Some owners said Thursday that adding younger fans and improving the pace of play should be among MLB’s priorities.
Before joining MLB, Manfred was a partner in the D.C. offices of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, LLP and served as an outside counsel to MLB. In 1998, he was hired as an executive vice president who oversaw labor relations and human resources. He directed all negotiations during the past three labor agreements with the MLB Players Association. Manfred also has been involved in issues from the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug investigation to the dispute between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals over the Nationals’ television rights fees paid by Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.
“What I said to the owners when I came down after the vote is that I didn’t really even want to think about who was on what side of what issue during points of the process,” Manfred said. “My commitment to the owners was to work extremely hard day in and day out to convince all 30 of them that they made a great decision today.”
The quarterly owners’ meetings were held at the Hyatt Regency, a hotel just blocks from Camden Yards. The meetings began Wednesday and featured presentations from all three candidates, who were selected by a seven-man succession committee headed by St. Louis Cardinals principal owner Bill DeWitt Jr.
Throughout the afternoon, owners occasionally emerged from the main ballroom, often to talk privately. Selig appeared a few times outside the ballroom and spoke with owners, including Reinsdorf and DeWitt.
“It was a hard-fought contest, and then there was a unanimous vote at the end, and we’re all going to support [Manfred] unanimously,” Werner said. “. . . This is a tough job, and I was prepared to do it. But I’m also [glad] that we found a good guy to do it. I’m very supportive of Rob, and we’re going to move forward together as an industry.”
The Washington Nationals were represented at the owners’ meetings by managing principal owner Ted Lerner; his son, principal owner Mark Lerner; and principal owner Edward Cohen. It is unclear which candidate the Nationals backed. Entering the meetings, the Nationals were believed to be a swing vote.
The Nationals were among Warner’s supporters in the initial votes, according to a CBS Sports report, but backed Manfred before the final vote. As owners left the hotel, Mark Lerner declined to comment. The Nationals’ contingent left before Manfred’s introductory news conference, which some owners stayed to watch.
“I think [Manfred] over the years had engendered a lot of trust and confidence in the clubs because he’s worked very closely with all 30 clubs on a whole lot of issues,” said Baer, who did watch Manfred’s remarks . “The day-to-day issues that you encounter in the sport. Especially in recent years, as COO, he’s been a go-to guy on a whole range of things that’s not just been labor.”