Wednesday, March 27, 2013

MLB's Next Commissioner Is...

Bud Selig's reign atop the MLB universe is reportedly coming to a close in 2014. He has made similar claims before, so if you do not want to buy it this time either, I cannot blame you. For those of us who have dreamed of a Selig-less MLB, the question becomes, who will replace him? MLBTR put together a list of candidates last May, but I do not see the next commissioner on their list. My suggestion for the next commissioner of Major League Baseball is, Tony LaRussa. Tony brings instant credibility and a deep knowledge of the game to do more than merely stand in Selig's shadow and after 23 odd years (he became commissioner in 1992) that has become quite the shadow indeed.

Selig at 2002 All-Star Game
As Sports Illustrated pointed in out in their recent Power Rankings, Selig has had the power to get just about anything he wants recently. Though I will mostly remember him for his well articulated decision to end the 2002 all-star game in a tie, Selig's reign has shown tremendous growth in players salaries, television revenue, and overall team value. The sport made an estimated $7.5 billion dollars in 2012, it is no wonder owners have kept him around for so long, despite his missteps and controversies. Recently, Selig has stepped up efforts to leave a lasting imprint including continued labor peace, renegotiating national television deals, more stringent drug testing, and expanded playoffs. We learned last week that there is now a push to modify the draft process to be worldwide rather than limited to players from USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. With so many issues covered over the next few years, MLB has an opportunity to get a new face out front and begin to distance itself from Selig's flaws.

This provides a great opportunity for a commissioner with a fresh perspective to step in. Owners may embrace a changing of the guard, but they are likely seeking someone with strong ties to the game. Owners want someone who will help strengthen the value of a product that needs to be tweaked rather than rebranded. La Russa fits that bill. He has long been a part of the game, making his major league debut as a player in 1963 and got his first run as a manager with the Chicago White Sox in 1979. As a manager all he has done is win, currently third all time in wins, including 3 World Series titles. He is routinely praised for his tactical skills and in-game management. He is a four time Manager of the Year, winning it at least once with each team he coached. He is also credited with creating the modern bullpen. While he has rubbed some players the wrong way (notably Ozzie Smith and more recently JD Drew and Colby Rasmus), he is well regarded overall and has the respect of players and owners alike.

At 68, La Russa is unlikely to stick around as long as Selig which gives owners time to make some changes while seeing where the game is headed. After retiring following the 2011 World Series, La Russa has taken a position with MLB to continue to stay close to the game. He also carries a law degree which implies he is no dummy away from the game either. This is no small matter. While Selig has crossed off some big ticket issues, several large concerns still loom. The current local marketing structure (black out restrictions) is in the midst of legal challenges and will likely need to be addressed by the next commissioner. Revisions to instant replay are also under constant scrutiny and who better than a former manager to help navigate what will undoubtedly be troubled waters? More than likely he would also be in through the negotiation of the next CBA (set to expire after 2016) and could help continue the 20+ years of labor peace that has helped baseball continue its run of prosperity.

La Russa could also implement changes that Selig's handpicked successor would hesitate to address. Chief among those would be home field advantage for the World Series tied to the All-star game. Selig concocted this gem to cover himself for the aforementioned tie, but it has never sat well with fans. The game is an exhibition to showcase the games elite and should be honored as such. Make it a 10-inning max game (to protect pitchers, which is increasingly an issue) and let ties stand. Home field advantage in the World Series should be tied to another factor, be it overall team records or inter-league records or something else. La Russa has always moved to the beat of his own drum and I do not doubt he will make changes based more on the good of the game than the good of Selig's image.

Several other candidates exist, but they are far from ideal fits. Scott Boras, the noted agent would be a coup for the owners, but he also ranks as one of the most hated people in all of baseball. Couple that with the unlikelihood that he would leave his agency for the post and he is a tough fit. Joe Torre is another former manger who might fit the bill. However, he stepped away from managing before replay really took hold plus he just managed an unimpressive performance by Team USA in the WBC. His management and deference to outside influences indicates a yes man, unwilling to challenge any of Selig's decisions. George Bush, former Rangers owner and US president would be an out of the box option. He loves the sport and carries considerable clout. Controversial and outside the box, but if ownership feels they can control him, he may be a darkhorse candidate. Selig's handpicked successor (Rob Manfred is my guess) is another option, but this would protect Selig's pet projects and image more than anything. If the owners want change, they are better off going away from this path. There are plenty of others out there and I am open to your suggestions in the comments section.

The Selig era brought baseball to new heights and has set the game up for a successful and prosperous future. It also has presented some glaring issues that MLB would do well to distance itself from. La Russa provides a shrewd mind, been around the game for decades, garners general (and genuine) respect from everyone, and provides change from the Selig era. He is far from the only candidate, but his achievements offer a unique opportunity that the owners should embrace when the announce the next MLB Commissioner.