BALTIMORE — While Red Sox chairman Tom Werner declined to speak about the presentation he made Wednesday before 29 other major league baseball owners on why he should be the new commissioner, it was obvious by his demeanor and the way others in the room spoke about him that he impressed the owners with his message.
“He knocked it out of the park,” said one owner in Werner’s corner who didn’t want to be identified. “Don’t know if he changed anyone’s mind, but he made some outstanding points on where he sees the game going and what we need to do to be more current and change with the times.”
The consensus was that all three candidates — Werner, front-runner Rob Manfred, MLB’s Chief Operating Officer, and Tim Brosnan, MLB Executive Vice President of Business, also did well. The owners will vote Thursday.
“I think it’s critical for the sport that a successor is chosen without impasse,” said Marlins president David Samson. “I don’t think anybody will change their vote [after the presentations]. But it’ll be interesting to see if they do. I sort of liken [Wednesday] to Supreme Court oral arguments. The justices aren’t necessarily changing their votes just because somebody made a great oral argument. But it was a very interesting day. Three great presentations. Baseball has a lot of issues in front of it, and each of them had real ideas how to address them in different ways.”
The head of the search committee, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt, said, “We had three outstanding candidates. Optimistic we’ll have a new commissioner.”
Werner’s candidacy was said to be gaining, according to a major league source, but he is believed to be second to Manfred, who is thought to have 19 sure votes. Werner’s total could be as high as 11, but is more likely in the eight to nine range.
If no one emerges with the 23 votes needed to get elected, the process will continue and a new vote could be held at the next quarterly meetings.
Werner was reluctant to speak about his presentation, only to say that there will be more discussions with him and questions asked of him before the official vote, which likely will come sometime late Thursday morning.
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who accompanied Werner at the meeting, declined to comment, and after Werner exchanged pleasantries with reporters he indicated he wasn’t at liberty to speak about specifics until after the vote.
Werner is an alternative candidate to Manfred, retiring commissioner Bud Selig’s right-hand man for many years and MLB’s chief negotiator.
Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who supports Werner’s candidacy, is looking for an “all-around” commissioner who is strong on marketing, communication, TV, and new media, and not one who is just big on labor issues, which is Manfred’s strong suit.
One MLB source said, “Tom was one of Bud’s choices to replace him. Bud thinks the world of Tom and this situation hasn’t hurt that relationship at all. Tom wants the job. It’s as simple as that, and Bud is the one who put his name in there. The committee actually went along with Bud’s recommendations.”
Selig said as much at Camden Yards Tuesday when he told the media, “The process has worked just the way I thought it would. I gave them a great list of names, and these names were on it.”
Selig also indicated in a statement that there’s no rift between he and longtime friend and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who essentially got Werner involved in the process. Reinsdorf managed to avoid the media Wednesday.
“Reports of personal animosity between Jerry Reinsdorf and me — or any other alleged disputes between owners regarding the process or the candidates — are unfounded and unproductive,” Selig said. “I respect the ownership of our 30 franchises and have complete faith the process will produce an individual that all in baseball will be eager to support.”
Henry, who also owns the Boston Globe and NESN, recently told the Boston Herald that baseball needs to change with the times. From all accounts, it appears that is what Werner, whose background is in television, emphasized in his presentation.
“MLB needs to confront the realities of 21st century media,” Henry wrote to the Herald. “We need the game on phones and tablets. We need to reduce the amount of waiting between pitches. The NFL has done a tremendous job of adapting their games and schedules for television. Baseball in 2014 needs, in addition to a commissioner, a real CEO who is intently focused on forcing the sport to compete in a world that more and more belongs to those who can create, adapt, build, and execute in a transformed entertainment world.”
He added, “I believe, given today’s world, that we need a businessman who understands more than the inherent problems of owners and of labor. That person must excel in understanding media, entertainment, competition, and business as well as the sport. The game won’t automatically grow and it could well be disrupted by standing still.”
Henry attended the meetings, but efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Werner told the Globe last week, “A number of owners asked me to consider the position. I am not running against Rob Manfred, but to be able to articulate my vision for the future. I have ideas that I believe the owners should hear. That’s why I’m involved in the process.”
The New York Daily News and the Globe have reported that a big concern of the Werner faction is revenue sharing — which has always been a sore subject with Henry — and a dispute over the worth of NESN.
Some owners believe Manfred is too soft with the Players Association, which is gearing up to change a few things the sides agreed to under Michael Weiner, the late general counsel of the players union.
There are agents driving a new agenda toward current MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, particularly in reference to slotting for the draft, draft pick compensation, etc., issues that have been a drag on free agency for players. The sides are expected to be at loggerheads over the issues when they get back to the negotiating table in 2016.
Clark, while not a lawyer, still will fight passionately for the players.
Who will be fighting for MLB? Manfred? Werner?
We may find out Thursday.