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The first one was a federal judge who handed down dictates from the mountaintop. The current one is a former club owner who is a master of conversation, cajolery, and consensus. In between them were a United States senator, a sportswriter, an Air Force general, an attorney, an Olympic organizing chief, a university president, and an entertainment executive.

Rob Manfred, who will be baseball’s next commissioner, is a labor lawyer who served a 16-year apprenticeship in MLB’s front office, handpicked and groomed by incumbent Bud Selig to oversee a $9 billion enterprise that began in the 19th century and needs to catch up to the 21st.


“When we put together the requirements for the next commissioner, he really checked all the boxes,” said St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who chaired the search committee.

When Manfred was selected over Red Sox chairman Tom Werner last month, Selig observed that he had “the temperament, the training, the experience” for a job that has evolved from czar to chief executive officer during the past century.

“I’ve been through a lot of crises with Rob and he handled them very well, which was tough because he usually had me screaming at him,” Selig said.

Selig, who stepped in as interim commissioner in 1992 after helping lead the owners’ revolt against Fay Vincent, weathered an exceptionally turbulent period that included a 232-day player strike that wiped out the World Series for the first time, as well as doping scandals that enmeshed a number of the game’s top stars.

Under Selig’s tenure, which was formalized in 1998, baseball since has rebounded and prospered amid two decades of labor peace, a tougher drug code, healthy attendance figures, and a $12 billion television contract.

“I feel that Commissioner Selig is probably the best commissioner in the history of baseball,” said Werner, whose view is widely shared by his confreres.


Nobody expects the 55-year-old Manfred to replicate Selig, whose gift for schmoozing and suasion is exceptional.

“You have to separate Bud from everybody else,” said Yankees president Randy Levine. “From all the owners there was enormous faith in Bud. Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, everyone had faith in him.”

If the 80-year-old Selig would accept it, his former peers likely would grant him a lifetime contract, which is what Kenesaw Mountain Landis (whose tenure was only one year longer) demanded when he took the job in 1920 in the wake of the Black Sox scandal. The next best option was his right-hand man, whom Selig hired in 1998 as executive vice president in charge of labor relations.

Since then, Selig gradually expanded Manfred’s responsibilities, most recently naming him chief operating officer a year ago.

“He’s been at it for years,” said Baltimore Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos. “He’s gotten his Ph.D.”

Manfred, whose job description included handling what Selig called tasks that were “not very pleasant, quite frankly,” was point man for three collective bargaining negotiations as well as last year’s Biogenesis investigation that resulted in the suspension of more than a dozen players, including Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez and former league MVP Ryan Braun from Selig’s old Milwaukee Brewers club.

“He’s been tested by fire,” said Levine.

Along the way, Manfred developed a reputation for patience, persistence, and probity.

“He’s a combination of savvy and experience in the ways and practices of baseball and he’s extraordinarily bright,” said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino. “His intellectual firepower is at the top of the charts.”


Master of negotiation

Though he grew up an hour’s drive from Cooperstown in Rome, N.Y., Manfred didn’t play baseball. He was a tennis star at Rome Free Academy and went on to play two years at Le Moyne College in Syracuse before transferring to Cornell, where he earned a degree in industrial and labor relations.

Manfred could have taken a job with Union Carbide in Texas but opted for Harvard Law School, where he was graduated magna cum laude and went on to clerk for federal judge Joseph Tauro. From there, it was the Washington law firm of Morgan Lewis and Bockius, where he dealt with transportation, health care, and airlines in addition to professional sports.

Labor relations were a family affair in the Manfred household. His mother was a schoolteacher who belonged to a union. His father was an executive at Revere Copper and Brass. Both experienced workplace strife. What Manfred learned firsthand was that both sides lose in a work stoppage, which has informed his approach at the bargaining table.

“There’s a certain talent for reaching an agreement that both sides can live with and maintain a relationship, and Rob’s got a skill for that,” said Joe Torre, the Hall of Fame manager who now is MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations.

While a number of owners, most notably Jerry Reinsdorf of the White Sox, felt that Manfred had been overly soft on the Players Association during his several negotiations, baseball hasn’t had a strike or a lockout since the 1994 standoff.


“If you’re a labor lawyer, the question is, what price are your clients willing to pay for the gains they want?” said Dodgers president Stan Kasten, who also has been the president of both the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers. “I don’t think the owners have been willing to pay that price because the price was too much for our industry.”

The other three major professional leagues all have endured significant stoppages during the past decade, with the NHL losing an entire season. What has marked baseball’s three negotiations during Manfred’s watch is an unusual degree of cooperation, if not comity.

“Rob and [former MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner] argued and they fought,” said Selig, “but out of it came two-plus decades of labor peace, which nobody thought was possible — including me.”

Manfred’s style is to be adversarial without being abrasive.

“I’ve been in a hundred fights with him,” said Kasten. “He will fight you tooth and nail for what he believes is right but through all of those fights Rob always remains focused on finding a solution.”

His labor lawyer instinct is to avoid impasse above all.

“He has the point of view of, let’s come to a satisfactory resolution,” said Werner.

Essentially that means taking the long view, which is useful when dealing with a professional sport that dates from 1869.


“Rob is as measured and as smart as they come,” said Orioles outside counsel Alan Rifkin, who has known Manfred for two decades. “He has a good feel for people and a good feel for the complexities of our great game.”

Baseball man

Unlike many of his predecessors, who came to the job as outsiders with letters of recommendation, Manfred has an extensive and intimate knowledge of baseball’s most complex issues.

“There’s no aspect or facet of our industry that he’s not completely conversant with,” said Kasten.

Whatever is on Selig’s desk also has been on Manfred’s, which was a primary attraction of his candidacy.

“His exposure to all the problems is very helpful,” remarked Werner.

When Manfred takes charge in late January, he won’t need an executive briefing on the basic agreement that expires at the end of 2016, on the doping landscape, on the regional TV spat between the Orioles and Nationals, or on the stadium issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

“He’s got a finger on the pulse of everything,” said Torre. “I’m impressed with how seamlessly he handles things. He’s got a clear mind.”

Most importantly, Manfred’s modus operandi is to produce an outcome.

“He does get results,” said Lucchino, “and baseball is a results-oriented game both on the field and in the front office.”

Their satisfaction with the sport’s status quo and Manfred’s role in bringing it about undoubtedly swung a healthy majority of the owners to his side during the closed-door balloting.

But the seven who originally favored Werner weren’t sure that Manfred could see beyond the status quo and address baseball’s challenges in the digital era — games that are far too long for short attention spans, flat attendance, and an older fan demographic.

Werner’s experience both as a large- and small-market owner, as well as his entertainment background and his marketing and new media savvy made him an attractive alternative. Not that he feels those issues are unique to baseball.

“The challenges have been there this year, last year,” observed Werner, who says that he’s “entirely supportive” of Manfred and “will do anything possible to make sure he’s successful. They’re the challenges that face any business at a dynamic time.”

Corporate model

While Manfred’s election ultimately was unanimous, it wasn’t universal.

“I think that probably has a shelf life of about 20 minutes and then we’re off,” reckoned San Francisco Giants president Larry Baer. “When Rob takes over in January, nobody’s going to be thinking about that.”

Ultimately, Manfred’s success will depend upon how well he can work with the owners, only five of whom were there when Selig took over 22 years ago.

“I think Commissioner Selig was granted, appropriately, extraordinary powers,” said Werner. “The next iteration would be more like a CEO reporting to an executive council.”

Manfred has functioned in a boardroom atmosphere long enough to understand what’s required of the role.

“I don’t think Rob needs or has any notion of being the imperial commissioner,” mused Kasten, who said that the owners want more of a corporate governance model.

Manfred still is the guy from upstate New York who knows his way home. When he attended last month’s Hall of Fame induction where Torre was enshrined, Manfred stopped in Rome for burgers at DeMatteo’s, a favorite local haunt.

“Rob is the type of guy who never forgot where he came from,” said Stan Evans, who taught Manfred in physical education class in high school and says that he used the “fabulous” Manfred family as a model for his own.

For 16 years, Manfred has been at the same Park Avenue address. He’ll just be moving to a different office with a different nameplate on the desk.

“All three candidates would have been great commissioners,” observed Levine. “Of the three at this time, because of everything he’s done and where he is, Rob was the best candidate.”

This is not the assignment that it was when his predecessor took it.

“This is a seven-day-a-week job,” said Selig. “There’s always some issue. Rob and I talk as much on Saturday and Sunday as we do during the week, if not more.”

Landis, who demanded to-the-grave tenure and absolute power when the desperate owners approached him, dealt with gambling. He never knew about human growth hormone, iPads, instant replay, or three-hour games. Manfred, who took the Ice Bucket Challenge less than a week after he was elected, already has been through his baptism.