BALTIMORE — Long-time official Rob Manfred, the right-hand man of outgoing Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, was elected his successor in a vote by team owners on Thursday.
Manfred, named MLB’s chief operating officer last year after serving as its head of labor relations for 15 years, will take over for the 80-year-old Selig when he retires in January after 22 years in charge.
“My single biggest challenge is filling the shoes of the gentleman who stands to my right,” Manfred told a news conference.
The election of Manfred, who had to fight through a contest with Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner for the job, was an affirmation of the success of Selig’s regime.
Manfred, 55, has been credited as a key player in helping the sport achieve 21 years of labor peace after decades of bitter conflict with the Players Association that saw a series of strikes, lockouts and courtroom battles.
In forging a strong working relationship with the players union, Manfred also led the owners’ side in negotiations that brought about the joint drug program in 2002 that has grown to become the toughest in North American professional team sports.
The long period of labor peace has contributed to a robust growth of the game, with revenues more than doubling to $8 billion last year from $3.9 billion 11 years ago.
But the game needs to attract more young fans and grow internationally.
Selig smiled on like a proud papa at Manfred’s election.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he has the training, the temperament and the experience to be a very, very successful commissioner and I justifiably have very high expectations,” said Selig.
Manfred came to the owners’ quarterly meetings favored to win the job, but on the first ballot fell short of the 23 votes he needed from the 30 clubs to win, according to sources with knowledge of the vote.
The choice was down to Manfred or Werner after the third candidate recommended by a search committee, MLB’s vice president for business Tim Brosnan, withdrew before the voting began.
After more than four hours of wrangling and a catered snack for the owners in a midtown hotel, Manfred was elected with the outcome announced as a unanimous 30-0.
Once the winning vote was reached, Manfred was ushered into the meeting room by a stout set of security guards.
The commissioner in waiting said he was unconcerned about which teams may have initially opposed him.
“I said my commitment to the owners was that I would work extremely hard, day in and day out, to convince all 30 of them that they made a great decision today,” said Manfred.
Manfred did not want to get into job priorities so soon after the vote, adding that a lot of great ideas had been expressed.
“The process provided a great opportunity for candidates to talk about issues they saw in the game and maybe more importantly provided great opportunity to get feedback from clubs about where they wanted the game to go,” said Manfred.
Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos was pleased with the outcome.
“I think the owners elected a very confident, strong leader and I think he’s going to make a real difference in the future and can build on the accomplishments of the previous administration,” Angelos told reporters as he left the meeting.
Opponents of the Manfred candidacy were believed to feel that more aggressive negotiating could help bring player salaries under greater control.
Despite baseball’s rosy bottom line, MLB, unlike the National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, does not have a salary cap, relying instead on revenue sharing and a punitive luxury tax on payroll spent over the limit.
The 64-year-old Werner, who also serves as chairman of Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League and made his fortune as a TV producer, was gracious in defeat.
“I think Rob will make a great commissioner and I’m going to support him,” Werner said as he made his way from the hotel.
“Some of the ideas we talked about was to speed up the play of the game, to capture a generation of young fans that I think we need, and to make the game more popular internationally,” said Werner. “All those ideas got a warm reception.”