All eyes are on a great playoff race, where the Pittsburgh Pirates have moved 1.5 games up from the St. Louis Cardinals in the top Wild Card spot, and have pulled to 1.5 games back from the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the NL Central. Every game will be big from this point forward, but the upcoming games against Detroit and Washington this week will be crucial, as they stand in the beginning of a tough schedule the rest of the month that has the Pirates playing playoff contenders the rest of the month.
The big thing this week will take place off the field. Bud Selig is retiring at the end of the season, and MLB owners will start the voting process to pick a new commissioner. You may know that I’m not a fan of Selig and how he has run baseball. I’ll give him credit for the current situation, which is seeing a lot of very good playoff races across baseball, including small market teams getting a shot thanks to the addition of two Wild Card spots over the last 20 years. But it’s not exactly a fair shot when the Yankees and Dodgers can make colossal financial mistakes, and still be firmly in the post-season race, while small market teams like the Pirates can’t afford to make any financial mistakes if they want to contend.
Now, baseball seems to be setting up for a war between big market and small market teams. Bob Nightengale of USA Today writes about how the search for the new commissioner is getting dirty. He notes that the big market and small market teams have picked sides, as quoted below. The bolded parts are for my emphasis.
The Manfred camp, led by the New York Yankees and other big-market teams, says he has been assured of 20 votes. They argue Manfred is the perfect choice, maintaining the status quo for a sport that’s projected to generate $9 billion this year. They point out Manfred, as head of labor negotiations, is responsible for 19 years of peace with the players union. He helped implement the toughest drug-testing program in American team sports. And he headed the Biogenesis investigation, bringing down Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Tony Bosch, among others.
His opponents say baseball owners have the worst labor agreement in pro sports, and the only one without a salary cap. They say the bulk of the credit for the drug agreement goes to the players union for changing its stance. They remember Manfred’s role in MLB approving billionaire Steve Cohen to bid on the Los Angeles Dodgers, a move that nearly blew up on the league when Cohen’s hedge fund plead guilty to insider trading and agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine. And they still are seething over Manfred’s negotiated deal during the Dodgers’ bankruptcy hearings that permits the team to protect all but $2 billion of their $8.35 billion TV contract from revenue sharing.
The Werner camp, led by the Red Sox and small-market teams, maintains he also has strong support: 11 votes, with eight still undecided.
The two candidates are Rob Manfred, who is MLB’s chief operating officer, and Tom Werner, who is the chairman of the Boston Red Sox. Interestingly enough, the Red Sox are siding with the small market teams, saying the league needs a change. It feels like this is the Red Sox going against the big spending Yankees, and normally I hate the hypocrisy of the Red Sox crying foul when another team spends money, but in this case I can get behind them. Tim Brosnan, MLB’s executive vice president for business, is also a candidate, and Nightengale notes that Werner and Brosnan could team up.
The bolded parts above suggest that Manfred has the edge, although the votes don’t add up. Unless MLB added nine new teams, there’s no way Manfred has 20 votes, Werner has 11, and eight are still undecided. Obviously someone is lying to one or both of the candidates about who they’re going to vote for. But the fact that there are two different agendas here, and not multiple people willing to carry on the way baseball is currently being played, is encouraging. That is, if you’re a fan of small market teams who would benefit from the playing field being leveled.
It’s possible that there will be no resolution to this matter this week. The vote is to be held on Thursday, and 23 votes are needed to name a new commissioner. If no one gets 23 votes, MLB would look for new candidates and the process would drag on.
I’m sure that no matter what, MLB is going to continue bringing in a ton of money. The question is how that money is distributed throughout the game. Will we continue to see a massive imbalance where the Dodgers receive more in their local TV deal each season than the Pirates could spend in payroll over two seasons — even if the Pirates topped $100 M in both of those seasons? Or will we see something fair, that rewards smart decisions and doesn’t give a free contending pass to big market teams just because they have a lot of money to cover their mistakes?
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