Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bud/Jerry Split? It May Portend Labor Battle

                By Ross Newhan

                The split is akin to Ben leaving Jerry to start his own ice cream company.

                 In this case it's Jerry dumping Bud, as in Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox, and Bud Selig, commissioner of baseball.

                 These longtime friends and mutual supporters are now operating on different sides of the street, and at stake is the selection of the next commissioner (Selig is retiring in January) and, perhaps, 21 years of labor peace.

                 A Reinsdorf organized coalition, including Angel owner Arte Moreno, is attempting to derail the election of longtime Selig advisor and deputy Rob Manfred,  baseball's chief operating officer and labor leader. Selig announced his decision to step down last September and vowed to stay out of the selection process but little has taken place during his tenure without his voice and participation and there is no doubt that Manfred is his choice as successor, no doubt he is dismayed by Reinsdorf's opposition.

                 The scenario, which I hinted at on Twitter and Facbook a few weeks ago without having the full details that were reported in depth by the New York Times on Thursday, was further confirmed to me by a high placed National League executive describing Selig as being "bewildered and betrayed" by Reinsdorf's opposition "given how close they have been over the years." In addition, the executive said, "it is impossible to predict how all of this plays out."

                The election of Selig's successor was expected to be held in the fall, but Selig, attempting to thwart Reinsdorf's bid to expand the Manfred opposition, has called for a vote at next week's owners meeting in Baltimore. Manfred would require 23 of the 30 votes, and Reinsdorf may already have enough support to create chaos in the process, the NL executive said, adding that some owners, no matter what they feel about Manfred, are concerned that Selig is now attempting to steamroll his election.

                The alternatives:

               Tim Brosnan, baseball's business leader, has been a candidate from the start, and recently emerging from Reinsdorf's closed door lobbying is Tom Werner, the noted TV producer, member of the Boston Red Sox ownership group and  former owner of the San Diego Padres.

             Werner's 1990s tenure at the helm of  the Padres was far from a success, ending in a fire sale of players, and it is unclear how the majority of owners view his overall baseball acumen and stature.

            Why have Reinsdorf, Moreno and others jumped ship on Selig/Mansfred?

            That, too, is hazy, but multiple sources have told me that despite two decades of labor peace and the industry's multi billion dollar revenue growth the long dormant disparities among the internal interests and revenue streams of 30 owners are festering again, the tremors reminiscent of those succession of damaging labor battles in the '80s and '90, clearly manifesting for some owners in the belief that Manfred has not been tough enough on the union in recent negotiations and may lack the business skills to maintain and expand the game's growth.

           Ultimately, are owners prepared to scrape the consensus building and revenue sharing of Selig's tenure in a 2016 fight with the union to reshape the economics, awakening a dormant and bitter relationship? The union, you can bet on, has heard the drumbeat---sounded more loudly by the opposition to Manfred.