MLB's growing power vacuum
July, 13, 2013
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley took baseball out west, uprooting the Brooklyn Dodgers and, by extension, the New York Giants, and, through the 1960s and '70s, he was viewed as one of baseball’s major power brokers.
By the late '70s, however, union leader Marvin Miller had built the greatest practical power in the sport, through his successful efforts to get the players more control and more money. Don Fehr and Gene Orza inherited that influence and extended it: In the '90s, the sport turned only where they allowed it to go.
On the other side of the aisle, Bud Selig adeptly collected votes through old-fashioned horse-trading and arm-twisting, generally making sure that the new owners who came into the sport were those who played according to his rules. This is a dynamic that remains in place as baseball’s central force.
Selig continues to insist that he will walk away from the sport after his current contract expires, which is after the 2014 season. He will be asked about that, undoubtedly, when he addresses the media before Tuesday’s All-Star Game, and, presumably, he will say again that nothing can change his mind. Some of his employers, baseball’s owners, believe that Selig, who turns 79 later this month, will be coaxed into another term.
But there will be a day when Selig won’t be in power, and when you try to consider the landscape of possible heirs to the game’s central power -- that which was passed on, like a baton, to O’Malley and Miller and Fehr and Orza and Selig -- there is murk.
On all sides. Nothing but murk.
As Jayson Stark wrote in May, there is not a replacement waiting in the wings to take over from Selig. You can ask 10 people about who the possible successor to Selig might be, and you will get 10 different answers, each with one significant qualifier: He doesn’t have the votes Bud has. Selig has quilted together a consensus -- not necessarily agreement, but a consensus -- of big-market teams and small-market teams. This is how it came to be that the teams such as the Yankees and Red Sox and Phillies and Cubs have been handing over cash to teams such as the Rays and Marlins, and, at the same time, the small-market teams have gone along with a system of player procurement rules that continues to be stacked against them. Every team has reason to hate the system, but Selig’s control has kept them all from diving into civil war.