Bud Selig's successor as baseball commissioner will face a series of tests, perhaps none more difficult than whether he can keep his owners from the type of divisive public spats that fractured the sport's leadership for much of the 1970s and '80s.
Rob Manfred, Tom Werner and Tim Brosnan seek election Thursday, with a three-quarters majority of the 30 teams needed in the first contested balloting for a new commissioner in 46 years.
Baseball has never been in a better financial state since the free-agent era began in the 1970s: Its labor contract with the players' association runs through the 2016 and national broadcasting agreements with Fox, Turner and ESPN total about $12.4 billion from 2014-21.
After eight consecutive work stoppages from 1972-95, the sport has reached three straight deals without an interruption. Revenue could reach $9 billion this year, and the average attendance of about 30,500 is not far below the record of 32,785 set in 2007 before the Great Recession. Franchise values have soared since Selig took over as baseball's leader in 1992, led by the record $2 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago.
Still, there are many contentious areas that need to be addressed. Television ratings show interest among youth has declined; the average time of nine-inning games (3 hours, 3 minutes) has increased by 30 minutes since 1981 during a gadget-era revolution that has seen viewer attention-span decrease; there is a consensus that internationalization must spread but little agreement on how to accomplish that goal.
It remains unclear whether Selig will resolve a long-existing territorial dispute between Oakland and San Francisco over San Jose, and a television fight between Baltimore and Washington, both of which led to lawsuits. Selig also has not ruled on the petition for reinstatement filed in 1997 by career hits leader Peter Rose, who agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 following an investigation of his gambling while he managed Cincinnati.
Manfred and Brosnan are lawyers, while Werner's background is as a television executive. The next commissioner is expected to hire a high-level marketing leader.
A look at the three candidates' backgrounds going into the election, where Manfred was viewed as the favorite but it remained uncertain whether he could attract the necessary 23 votes:
The 55-year-old is a graduate of the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Harvard Law School, and he clerked for U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro in Massachusetts. Manfred became involved in baseball in 1987, when he was an associate at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and the firm was retained as counsel for MLB's Player Relations Committee. Working under Charles O'Conoer, the lead partner in the firm's relationship with MLB, Manfred assisted on collective bargaining during the 1990 spring-training lockout and was promoted to partner in 1991. He assisted Richard Ravitch and O'Connor during the 1994-95 strike and Randy Levine when a deal was reached in 1996-97. He became MLB's executive vice president for labor relations and human resources in 1998, received an expanded role of EVP of economics and league affairs in 2012, and last September was promoted to chief operating officer. He led negotiations for labor deals in 2002 and 2006 with then-COO Bob DuPuy and headed talks in 2011. He also led negotiations for the first joint drug agreement with players in 2002, a deal has since been strengthened significantly seven times. Manfred also headed baseball's efforts to force out then-owner Frank McCourt during the Dodgers' bankruptcy proceedings in 2012 and the sport's Biogenesis drug investigation last year that led to 14 suspensions.
The 64-year-old, who received his college degree from Harvard, worked for ABC in the late 1970s and helped develop Robin Williams' television show "Mork & Mindy." After starting The Carsey-Werner Co. with Marcy Carsey in 1980, he was executive producer of "The Cosby Show'" and "Roseanne" among other programs, and he was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1996. Werner entered baseball as the controlling owner of the San Diego Padres from 1990-94 and triggered fan criticism for the payroll-paring departures of Fred McGriff, Gary Sheffield, Tony Fernandez, Randy Myers and Benito Santiago. He has been chairman of the Boston Red Sox since 2002, a period that included World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and last year — Boston's first championships since 1918.
Brosnan, 56, captained Georgetown's baseball team and received a degree from the Fordham University School of Law. After working at Kelley Drye & Warren, he was appointed to the New York State Commission on Government Integrity by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1987 and became the commission chairman's counsel two years later. He was hired by MLB as vice president of international business affairs in 1991, became chief operating officer of Major League Baseball International in 1994 and senior vice president of domestic and international properties in 1998. He has held his current role since 2000. He has been a key figure in the negotiations of MLB's national broadcasting contracts.