How Baseball Handles Changes in Leadership (Daryll)

As the country prepares for a leadership transition this weekend – I thought I would revisit a topic I explored around the role of the commissioner in Major League Baseball.

As Rob Manfred continues to make his mark on the game, kind of, it is worth noting that still, Major League Baseball first started having a commissioner in 1920 and Manfred is just the 10th commissioner in that time.

That number however, doesn’t quite the tell story. When Selig took office in 1992, his three predecessors had held the office for 5, 1, and 3 years respectively. Of course that isn’t completely fair with A. Bartlett Giamatti tragically dying in office from a heart attack, but it is still the truth. The other two stepped down following clashes with the owners.

While certainly running a professional sports league isn’t even comparable to running the country, I do think it is worth looking at for a few lessons to be learned.

Bud Selig ran Major League Baseball for 22 years until he was 80 years old. Naturally, the country founders wrote into the Constitution that a president should never become a monarch. George Washington, our first President, set the precedent that a President would only run for two terms. That founding precedent has only been violated once when Franklin Roosevelt ran not one not two not three but four terms term during World War II before he died in office before completion.

Stability  is a good thing – and it will be interesting to see how Mr. Trump succeeds as the President. We have seen three consecutive two terms Presidents and you could almost argue 4.5 since George H. Bush was Reagan’s VP and Reagan was also a two term President. So despite the seemingly divide in this country, we have had a fairly historic run of steadiness.

Marty Conway writes in a LinkedIn post a few takeaways he sees, in that both jobs really require you to show how you can lead people. Trump has led successful businesses, and Selig was the owner of the Brewers. At this point I would argue that Manfred has talked a lot of talk about making sweeping changes in baseball, but hasn’t done much to get the owners behind him to accomplish those changes.

Without getting too political, Barack Obama (who I voted for twice) had not had a significant leadership position before taking the Presidency, which perhaps contributed to the fact that many of his overall planned changes failed as he ultimately couldn’t unite Congress across party lines.

Manfred taking the reigns was essentially Selig campaigning for his VP to succeed him, a political move that has rarely worked to make a two term President. In fact the only historical precedence I see is when Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt as President and then won his next election. (Also, if you look at the list of President’s, it is remarkable how many times Presidents or VP’s died in office, especially early in the country’s history. Poor James Madison had two VP’s die in office.)

While Selig is getting elected to the Hall of Fame, I’m not really sure what we can say Manfred has done in his time in office. Granted it has only been two years, but despite early calls to help speed up the game, little has been done. It reduced 6 minutes in 2015 after a lot of focus was put on it, but bumped back up again last year to slightly over 3 hours. Can he make the big changes?

Whenever you have a new leader, you can’t judge right away. However, if history serves as our template I wouldn’t be surprised to see Manfred “the background guy” fail to make the changes he pledged. It is hard to find much precedence for the force that is Donald J. Trump except Andrew Jackson who surged to the White House on a populist/anti-immigration message (like Trump), and if you have questions about how that turned out, look up the Trail of Tears.

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