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Saturday, December 30, 2006
More on Bush as Commisssioner: Someone is Reading

Jonathan Weiler at Sports Media Review responds to my earlier post about George W. Bush being the next Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Weiler suggests this will not happen (or at least should not happen) for three reasons:

1) Baseball commissioner no longer can be a celebrity/figurehead position. The big-time-business nature of modern professional sport requires a saavy, hands-on, somewhat visionary, detail-oriented, technocrat/manager, all things we can agree (whatever one's politics) Bush is not.
2) Bush is wildly unpopular and divisive, particularly in the Blue States, so it might be a bad PR move for baseball.
3) Bush was not really a "baseball guy" when he was involved with the Rangers and was not involved in day-to-day baseball operations, so he does not even bring that to the table. Mostly, he was the public face of the team, whose name (Papa was POTUS at the time) carried weight.

All good points that weigh against MLB making such a move. And, as Weiler notes, I was half joking in the original post. But not entirely. So let me respond to each as a way of defending the idea:

1) MLB long functioned in a decentralized (federalist, if you will) system in which the separate league commissioners did much of the day-to-day management and the commissioner sat atop the pyramid as the public face. That no longer is true, a result of one of Selig's innovations to centralize operations and make it more akin to the NFL and NBA set-up. So the role of commissioner is, indeed, different, requiring more of a hands-on manager. But I could envision MLB (although perhaps not the other major professional sports) still going the celebrity/figurehead route. I think it has to do with baseball still being the highest-profile sport, even if the NBA is more popular.

Plus, we have something of that in place now. Selig is the public face of the game (for better or worse). But he delegates a lot of responsibility, and limelight, to his underlings, notably Robert DuPuy and (when he was in the job pre-2005) Sandy Alderson. Certainly we see and hear more of them than of David Stern's deputies (with the exception of punishment chief Stu Jackson, but that is a different problem). Is it conceivable to have Bush as commissioner and an experienced and high-profile baseball exec (say, Theo Epstein?) as President/COO or Chief of Baseball Operations?

2) Yes, Bush is unpopular. But presidents have a way of becoming more popular once they leave office (see, e.g., Nixon, Richard). I would not envision a significant number of people finding Bush so distasteful that they will boycott baseball if he is commissioner. Most fans would even say it is bad form to boo or heckle Bush at a game. In other words, I am not sure his political unpopularity would carry-over into this new role.

3) Yes, Bush is not a hands-on baseball guy. But he is a good politician, something that would help MLB in its dealings with Congress (steroid eruptions, anti-trust rumblings) or with state and local governments (ballpark deals, etc.). As I said in # 1, MLB might believe that such political skill at the head, with a skilled baseball person at the right hand, is a good way to go.

Again, I am or endorsing it. Just suggesting the possibility.


How about we move away from former owners being commissioner? Perhaps a little balance would be good.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 12/30/2006 5:21 PM  

I always thought it was interesting that, until the recent appointment of Roger Goodell, three of the four major sports commissioners were attorneys. It's unusual to see lawyers as CEOs in any industry outside the legal profession.

Anonymous Skip Oliva -- 12/30/2006 5:21 PM  

To Anonymous:

The Commissioner is management, so it perhaps makes some sense that owners, who select the commissioner, would pick from their own ranks. The players have their own rep through the union head. During the big labor disputes in the '80s and '90s, there was talk of needing to restructure the league so that there was a "commissioner for all of baseball," chosen by the players and owners, with separate representation for the owners in labor and other negotiations.


Not sure why, but the people attracted to sports business seem to come from the legal ranks.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 12/30/2006 6:34 PM  

I do like your thoughts of Bush as the head of MlB to raise dispute. However, I do not understand how you believe that his political hatred in office will not carry over to a new high profile position. Bush has an approval rating of some 30%, and America is not going to suddenly adore his executive decision skills as another president. The CEO of Enron would not be suddenly loved in the position of President of America. People would absolutely protest Bush as the commissioner. I me come on, the liberals of America would be wondering if Bush was going to liberate the San Fran Giants for suspected steroids. I know you are just throwing the idea out there, but Bush as commissioner would be bad news baseball.

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