Folks around the baseball world have called for Rob Manfred’s job, after his mishandling of the Astros cheating scandal. Active players, media members, bloggers like us, and fans in general have all taken offense to the commissioner’s recent words and actions. #firemanfred was trending on Twitter the other day, and person “in sports” LeBron James even chimed in on the issue. For all of that, there is no indication that the MLB owners are looking to replace the commissioner. Should they be however, I have the perfect person in mind to fill the role: former U.S. President George W. Bush.
One thing about Bush, that we should get out of the way, is that he can still be a bit of a polarizing figure: not everyone agreed with his policies and platforms while in office. We aren’t here to debate those today, so please keep it out of the comments. Politics aside, GWB has the perfect resume to be the commissioner of baseball, and restore the public trust in that office.
Firstly, Bush is a former baseball owner, and understands the ins-and-outs of the business of baseball. Prior to being elected president, he owned a (up to) 12% stake in, and served as the face of, the Texas Rangers ownership group. The most notable accomplishment of his tenure was negotiating a public stadium financing deal, which like-it-or-not, is an important piece of the baseball puzzle. During his ten-year ownership stint, baseball also navigated the most difficult labor negotiation in memory, which culminated in a missed World Series and the 1994 player strike, again an important piece to have experienced, considering the current CBA expires in the next couple year.
In addition to being a former baseball owner, Bush is simply a baseball fan. While this sounds like it should be a prerequisite for team ownership, it really isn’t, and many owners simply see the teams as an investment. There is also a fairly well-subscribed theory that Manfred is not a fan of the sport. Bush on the other hand, is so steeped in the trivia of the game he was able to point out an error in the minutiae of the movie 61* (Thanks to James for pointing out this quote, which started this whole piece in my head.)
Given Manfred’s active efforts to revamp the game of baseball, Bush would be a welcome breath of fresh air on that front. He was the only baseball owner to vote against the change to six divisions and a wild card back in 1993, stating “I represent the silent voices of baseball purists,” which is just music to my freaking ears. Sure, that particular change worked out well, but the voices of the purists have been run roughshod over in the last few years, as Manfred’s office has proposed more-and-more extensive tweaks to the game, in what seems like a bunch of solutions seeking problems.
Most importantly, the commissioner of the MLB is largely a political position, while clearly not on the level of the President of the USA, you need to be able to weigh the interests of the various stakeholders in the game, and make them all feel heard. Ultimately, the owners are his boss, but the commissioner must also serve the players and fans, and protect the game of baseball which can entail walking a very fine line. Manfred managed to refer to the trophy with his office on it as “a hunk of metal,” which clearly shows how disconnected he is from the game. Bush may have been famous for his gaffes, but overall, the bar to clear for a good press conference from the commissioner is pretty low.
Now the one hurdle is convincing the former president to take the office. As a big baseball fan, I imagine it would be tempting, but he has been enjoying retirement, and mostly avoiding the public eye since 2009. He’s also 73 years old, although that would actually make him one of the younger candidates in the field of the current Democratic primaries—in other words, 73 is not the “old age” it once was. Perhaps more importantly, there is no reason that the commissioner needs to be a full time job. He simply needs to set down a direction, and a precedent, and the office can handle most things. The commissioner himself needs to be more focused on the big-picture future of the game, and handling the extraordinary situations that come up. In fact, a commissioner who lets the game run on inertia as much as possible sounds pretty good to me.
In full disclosure, I floated this idea with some other SBNation MLB writers, and we had a very interesting discussion develop. But, what about you? What do you think?
Would George W Bush be a good baseball commissioner?
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