There hasn’t been a lot of exit-polling done on this – fans exiting Garlic Fries Cathedral Monday had just watched the Giants lose to the Cubs and had no time for silly questions when there was revenge drinking to be done – but I think Larry Baer’s candidacy for commissioner of baseball has hit a wall.
It’s been five days since the New York Times story outlining trouble at the top of the Major League Baseball food chain in the hunt for Bud Selig’s replacement listed Baer, the Giants’ CEO, as a potential candidate for the job, and now that we’ve had time to absorb the shock, we can clearly see that there has been no, well, aftershock.
This is not to kick Baer before he’s had a chance to stand up, mind you. His experiences in 21 years of baseball have all been in the service of his betters – Petey Magowan, then Billy Neukom and now Charlie Johnson – so he would have little trouble adjusting to taking orders from 30 superiors. After all, that’s what a commissioner does, and the moment a commissioner forgets that is what he does is the day he is no longer allowed to do it.
But picking a new commissioner eight months before the old one has promised to leave (for the third time, we might add) is the classic inside-the-business-of-baseball story that nobody is going to pay attention to while there are actual games as distraction. Billionaire power struggles just don’t jerk the emotional needle much when there are 97 games a week to watch.
Still, you'd have thought that Baer’s mention (in the 19th paragraph of Michael Schmidt’s story) would have created a bit of a stir at least among baseball’s Twittigentsia, just because he is so not the kind of commissioner baseball owners typically want. And yet . . . crickets, even in the Bay Area, where Baer’s name is actually recognizable.
It may be, and let us hope this is the fact, that people have finally concluded after decades of examples that commissioners are really the public relations directors of sport. As the cost of each franchise touches or exceeds 10 figures, each owner wants more of a say in how that money is moved, and wants to listen to less from any of the people he happens to pay. Thus, commissioners are recognized by the wise and the wary as front men for the powerful, who never really want to be out front themselves.
If that is so, Baer’s candidacy isn’t that much of a thing because the job isn’t that much of a thing – sort of like confirmation hearings for the Secretary of Commerce. The trick is to find out which owner moves the other owners, not how the commissioner explains how he intends to implement what has already been implemented.
But if this is an actual something, and Baer really is a candidate for the ceremonial fez and bathrobe, then baseball owners are looking for something far different than their football, basketball and hockey brethren. Those three sports opted for sober hardnoses who eagerly want to keep labor in its place and will happily play the bad cop in collective bargaining agreement press conferences. That isn’t Baer.
They also want someone who can gently guide owners on the fence about a particular issue toward the will of power minority to become an insurmountable majority, a skill Bud Selig had in trumps. The Giants have not had an owner who casts a long shadow among their peers even going back to Horace Stoneham, and even Bob Lurie, who was liked and even respected, wasn’t feared by the other owners, which he learned to his detriment when he was thwarted in his attempt to sell the Giants to Tampa interests and had to take what amounted to a $25 million-plus loss to sell to Magowan.
Not only that, he can’t even convince the players on his own team to take better care of their things. I mean, you don’t ever hear about Yadier Molina or Miguel Cabrera or David Ortiz or Mike Trout or Troy Tulowitzki losing their scooters, do you?
In short, Larry Baer may be the commissioner of baseball some day because one should never rule anything out, but the job description is probably going to have to change dramatically for him to someday be deemed the perfect fit.
Now Brian Sabean, on the other hand . . . squinty-eyed, holding a scotch in one hand and jabbing the chest of an impertinent questioner with the other while emptying out the profanity chest just to remind everyone within earshot just who’s who and what’s what? Now THERE’S a commissioner type who could unnerve even Jerry Reinsdorf.