By Larry Fine
(Reuters) - Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's chief operating officer, is considered the favorite to succeed Bud Selig as MLB commissioner among three candidates facing a Thursday vote by club owners over a changing of the guard.
Manfred, Selig's right-hand man, was recommended by a search committee along with MLB executive vice president in charge of business Tim Brosnan and Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner as candidates to take over the reins of the $8 billion league.
Selig, 80, will end a 23-year reign, second longest behind the 24 years served by MLB's first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, in January.
A three-quarters vote is required to elect a new commissioner, with the winner needing the backing of 23 of the 30 clubs at MLB's quarterly meeting in Baltimore.
The meeting, which begins on Wednesday, will include presentations by Manfred, Werner and Brosnan outlining their visions for the game's future to the club owners.
A voting stalemate could open the door for a darkhorse candidate with former player, manager and current MLB executive Joe Torre, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and broadcaster Bob Costas among longshots who might be considered.
Former commissioner Fay Vincent, Selig's predecessor who resigned in 1992 after a vote of no-confidence engineered by Selig and other disaffected owners, believes Selig will get his way and see right-hand man Manfred win the job.
"He is the Rocky Marciano of baseball politics. He is undefeated," Vincent told ESPN Radio on the eve of the vote.
Manfred rose to second in command after 15 years in a critical role as executive vice president of labor relations, leading negotiations with the players union resulting in collective bargaining agreements in 2002, 2006 and 2011.
Those agreements, after bitter decades of labor strife and court-case defeats to the Players Association, ensured 21 years of labor peace through the current CBA which expires in 2016.
Another aspect of Selig's legacy is baseball's drug program, and Manfred was MLB's point man in hammering out a joint agreement on doping with the players union.
Werner, who made his fortune as a television producer and also serves as chairman of the Liverpool Football Club, has had a brilliant run with the Red Sox after a bumpy earlier go of it as owner of the San Diego Padres.
Boston went from worst to first last year when they won the World Series after trading a clutch of high-cost stars to the Los Angeles Dodgers and replacing them with less expensive role players on the way to a championship.
This year, however, the Red Sox are back to last place in the American League East and rebuilding in earnest.
Brosnan has a sterling track record in helping grow MLB's revenues, which exceeded $8 billion last year as television media rights soared at both the local and regional level for clubs and for national contracts with FOX, ESPN and TBS.
Since 2000, Brosnan has overseen licensing, sponsorship, domestic and international broadcasting, special events and MLB Productions.
He is credited with deft negotiating on the broadcast front and helped launch what would become MLB Network, which reached a then record-setting 50 million cable TV subscribers when it debuted in 2009.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)