Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2003
BASEBALL: Union Don'ts
So, the Player's Union has (for now) killed the Red Sox' deal for A-Rod because they refuse to let a player renegotiate his contract for less money than he signed for. There's apparently a rule in the Collective Bargaining Agreement on this (David Pinto has more; start here and scroll down).
Leaving aside the language of the rule, I think the Players' Union's position is stupid and bad for the players. First, if the goal of the union is to get big contracts for the players, this is an incredibly stupid way to go about it. Look at this from the perspective of the Rangers: one of the biggest fears owners have in signing big contracts is that the team's needs will change and they won't ever be able to get rid of the guy. By telling the Rangers they can't trade A-Rod if the deal is contingent on a restructuring he himself accepts, you are forcing them to keep stewing in their own juices with a player they'd rather trade, and all because Tom Hicks signed A-Rod to a big contract. Think: what effect will this have on Hicks' willingness, or the willingness of other owners, to sign such megabucks deals in the future?
If I'm the union, I want to do everything I can to make teams think of top-of-the-market free agent contracts as the thing to have. Every team wishes they'd signed Barry Bonds or Greg Maddux in 1993, or Reggie in 1977.
A-Rod is -- other than the aging Bonds -- the best player in baseball today. He just won an MVP Award; the year before, he set the all-time single-season home run record for a shortstop. He's stayed healthy, busted his butt for the Rangers and done everything you could ask him to. And yet, as things stand today, most teams are thanking their lucky stars they didn't sign A-Rod; the owners think of his contract as a disaster for the Rangers. The Boston deal could change that, and help show that a player with the game's biggest price tag can be part of a positive story; keeping Rodriguez bolted in place will just underline the folly of the contract, and deepen the resolve of individual owners - even without collusion - never to give anybody that kind of money again. Why on earth would the union want to do that?
Joe Sheehan argues that critics of the union's position are using a double standard:
There's a reason why Tom Hicks and John Henry have the net worths that they do, and I'd imagine that both would laugh you out of the room if you ever suggested that there were touchy-feely reasons for leaving forty million bucks on the table. Why they get to be businessmen, while Alex Rodriguez gets held to a different standard, passes understanding.
Gene Orza from the Players Union makes a similar point in an email to David Pinto:
Why should A-Rod be held to a different standard then the owners with whom he's negotiating? He's being asked to forfeit something like 50 million dollars; you think Tom Hicks and John Henry got to where they are today by walking away from that kind of money? A-Rod shouldn't be allowed to tear up his contract in the same way that Tom Hicks shouldn't be allowed to.
These guys are the ones with a double standard. Isn't Hicks allowed to tear up the contract if A-Rod holds out for more money? Is Orza really saying that if a player wants to renegotiate -- or just wants to sign a long-term deal before his current contract is up -- the owners have to say, "I'm sorry, I can't tear up the contract and give you more money, come back when you've played out the end of the deal"? If that's the rule, it's news to me. In fact, owners do this every day. A-Rod just wants the same rights that Tom Hicks has: the right to put more of his own money on the table if that's what it takes to win. Shame on the union for telling him otherwise.