Union does its job

The Players Association didn't scuttle the A-Rod trade. This deal was doomed by two ridiculous contracts.

Originally Published: December 24, 2003
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Unions don't get this bad a rap at a Republican National Convention.

Everyone from the Red Sox to Scott Boras is blaming the Players Association for blocking the Alex Rodriguez trade -- I think Boston's next proposal is to make Massachusetts a right-to-work state -- but such criticism is unfair. It doesn't matter if Rodriguez wants to rework his contract with the Rangers, he's going to have to live with the terms of the larger and more important contract between the league and the Players Association.

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez hit 26 of his AL-leading 47 home runs at home last season.

Why? Because unions aren't supposed to make exceptions for their exceptional members. And why is that? Because a union draws its strength from all the members, both exceptional and average, working together under the same rules and towards the same purpose. Making sure that the rules can't be bent in the favor of an exceptional member is the only way to guarantee that they won't be bent to against everyone else.

That's the union's real concern. Forget what the Red Sox or the Rangers want. Forget whether A-Rod and agent Scott Boras are perfectly content with a restructured contract. If the union starts sliding on this issue, all baseball contracts suddenly become open to "renegotiation'' the way they are in the NFL, where the only thing guaranteed in a contract is that the team will one day try to break it.

Granted, baseball contracts are completely guaranteed unlike those in the NFL, but that wouldn't stop teams from "encouraging'' veterans to voluntarily "restructure" their deals in order to maintain a job or add a coveted free agent to the roster.

Besides, so what if A-Rod's contract and Manny's contract make trades difficult? Big deal. Both players are adults with high-priced agents and both had the chance to sign anywhere they wanted under whatever terms they wished. The teams, meanwhile, have entire front offices to evaluate each free agent contract. For either the Rangers or the Red Sox to now blame the union for the contracts with which they burdened themselves is ridiculous.

Rather than blame the Players Association, we should thank it for helping stop a potentially disastrous trade rife with conflicts of interest.

Garciaparra
Garciaparra

I wrote last week that this deal didn't make sense for either the Red Sox or the Rangers (A-Rod is the best shortstop in the league but is he $12 million per season better than Nomar Garciaparra would cost?), and I fail to see how it would have been good for baseball in general, either. I don't buy into this idea that it's better to have a player as great as Alex with a contending team in a big market.

Did it hurt baseball that Nolan Ryan was with the Rangers who were also-rans his entire career with Texas? Of course not. Nolan remained baseball's best and most marketable player for years -- he couldn't have received any further exposure if he had dated J-Lo. Does it hurt baseball that Ichiro plays in Seattle? Not at all. Does Torii Hunter show up any less frequently on Web Gems because he plays in Minnesota rather than New York or Boston? No.

By the same token, is it helping baseball that Jason Giambi is clean-shaven and hawking deodorant in New York rather than wearing his hair long and displaying his tattoos in Oakland? Not one bit.

Nor does the postseason "need'' any particular team or player. Sure, it's always exciting when a player such as Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens takes the stage, but the World Series does just fine with Juan Pierre, Ivan Rodriguez, Josh Beckett, Tim Salmon, Luis Gonzalez and all the other good and great players spread around the leagues who are just waiting for their chance in the national spotlight, too.

That's the interesting contradiction in the vast hype (you would think the Red Sox were trying to trade Britney Spears for Michael Jackson) over this trade. The people who usually complain about all the best players winding up in big-market cities are the same people campaigning for A-Rod's escape from Arlington so baseball can "market'' itself better. Rubbish. The best thing for baseball is to have its best and most popular players spread around the country as evenly as possible -- in the Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, Northwest, California and yes, Texas.

The trade talk has been great fun and it has kept baseball on the front pages two months after the season's final game (it got to the point where I expected Chevy Chase to appear on SportsCenter and announce, "Our top story tonight, Alex Rodriguez is still not traded''). And if the trade never happens, baseball -- and the teams involved -- will survive just fine.

Regardless of what happens, there is no reason to blame the union. Players Association second-in-command Gene Orza was just doing his job. If this trade is really THAT difficult to make, there are probably some good reasons why it shouldn't be made.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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