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BOB RYAN

Player not an innocent victim

Don't blame Gene Orza, Donald Fehr, or the ghost of Samuel Gompers. The reason Alex Rodriguez has been held in bondage is Alex Rodriguez, with a healthy assist from Scott Boras.

 

Oh, sure, Orza is easy to demonize as the Dr. No in this scenario. He's been front and center, espousing Players Association ideology, attempting to defend what to the ears of the common man (and even those of some erudite attorneys out there) is the indefensible. Why can't a mega-kazillionaire renounce himself down to being a plain old kazillionaire, if that's what he wants to do? Who's it going to harm?

We'll get to that in a minute. But let's get back to the ever-popular Blame Game. The reason this desired exchange of high-priced baseball players has been so difficult to pull off is the result of a decision Alex Rodriguez made three years ago, not because Gene Orza is willing to portray The Grinch Who Stole The World Series in a Boston baseball pageant.

Alex Rodriguez chose to leave Seattle for the so-called greener pastures. In this case, the pastures were really green, $252 million worth. It was his negotiated right to do so. He could thank Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, selected other pioneer players, arbitrator Peter Seitz, and, of course, Marvin Miller for creating a system in which a man of his immense physical gifts could seek his fame, and, particularly, his fortune in any city that would have him. Any number of first-ballot Hall of Famers from the first 70 years of the 20th century never had that opportunity.

He accepted an offer from Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks for the aforementioned $252 million, spread over 10 years. That figure ran through every previous fiscal stop sign by a large margin. It signified that A-Rod was King of the Mountain, financially speaking. In a world where the principals keep a close eye on the score, A-Rod was the runaway winner.

He only took what his agent had negotiated, of course, and it is doubtful that in his giddiness he stopped to ask himself if perhaps, just perhaps, the figure wasn't a little much. Could a team really absorb that kind of contract and still find enough money left over to pay other key players, like, say, some quality pitchers? Did it ever occur to A-Rod that his contract would be counterproductive in terms of constructing a complete team, or that in the event things turned sour, and he wished to get out, that the monstrous contract would be a rather serious impediment?

In a better, saner world, his agent, among whose supposed duties is the responsibility to look at the Big Picture, would have anticipated problems, and would have been careful not to place his very prestigious client in an untenable situation. But in choosing the notorious Scott Boras as an agent, Alex Rodriguez had already made a clear statement to the baseball world. For when one hires Mr. Boras to negotiate a contract, one screams to the world that the only thing of interest is squeezing out every last dollar from the prospective owner. Scott Boras is not about quality of life issues. Scott Boras is about M-O-N-E-Y.

So A-Rod made his choice. He took the money. He could have taken $18 million or $20 million, but he gleefully accepted an average annual salary of $25.2 million, and now he wishes to God he were making a lot less money because now he is miserable in Texas. He wants to come to Boston, and he still might. But the truth is that he'd already be house-hunting in Greater Boston if he hadn't already made a bad decision to go for every last buck three years ago.

Oh, what's that? It's the big, bad Players Association at fault? Well, yes, it is the obstacle, and Gene Orza is the spokesman for its position. It seems the very powerful Major League Players Association has had it negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement that no player's contract can be renegotiated, or restructured, in order to reduce a players' financial compensation unless there is some compensating adjustment that, shall we say, balances out the contract. If this were basketball or football, A-Rod would have been a Red Sox a week ago. Basketball and football players renegotiate all the time. Hockey? I don't know. Hockey players probably would pay to play, anyhow. But baseball players follow the rules of their CBA, and in baseball, you either satisfy the association or there is no deal. That is what's going on here.

The Players Association's position is that downward renegotiation, even in a highly atypical situation such as this, where the player in question would never miss the money, places the entire process on a slippery slope. Orza believes that if A-Rod were to be allowed to forfeit hard cash, it would not be long before a far more vulnerable player would find himself pressured -- or "blackmailed," as I heard Curt Schilling say on WEEI yesterday -- to renegotiate. You know what? I believe Gene Orza is 100 percent correct. I would not trust the average sports owner any farther than I could throw the stadium, arena, or wherever his team plays.

Lest I be accused of misrepresenting Curt Schilling's position on this matter, he declared himself to be, well, I can't use the word, but it connotes extreme agitation, because he says this is a different scenario and an accommodation should be made by the Players Association to facilitate this trade. He contradicted Orza's assertion that a majority of the association's executive board would oppose A-Rod and Boras giving any money back, adding that, "I know why Orza had to say that."

That's Players Association inside baseball, and a topic for another day. What matters here is that A-Rod is a prisoner of his own exuberance. All he saw was a record contract for more money than he could ever spend (unless he wanted to buy the Expos). He did not foresee a scenario in which he would want to leave Texas and would be unable to do so because his onerous contract would become a significant obstacle.

Common sense does not prevail here, and I'm sure even Gene Orza would admit that. He is too smart not to see what noted sports law professor Paul Finkelman yesterday labeled the "perverse irony" of his contract in these very pages. But Gene Orza is also too principled to deviate just because A-Rod, the Texas Rangers, the Boston Red Sox, and half of New England want him to. He simply points out that A-Rod is a member of the association and is as bound to its rules and regulations as a minimum salary third-string catcher. Gene Orza is paid by the players to represent the players -- all the players. He is a lawyer, and a good lawyer represents his clients.

If I were in trouble, I'd want Gene Orza to represent me, and so would you. And if I were a great ballplayer interested in anything other than grabbing every last dollar possible, I would hire someone other than Scott Boras.

This deal may yet get done. Whether it does or it doesn't, at least direct your anger over the drawn-out proceedings toward the proper parties. A-Rod and Mr. Boras brought this all on themselves.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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