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Union gap just too wide

Rodriguez deal has bad ending

ARLINGTON, Texas -- If I tried to match legal wits with Marvin Miller, Don Fehr, Gene Orza, or any of the other counselors who have guided the baseball players' union to its position of unmatched power, I would be crushed like a Chan Ho Park fastball.

 

So let's concede that point right away.

But the Major League Players Association has always understood winning better than it has understood success. The union won again when it prevented Alex Rodriguez from slightly downsizing his record-setting contract. That, at least for now, prevented Rodriguez from being traded to the Red Sox.

He could still be sent to Boston in an alternate deal, but it's not likely. Rangers general manager John Hart said there is a "strong likelihood" Rodriguez will play shortstop for the Rangers in 2004. Red Sox president Larry Lucchino went beyond that, calling the deal dead and labeling reports of continued negotiations as "inaccurate."

The fact is that the Red Sox and the Rangers and Rodriguez wanted this to get done, and the union flexed its muscle and squashed it. Usually, you take management's arguments with the union with an artery-busting supply of salt, but Lucchino was right on this one.

"The Players Association asserts that it supports individual negotiations, freedom of choice, and player mobility," Lucchino said. "However, in this high-profile instance, the action contradicts this and is contrary to the desires of the player."

For some fans, baseball has been ruined by players' lack of loyalty and their ability to shop themselves to the highest bidder every few years. The union likes that.

Here, the league's best player wanted to play for a winner in a move that would heighten interest in the game. The union should like that, too, but it didn't. Dollars outweighed common sense.

A few things to keep in mind here. The adjustment the Red Sox wanted to make in the seven years and $189 million that remains on A-Rod's contract was agreed to by agent Scott Boras. Anyone who has followed his actions of the last decade will understand that if Rodriguez was giving back money, it wasn't enough to keep him from being the highest-paid player in team sports.

If it was a matter of deferring about $28 million, as ESPN reported, remember that the present value of the contract wouldn't have declined anything like it would have if that kind of deferral had been made a couple of decades ago.

Besides, his contract is so far off the charts, a minimal deduction in value would have no ripple effect on other contracts. Heck, if they had taken $28 million out of the contract and just dumped it, he still would be the game's highest-paid player by $3 million per year.

That said, what reason is there for any union to exist? To protect the health, happiness, and security of the workers, I would think.

Understand that Rodriguez badly wanted this deal to work. Consider also that Derek Jeter, a talented but inferior shortstop, has clobbered A-Rod in endorsement deals the last few years.

Why? Perhaps it has something to do with Jeter playing on the East Coast and having won four World Series rings while Rodriguez has spent his career in less cluttered time zones and never played in a World Series.

A-Rod in Boston would be instant recognition for the player beyond anything he has known in Seattle or Arlington. What few dollars he might have given up in the renegotiation would be recouped in about 30 minutes.

Frankly, A-Rod in Boston would be better for baseball than A-Rod in Arlington, Texas. Not better for the Rangers, mind you. But right now, the Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs represent big-time baseball.

I understand that Anaheim and Florida won the last two World Series, but ratings and interest in the sport are driven by those three big-market clubs. A-Rod doing battle with the Yankees 20 times a season and possibly in October would have been huge.

When TV ratings grow, revenues grow. When revenues grow, salaries escalate. Someone at the Players Association knows this, but that doesn't prevent the union from operating in something other than the best interests of the individual and the sport as a whole.

Rangers management has indicated quite clearly that it believes the future would be brighter with Ramirez in right field, A-Rod in Boston, and more money in the bank -- presumably to be spent on free agents.

But for now, the best player in the American League stays in Texas. The fact that that's a good thing doesn't erase the fact that it shouldn't be true.

Tim Cowlishaw is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News.

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