Alex Rodriguez never had to endure a work stoppage, surrendering a chunk of his income for the best interests of fellow and future players. That chore belonged to players of the 1970s, '80s and early '90s. Rodriguez signed a contract of $275 million because predecessors sacrificed their jobs and paychecks for the final seven weeks of the 1994 season to block a salary-cap bid by the owners. He's now spitting in the faces of those players, suing the union they built into this country's most powerful private-sector labor fortress.
Rodriguez claims that he did not receive adequate protection from the Players Association during his fight against a 211-game PED penalty, which an arbitrator reduced to a 162-game ban, plus playoffs. That's half the two-year suspension prescribed for first-time offenses by Olympic athletes, who have no union. It's dramatically lighter than the punishment Benny Kauff received in 1920, after he was charged with auto theft. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis issued a permanent ban and refused to lift it even after Kauff was acquitted. He had no union, no power shared with other players, no right to arbitration.
A-Rod takes all of that for granted. He is a one-percenter, the ballplayer of Ayn Rand's dreams, certain that he owes none of his fortune to the efforts of others and that his desires must not be stifled by a collective goal. The accusations of selfishness and vanity aimed at him throughout the Biogenesis investigation, as if they were somehow evidence of guilt, became as tiresome and irrelevant as examining the marriage of a political candidate. Out of weakness, even decent guys will take PEDs and lie about it. Decent guys do not sell out their union brethren. As soon as A-Rod filed papers to drag his colleagues into court along with MLB management, his narcissism made him a traitor, and a pariah.
That lawsuit, according to a Yahoo Sports story, disgusted his peers so thoroughly that a bunch of the union's player reps wanted to expel him. On a conference call with the reps to discuss the suit, MLBPA leaders said labor law would not permit that. Instead, if Rodriguez returns to the game, one anonymous player told Yahoo, pitchers will have to hit him hard and often. "He needs to be scared of coming back and facing people he sued,'' he said.
So now MLBPA is a Wobblies revival, albeit privileged and rich, and unlikely to go to much trouble supporting lower-wage unions. But the players do take enormous pride in always standing together and in the amount of control they've gained as a result. They're not talking about beanballs because A-Rod broke one of those prissy unwritten rules of the game. With this lawsuit, he flipped a bat into his own team's dugout, unconcerned with who got hurt. (It also probably doesn't help that the lawsuit criticized the MLBPA's much beloved, late chief Michael Weiner.)
The suit accuses the union of abdicating its responsibility to Rodriguez by not properly defending him against the longest-ever PED suspension in baseball. The motive behind suing the MLBPA is fairly obvious. The process for adjudicating PED penalties is spelled out in baseball's collective-bargaining agreement, and only extraordinary circumstances can persuade a court to interfere in the provisions of a labor deal. Convincing a judge that the union somehow tanked its defense of A-Rod could clear the biggest obstacle to the case moving forward.
Technically, Rodriguez is undermining the union to get to MLB, but it doesn't change the fact that he is undermining the union. Imagine if he somehow succeeds against the Players Association but loses to MLB. And if he won against both, his victory could create chaos with a CBA set to run through 2016, bringing into question the entire administration of the drug agreement. Rodriguez might be able to rationalize all of this by telling himself that the suit could ultimately benefit other ballplayers who feel abused by the arbitration process. But he can't make that call by himself. The whole point of being in a union is not going it alone. You surrender to the will of the group.
A-Rod could have consulted with the player reps, asking if they'd support the suit or at least not turn on him because of it. It's hard to imagine anyone agreeing to be sued, but unions have decertified so that individuals could press antitrust claims against management, benefiting the entire group. The NFL Players Association did it before the 2011 lockout and gained a critical ruling about TV revenues from a federal judge.
Sports Illustrated's legal expert, Michael McCann, raised the question of whether the Yahoo story helped A-Rod's case by revealing antipathy toward him within the union, which might support his argument that he did not receive proper advocacy as he fought the suspension. McCann saw a slight chance to forestall a dismissal if A-Rod's lawyers used the article to justify a discovery phase. They could then search for evidence that ballplayers had expressed hostility toward their client, perhaps swaying the union against an aggressive defense. The Yahoo story makes it pretty clear that the players turned on him because he sued them, but a judge could read pre-existing disgust into their reactions.
What we do know is that if Rodriguez serves his suspension, returns to the Yankees, faces whatever retribution his peers choose, then gets into trouble again, needs the union to protect him in an appeal and loses … he'll have strong evidence that the MLBPA might not have represented him at full strength. That plot is so implausible, only one athlete could pull it off.