The idea of voiding player contracts in retaliation for PED suspensions is a non-starter at present, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies that the Joint Drug Agreement constitutes the sole basis of punishment for PED use. We talked a lot recently about why changing the CBA/JDA to include contract voiding is undesirable. In just the past week some players have gone on record saying that such a thing won’t happen unless some mechanism is built in to differentiate between active attempts to cheat vs. accidental ingestion of banned substances, but that changes the whole nature of the drug program and would lead to evidentiary trials for every positive test, and that seems like a stretch.
Yet it is a topic that simply won’t die. Buster Olney talks about it in today’s column, in which he reports how teams and their lawyers are trying to think of other ways to claw back money from players who use PEDs. After noting that the CBA prevents any such moves:
However, some lawyers believe there could other, more simple grounds — along the lines of the recent government suit filed against Lance Armstrong. Could a team file a lawsuit against a player — as they would any company or entity with which they worked — alleging that irreparable damage has been done to their business, to their brand, through the actions of the defendant?
Take Rodriguez, for example.
At the time the Yankees signed him to his 10-year, $275 million deal, after the 2007 season, they entered into the deal thinking that Rodriguez would continue as an important and marketable part of their franchise for years to come. This is also why they added $5 million incentive clauses that were attached to specific and historic statistical milestones — so he andthe franchise would share that wealth.
But after his admission of PED use in the spring of 2009, the practical usefulness of Rodriguez as a marketing piece was badly damaged — and now, with MLB close to concluding its investigation of Rodriguez, he is all but useless on that front.
It’d be pretty hilarious, after a century of hearing the Yankees talk about how their brand is sterling and their business is bigger than anything this side of God to suddenly claim that Alex Rodriguez did “irreparable damage to their business and brand.”
Plaintiff’s Attorney: “So it’s your testimony, Mr. Steinbrenner, that a century’s worth of domination and glory was cast asunder by the man sitting over there?”
Hal Steinbrenner: “Yes. Yes it is. No one knows who Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter are anymore. I tried to give a Yankees cap away to a small child yesterday and his father punched me in the ear.”
Seems unlikely but I suppose lawyers have made more outlandish claims.
Of course there’s something besides a lack of such chutzpah that would keep a team from doing that: opening the door to arguments in the future about just how valuable a given player is to the team’s brand.
In this hypothetical case wouldn’t A-Rod’s lawyers be obligated and motivated to argue how much good will the Yankees already received from him? The value of him in their marketing materials from the time he arrived until his name became Mudd? The value of his contributions to the 2009 World Series winning team? No, not in a baseball sense — that’s what A-Rod’s salary was for — but for all of the good will and marketing mojo that flowed out of that? Maybe the YES Network’s revenue would be part of that too? I mean, it would all have to be on the table if we’re talking about the extra-contractual damage the Yankees would be claiming, yes? It would have to be offset by the extra-contractual benefits, of which there have no doubt been many.
No team is going to want to wade into that. If, for no other reason, it would lay the groundwork for player suits in equity — think unjust enrichment theory — when a team realizes way, way more value from the player than that for which they paid. I wonder how many people feel better about the Nationals since Bryce Harper came up. Yasiel Puig totally changed the perception of the Dodgers in a month. There has to be some value in there, no?
Lawyers and their teams know this. But maybe they don’t care. Here’s the giveaway, from Olney’s article:
Could a team gain legal traction and win that argument? Could they get some money back? The longtime lawyer said he isn’t entirely sure. “But I’d file that suit if it involved a player with us,” he said, “because what do you have to lose?”
How utterly inspiring.