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Would the Yankees sue A-Rod for “damaging the Yankees brand?”

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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.”

“Your witness.”

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.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in three years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.