His “gravest sin?” Hogwash. If A-Rod wants to reverse his suspension he HAS to sue the Union

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More going way-too-far from baseball writers who are not conversant with labor law. Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post saying that A-Rod is awful — the headline says he committed “his gravest sin” —  in suing the MLBPA yesterday. In the article he says A-Rod “slanders a dead man” in mentioning Michael Weiner in his complaint, which is the most extreme version yet of the fallacy I discussed this morning.

Let’s inject some actual information into this, shall we? David Ziff, who is a lecturer at the University of Washington School of Law, alerts me to legal precedent which not only makes A-Rod’s suing of the MLBPA not a “grave sin,” but makes it absolutely essential if he is to advance his case.

A-Rod’s suit comes pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act or the “LMRA.” Here is what the law has to say about suing your union in such cases:

When union members sue their employer for breach of contract under section 301 of the LMRA, they must also state a prerequisite claim of breach of their union’s duty of fair representation. See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 186-87 (1967); Thomas v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 890 F.2d 909, 914-16 (7th Cir. 1989). This is because ordinarily, union members must first use the grievance procedures specified in the CBA rather than directly sue the employer; only when the union has breached its duty to fairly represent the union members in that grievance process may the union members bring a claim against their employer. See, e.g., DelCostello v. Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 163-64 (1983).

It’s not a choice by A-Rod, and certainly not a “sin.” His effort to sue MLB and overturn his arbitration award REQUIRES that he sue the union as well. If not, he has no claim at all.

Perhaps your response to this is “well, he shouldn’t be suing.” But if it is, at least admit that you’re angry at A-Rod for fully exercising his rights, not the manner in which he is doing so. Because to do it any other way would constitute legal malpractice.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been sigbned. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.