The news that Alex Rodriguez was opting out of his contract with the New York Yankees broke during the fourth game of the World Series. (MLB has a rule against major announcements during the World Series, but it applies to teams not to individual players). The news made me think that A-Rod suffers from a peculiar kind of attention deficit disorder: he has to inject himself into the news when he feels a deficit of attention. Really, did we need to know his contract status exactly then? He had 10 days after the World Series finished to opt out. In fact, had he waited two days he probably would have had center stage all to himself. So why the hurry? Could he not stand the idea of not being Topic A for several days? (Don't blame agent Scott Boras; I'm sure a Rod knew what Scott was doing when he made the announcement. Those two are made for each other).
Hank Steinbrenner, the son of owner George, told the New York Daily News,"It's clear he didn't want to be a Yankee. He doesn't understand the privilege of being a Yankee on a team where the owners are willing to pay $200 million to put a winning product on the field. I don't want anybody on my team that doesn't want to be a Yankee."
According to Boras, Rodriguez was concerned about the status of Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettite, all eligible for free agency this winter. He didn't want to commit to a contract extension, which the Yankees were apparently preparing to offer him, without knowing if any of those players were coming back next year. Hank Steinbrenner said Rodriguez could have called him to get that information. I assume he also could have called the players themselves. (Of course, whether or not those players would want to talk to Rodriguez about their contract situations is another story). Contract talks are a volatile thing; what seems to be going smoothly early on can break down later and vice versa. But it seems to me that the picture might have been clearer nine days from now than they were with the World Series going on. At least he could have gotten an idea as to whether or not the Yankees wanted to keep the other players and whether the other players indicated a willingness to negotiate with the Yankees. So that excuse simply doesn't hold water.
Maybe A-Rod doesn't want to pay the price that comes with being the highest-paid player in history of the game and a member of the most storied franchise in sports: the price of media scrutiny of his behavior both on and off the field -- remember the stripper incident? -- in the crucible of American media -- New York. Of course, sports heroes often have clay feet. But A-Rod, a married man, being seen with a stripper, and allegations that he has attended some shady gambling venues, would be quickly forgotten if he managed to be something more than a shell of his regular-season self during the playoffs.
The thing that amazes me the most about the A-Rod saga is the fact that he's looking for an even bigger contract. He's already the highest paid player in baseball by a longshot. And he's at the point where the money itself has little meaning. He has more than enough to ensure his family's prosperity for several generations. He can buy anything anyone wishes to sell. His fame also brings him investment opportunities off the field, so he gets money that way as well as through the contract. In short, Alex Rodriguez is a very, very rich man. So when is he going to say, "Enough!" and play for some other reasons?
Of course, I'm not talking about something as utopian as playing for no money, but how about sticking to the contract he signed and trying to figure out why he goes bust in the post-season? How about helping the team with 26 championship rings to get 27, 28, 29, and 30? (Whoops! What am I saying? I want the Diamondbacks to win two or three rings in the next few years). For a guy who wrote a children's book, Alex Rodriguez is not a very good example for children. He seems much more self-involved, more interested in his own stats, than he should be in a team sport.
Of course, A-Rod does not function in a vacuum. He's doing nothing illegal by opting out of his contract; the opt-out clause is in there, so the Yankees are partially to blame for allowing such a thing anyway. Scott Boras is considered a heavy in all of this drama. He is the agent a player signs with if money is the first consideration. And everybody knows that. He only takes players who are the cream of the crop and he is an excellent negotiator who knows how to press the right buttons in the owners. They could say no; no one is holding a gun to their heads. But if they want his players, they say yes. And for all the complaining about Boras, it's not as if the owners have put him on a blacklist. There is some reticence among teams when they're dealing with a Boras client who has just turned professional, but even then there is very little of that.
I've heard it said that baseball players ask for these outrageous salaries because they are competitive people. Thus, you have, for example, Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui insisting on making more than his fellow countryman, Ichiro, so that he would be the highest-paid Japanese player in MLB. There are various players who want to be the highest-paid in their position. Barry Zito, who left another agent to sign with Scott Boras prior to negotiating his free-agent contract with the Giants last off-season, is now the highest-paid pitcher of all time. On a team that finished last in its division in 2007. He turned in a 10-13 record and admitted later in the year that the pressure of the contract affected his performance. Is that much money really worth it if it stresses you out and it hurts performance, no matter what kind of work you do? Again, I'm not putting down the idea of being rich, but there comes a point where the money is more trouble than it's worth. And I don't think players like A-Rod or Zito, agents like Boras, or the team owners of clubs like the Giants, and the Yankees until last night at least, pay enough attention to that fact. Another "attention deficit," as it were.
Of course, if the team owner were to suggest to a player that there is a limit to monetary satisfaction, the player would think the owner is just trying to lowball him. And depending on the situation, he might be right. If an agent were to make that suggestion, he might lose a client. So it's really up to the player to discover for himself the "enough" point: that point at which all material needs are met and money is more of a burden than a pleasure. If you are in that place financially, so what if someone else is making more? There are no exhibits in the Hall of Fame honoring record contracts.
The players should also consider the balance between his own individual reward and team rewards. Is the size of his contract hindering the team's ability to acquire the talent it needs to win? (Players are more likely to consider this factor in a sport that has a salary cap. Every now and then we hear of the veteran making a big salary offering to restructure his contract so the team can afford adding a certain other player to their roster). What are the rewards, psychologically and financially, of winning championships? Of even getting to compete for a championship? I feel certain in saying that when Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies retires, he'll think more about the fact that he played in the World Series than that he was the Rockies' highest-paid player.
But let's put the issue of inflated contracts into proper perspective. How many times have you heard an athlete say, "It's a business" in response to his release, trade, or a contract negotiation? Everyone who goes into business, no matter what the field, wants to make money, even a lot of money, and that's to be expected. But is business just about making money? There ought to be a purpose to the business and achievement of the purpose should bring money. A business climate in which making money is the primary goal, rather than fulfilling a need in the marketplace leads to business owners and workers who think that what they do to make that money, and how they go about doing it, is far less important. And that leads to a lot of negative consequences, not the least of which is poor quality workmanship and business ownership that takes unfair advantage of its customers and its workers.
Sportswriter Buster Olney just wrote an article for ESPN magazine in which he said of A-Rod, "He has the right to make as much money as he can." I think most people in the world, including most pro athletes have that right. But some people don't. I don't think Bill Gates does. I don't think A-Rod does. I don't think anyone whose financial demands can warp his industry has the "right" to make as much money as he can. Interestingly enough, the title of Olney's article is: A-Rod putting himself above the game. If we are going to call ourselves "civilized", we've got to stop thinking that we are above the game.
The atmosphere that we live in these days, the one that prompted Olney to make that remark, probably with as little thought as he would have given the remark that "the sky is blue," has high school pitchers and their parents looking for Tommy John surgery as the route to college scholarships and pro contracts. It leads to players using performance-enhancing drugs, and it feeds the bloated egos of people like Alex Rodriguez. He may get a $300 million contract when all is said and done, but that money won't secure a number of things that are also important in a ballplayer's resume: the admiration of fans, the respect of teammates and opponents, and a piece of jewelry that money can't buy -- a World Series ring.