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December 06, 2001

Owners must 'just say no'
By Dan Patrick

What's worse for the game of baseball -- the greedy agent and ball player or the naive owner? (Greedy agents won out by a slim margin in the Dan Patrick Web site poll, but it was pretty much neck-and-neck.)

To me, it's a chicken-and-egg question. Don't blame the agent or the player for having a big wish list. And don't ask them to provide financial sanity when the owners never consider that approach.

Alex Rodriguez
Shortstop Alex Rodriguez is expected to become the game's highest-paid player.

Still, I don't know how you can claim to be a team player and then ask for things that clearly do not have the best interest of the team in mind.

As Cal Ripken Jr. said, you can't ask the players, the agents and Players Association to protect the owners from themselves. The stance that teams have to take with Alex Rodriguez is "just say no." No one is putting a gun to their heads to sign him or to offer him these amenities that are just the bottom line of a contract that will call for at least $20 million. If you don't want to pay for it, don't pay for it.

I think everyone is caught up in this misleading question: What is A-Rod doing to the game? Well, is it A-Rod or is it the owners doing this to the game? If some idiot is willing to pay this, is that A-Rod's fault? If you ask for the moon and they give you the moon, are you supposed to say, "Wait, I'm sorry. Never mind. I'll take the stars instead?"

(Note: For my buddy Rob Dibble's take on this whole subject, click here. He looks at it from the perspective of a former player, but we both have some fun with the moon-and-stars analogy.)

Owners just need to adopt the anti-drug slogan of "just say no." A-Rod wants this money, but he also wants to play for a winner. In this day and age, unless you play for the Yankees, can you really ask for that kind of money and play for a winner?

I don't begrudge A-Rod or his agent, Scott Boras, for asking for all these things. That's what an agent is paid to do. As an agent, you ask for things that you may not get -- that's the point of negotiating.

The only thing that would concern me if I were A-Rod is public perception. He's a great player. He wants to be paid. Fine. He then wants to go out and be a winner and play hard. If this drags on too long, though, he may end up being viewed as greedy.

And this should not take that long. There are only six or seven teams that can even think about him. The Minnesota Twins issuing a press release declaring themselves out of the A-Rod market would be as funny as Darryl Strawberry's recent filing for free agency.

As for the teams, I repeat: Just say no. If you don't want him -- fine. And if you have to explain why you don't want him, then do so.

As Scott Boras told me, A-Rod wants an office at the stadium. Why not? Instead of going off to luncheons or going out to sign bats and balls, why not have an office at the stadium where he can do his business and sign his bats and balls and be just two minutes from the field? He doesn't want to take away from what he's doing. That's not as selfish as the simple notion that "A-Rod wants an office at Shea."

But do I think anyone is worth $25 million a year? No.

A-Rod is treading on thin ice here. In the theater of public perception, he's got to be careful with what he's doing. Boras has got to be aware of the creeping sense that A-Rod is money first, baseball second.

On the other hand, I agree with Boras when he said that it was disingenuous for Steve Phillips to air publicly what A-Rod's demands were. If I'm in negotiations with ESPN, and they aired my requests and brought up issues of why I wouldn't sign with ESPN, I would be livid.

Negotiating is a game played privately between two parties. When the dust settles, a lot is forgotten.

But that is hard to do if it all goes public.

Still, Boras is negotiating with 10 other teams, so it was just a matter of time before this came out. It's not like you can keep this under lock and key. All but one team is going to have to explain to the press and to the fans why they didn't sign A-Rod. Steve Phillips apparently is not the only guy here being disingenuous.

Boras told me he feels like a Campbell's soup can kicked down the aisle by one customer and put back up on the shelf for someone else to purchase. Everybody feels like the victim here. Phillips feels like he's victimized because A-Rod not only wants a $25 million salary, he wants all that other stuff too. Boras feels victimized because Phillips aired the dirty laundry list.

But A-Rod is treading on thin ice here. In the theater of public perception, he's got to be careful with what he's doing. Boras has got to be aware of the creeping sense that A-Rod is money first, baseball second. I hope his player's reputation means as much to him as his player's paycheck.

This mess is just like the presidential race. Pick a winner and let's move on.

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