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I don’t like writing about ethics. It’s a gray area, without many defined parameters, and that doesn’t suit my numbers-oriented brain.

But if you understand the history of baseball, and particularly that of the relations between teams and players, it is difficult not to take the players’ side on most issues. As Jim Bouton once said, “For a hundred years the owners screwed the players. For 25 years the players have screwed the owners - they’ve got 75 years to go.”

Major League Baseball teams are businesses, and act accordingly. While they have not always been well run businesses, they are, in fact, profit-seeking companies, and shouldn’t be treated any differently.

On that same note, players are simply employees. They will go to whatever team offers them the most value. This could involve comfort level (if the team is located near the player’s hometown), a chance to win, or, most popularly, more money. Superstar players need to consider these other factors a bit more, since they are, in essence, their own brands. Derek Jeter has built an incredibly valuable brand image for himself, but would have had trouble doing so if the Expos had picked him instead of pitcher B.J. Wallace in the 1992 draft.

And this brings us to A-Rod, who is being pummeled to the point where you would think he was negotiating for equity in Al Qaeda by now.

Let’s backtrack a second. In 1957, Mickey Mantle hit .365/.512/.665 in over 600 plate appearances, winning his second straight MVP. He joined Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Rogers Hornsby as the only players to put up a .500+ OBP, and was the last to do so until Barry Bonds in 2001. After the season, the Yankees offered Mantle a reduced salary for 1958, citing that he did not win the Triple Crown, as he had done in 1956. Mantle had no bargaining power, so why not?

This was a business decision. Ethics played no role.

The Yankees’ handling of Jason Giambi in recent years hasn’t been much different. When Giambi was struggling and it became apparent that his contract could possibly be voided, the Yankees tried every avenue to get out from under the deal. Had Giambi’s contract been more palatable for the team, is there any doubt that the Yankees would have turned a blind eye? It’s business, not ethics, and most practitioners will tell you that ethical considerations only play a factor when a) the law is being broken, or b) it affects the bottom line.

And yet, the media has attacked A-Rod’s character. Opting out in grand fashion was a calculated business decision, nothing more, nothing less. It was orchestrated by an agent who has consistently delivered fantastic results for his clients, and at this point deserves the benefit of the doubt.

It’s certainly possible that this was a poor move. Derek Jeter may have been lucky to fall into the situation he did, but his savviness with the media and overall clean public image have been enormous factors in his commercial success.

But a player’s image can be built, and re-built. Booed regularly in 2006, A-Rod was a hero at Yankee Stadium in 2007. Wherever he ends up, if he breaks records and/or wins championships, his image will be just fine. If Ray Lewis can go from murder suspect to Madden cover boy in under five years, Alex Rodriguez can certainly recover from opting out of one contract in grandiose fashion in order to get another one.

I’ve said it a number of times already: it makes economic sense for A-Rod to play for the Yankees, for both parties. If he and Boras have decided that they can do better elsewhere, though, that is their prerogative.

This is a real life business, not an ethics class. The press should start treating it that way.

Feedback? Write a comment, or e-mail the author at shawn(AT)squawkingbaseball.com

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  1. on December 31st at 07:21 am
    David Chase said:

    “This is a real life business, not an ethics class. The press should start treating it that way.”

    Awesome quote