Posted by: Mike Cornelius | July 16, 2020

A-Rod, Still Chasing Derek Jeter

No one has ever accused Alex Rodriguez of being subtle. After all, this is the man who once had a portrait of himself as a centaur hanging on the wall behind his bed. With that in mind, A-Rod’s latest foray into the sports headlines should come as no surprise. Thursday, during a video conference call with the media before starting another season as an ESPN analyst – a role in which he excels – Rodriguez opined that the Major League Baseball Players Association should abandon its longstanding opposition to a salary cap in favor of negotiating a revenue sharing deal with Major League Baseball in the next collective bargaining agreement. The three-time winner of the American League MVP Award, who retired, or more accurately was retired by the New York Yankees after the 2016 season, cast his opinion in the context of expanding the sport’s “market share.” “The only way it’s going to happen is if they get to the table and say the No. 1 goal, let’s get from $10 to $15 billion and then we’ll split the economics evenly,” Rodriguez told reporters.

During his big league career A-Rod was on the receiving end of contracts worth more than $450 million, although he was forced to forgo a year’s worth of income when he was suspended for the entire 2014 season in the wake of the Biogenesis steroids scandal. Deals the inflation-adjusted equivalent of the 10-year $252 million contract Rodriguez signed with Texas before the 2001 season, or the equally long, $275 million agreement with the Yankees that supplanted it seven years later, would of course be hard to come by in a game constrained by a hard cap.

But A-Rod sees nothing hypocritical in his newfound perspective because as he sees it the sports landscape has fundamentally shifted since he became a major leaguer and set about milking the cap-free system of baseball free agency for everything he could possibly get. As he explained it on the widely reported call, “Then we had a stranglehold on professional sports. Baseball was 1. Today the NBA has become an international conglomerate, NFL’s a juggernaut. Back then there was no Netflix, there was no Snapchat, there was no Disney+, ESPN+ and everything they’re doing to attract their attention. So today we have to really work collaborative, with the players and the owners, to say how do we compete together to become No. 1?”

The world has indeed changed, though the accuracy of Rodriguez’s timeline and assertions about the relative popularity of our major sports is suspect. Still, his salary cap advocacy was quickly and emphatically rejected by the MLBPA. Association head Tony Clark responded by pointing out that A-Rod “benefited as much as anybody from the battles this union fought against owners’ repeated attempts to get a salary cap,” adding that Rodriguez’s new position “does not reflect the best interests of the players.”

The reason for the transparent pandering is that A-Rod is in pursuit of the New York Mets, so he will shamelessly say whatever he thinks might ingratiate himself both to the current owners of the Queens franchise and to the owners of the other twenty-nine teams who will ultimately vote on any proposed sale of the Metropolitans.

Along with his longtime girlfriend and, for the past sixteen months fiancé, Jennifer Lopez, Rodriguez is working hard to cobble together a serious bid for the Mets now that the Wilpon family has renewed its efforts to sell the franchise. He has attracted a great deal of star power to his potential ownership group, with sports figures like Brian Urlacher and Bradley Beal reportedly interested in signing on. Of course, none of them can outdo the glitter that Lopez would bring to the owner’s suite, and at least in the Gotham tabloids her presence alone is reason enough to seriously consider Rodriguez’s bid.

What’s less clear is how much hard cash any of the familiar names is willing to pony up. Business journalist Charles Gasparino has suggested that the sports stars are little more than window dressing, quoting an unnamed source close to A-Rod who said “they have no money. It’s a joke.” For their part Rodriquez and Lopez don’t appear to be kidding, but they are competing against financial heavyweights.

Steven Cohen, the hedge fund manager whose earlier agreement to buy the team collapsed over a disagreement about the Wilpons’ ongoing role, reportedly has the high bid so far. Josh Harris and David Blitzer, partners in a holding company that owns the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s New Jersey Devils, as well as a stake in the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, are believed to be second in line. Cohen’s net worth is roughly $14 billion, or almost twenty times that of Rodriguez and Lopez combined. While less than Cohen’s, the number for Harris and Blitzer is a lot closer to his than to that of the celebrity couple’s, plus they have the advantage of having already been fully vetted by other major sports leagues.

It’s still early in the process. Bids will be changed, and members of the proposed ownership groups will no doubt shift. Rodriguez and Lopez reportedly just traveled to Foxborough Massachusetts to pitch New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft on the idea of joining their team for the specific purpose of developing the area around Citi Field, much as he has done with the Patriot Place complex next to Gillette Stadium. Perhaps in the end there will be financial substance behind the glitter, and Mets fans will be treated to J. Lo singing the national anthem from atop the rising Home Run Apple in center field before every game.

For Yankee fans watching the Queens sideshow from the Bronx, Rodriguez’s desperate desire to become an owner has a very familiar feel. After all, not long after A-Rod’s playing days abruptly ended when the Yankees told him he wasn’t going to find himself in the lineup ever again, his former teammate Derek Jeter emerged as part of the group that won the bidding war for the Miami Marlins. Although he owns just a 4% stake, Jeter is the face of the ownership team and serves as the franchise’s CEO. Throughout his time in pinstripes Rodriguez chafed at playing in the shadow of the Yankees’ beloved captain and seemed to constantly be looking for ways to upstage Jeter. One can’t help but wonder if at some level part of A-Rod’s current motivation is, once again, a desire to outdo his former infield partner. The only certainty for now is that whatever principles he needs to abandon or kowtowing he needs to do; Alex Rodriguez will be more than up to the task.

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