In news that will shock no one, the New York Yankees have publicly stated their intentions to withhold the $6 million marketing bonus to Alex Rodriguez for his 660th career home run.
“We have the right but not the obligation to do something, and that’s it,” said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman before Saturday’s Yankees-Red Sox game at Fenway Park. “We’re going to follow the contract as we follow all contracts, so there is no dispute, from our perspective.”
The Yankees feel the clause in Rodriguez’s contract that would pay him up to $30 million for reaching various milestone home runs has been voided by the controversial third baseman’s repeated performance enhancing drug suspensions. The bonuses were added to Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract to give the Yankees sole marketing rights for the milestone blasts. Now that Rodriguez has served a 162-game suspension for lying about drug use, the Yankees feel they have no ability to market the home runs, and are therefore exempt from paying the bonuses.
“We’re going to honor our responsibilities of the contract,” Cashman said. “(But) how it’s been reported . . . and what the contract actually says are two different things. It’s not ‘you do this, you get that.’ It’s completely different. It’s not all of a sudden, we’re choosing not to do something. If we choose to pursue something we’ll choose to pursue it. If we choose not to, it’s our right not to. In both cases, we’re honoring the contract.”
If that is indeed the case, the Yankees are absolutely within their rights not to pay Rodriguez for passing Willie Mays, but that is not what they should do. The Yankees come off looking like the stubborn franchise, while Rodriguez quietly makes no public mention of the bonus. Personally, I do not think there would have been $6 million worth of marketing value to be gained from Rodriguez passing Mays for fourth place all-time, but I’m not the one running a billion-dollar organization. The funny thing about Rodriguez, though, is that his marketing appeal actually appears to be on the rebound.
Since returning from suspension, Rodriguez has done and said all of the right things, even his handwritten apology note wasn’t all that bad. He has put his head down, gone to work, and is producing at a respectable level for an almost-40-year-old with bad hips who sat out an entire season. While I don’t think he can keep up his 41-home run pace, Rodriguez has gotten himself back in the good graces of many baseball fans.
Personally, I don’t like much about Rodriguez and his diva persona, but he was unfairly singled out by Bud Selig. A 162-game suspension was not justifiable for a player without a positive drug test. Ryan Braun publicly slandered one of the league’s drug testers, yet received only 65 games. How then, was Rodriguez suspended for almost three times as long? If you don’t think the Yankees organization had a part in seeing Rodriguez suspended that long, you are being naive.
If the Yankees find no marketing value in Rodriguez’s 660th career home run, it will not be because he took steroids. It will be because there’s really not that much demand for “Alex Rodriguez Fourth Place All-Time” t-shirts in the Bronx, whether or not he took steroids. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Rodriguez could pass Babe Ruth for third place all-time. If you think the Yankees are peeved about paying Rodriguez for passing Willie Mays, how do you think they will feel about him surpassing a Yankee legend in Ruth?
Alex Rodriguez is not a man who will be affected by the loss of $6 million, but that does not mean he should not be paid what is owed him. Baseball has already seen one ugly contract dispute resolved with Josh Hamilton being taken off Arte Moreno’s hands (sort of). The Alex Rodriguez story can be a positive tale of redemption for Major League Baseball this season, but the narrative cannot continue to focus on contractual terms.
The Yankees need to come to terms with the fact that Alex Rodriguez is still a member of their ballclub — a productive one at that — who has done everything asked of him. Like it or not, Alex Rodriguez will always be a part of Yankee history. The sooner the Yankees accept that, the better. They don’t have to put up a plaque for Rodriguez in Monument Park — it’s getting crowded anyway — but they need to drop their fight over $6 million and enjoy the fact that Rodriguez is a big part of the reason that their creaky, old team is in first place in the American League East.