NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez, among four groups of bidders for a possible purchase of the New York Mets, called for baseball players to accept the kind of revenue-sharing system that is tied to a salary cap and sparked quick opposition from the union.
Following the collapse of labor talks dealing with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, relations between Major League Baseball and the players' association are at the lowest point in a quarter-century. The sides appear headed to a spring training lockout in 2022.
Preparing for the start of his third season as an analyst on ESPN's Sunday night telecasts, Rodriguez said baseball players' leverage had changed since they fought off the owners' salary-cap proposal with a 7 1/2-month strike in 1994-95. He said the rise of the NFL and NBA had changed the equation along with digital media, and said the players' association should work collaboratively with MLB to raise 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," he said Thursday during a conference call. "But that's the type of conversation instead of fighting and fighting against each other because there's too much competition out there right now."
Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred unilaterally announced a 60-game schedule this year as the union kept open the possibility of filing a grievance accusing teams of negotiating in bad faith.
The union lost a grievance this year accusing the Chicago Cubs of manipulating the service time of star third baseman Kris Bryant to delay his eligibility for free agency and has a pending grievance charging several teams with failing to properly use proceeds from the revenue-sharing plan among big league clubs.
Rodriguez made about $448 million in his big league career. He debuted with Texas in July 1994 and was sent back to Triple-A 10 days before the strike started on Aug. 12. He maintains an "understanding that the leverage of the players in 1994 was wholly different than today."
"Then we had a stranglehold on professional sports. Baseball was 1," he said. "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?"
Rodriguez, who turns 45 on July 27, is a three-time American League MVP. He was suspended by MLB for the entire 2014 season for violations of the sport's drug agreement and labor contract. The players' association filed a grievance on his behalf and although the suspension was not reduced, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz restored $2,868,852 of his $25 million salary for that season, 21/183rds of the total.
Baseball players have resisted the types of salary cap and revenue sharing used by the NFL, NBA and NHL.
"Alex benefited as much as anybody from the battles this union fought against owners' repeated attempts to get a salary cap," union head Tony Clark said in a statement. "Now that he is attempting to become an owner himself his perspective appears to be different. And that perspective does not reflect the best interests of the players."
Rodriguez tweeted a statement Friday that he "never mentioned the word salary cap" and he had suggested both sides "work together to make baseball as big as the NFL and the NBA." He said he had contacted Clark "to make sure we're aligned in taking our sport to the next level."
Rodriguez and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez are among the bidders for the Mets, retaining JPMorgan Chase as their adviser after the Wilpon and Katz families failed to close a deal with hedge fund manager Steven Cohen.
Cohen bought an 8% limited partnership stake in 2012 for $40 million and the deal that failed to close would have seen him acquire an 80% controlling share in a transaction that valued the team at $2.6 billion.
Four bidders will be given more information for a second round of bidding in several weeks, a person familiar with the bidding told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcements were made.
The Wilpon and Katz families hope to have a deal in place in time for a sale to take place by the end of 2020, the person said. A proposed agreement likely would require a three-month lead time for MLB vetting prior to a vote for approval.
Rodriguez likely will not broadcast Mets games while bidding for the team, ESPN senior vice president of production and remote events Mark Gross said. Chipper Jones will work the Braves-Mets game with Jon Sciambi on July 26, ESPN's first Sunday night telecast this year. Rodriguez and Matt Vasgersian will broadcast the second game of a doubleheader that night, the San Francisco Giants' game at the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Mets are not currently scheduled for any other Sunday night games.