New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has opted out of his contract with the team, leaving the Yankees scrambling to contain the damage to their lineup and their standing with their fan base.
After signing his record $252 million contact, A-Rod became a lightning rod to many sports fans. He became a symbol of athlete salaries run amok and the Grand Canyon-sized relationship gap between professional athletes and their fans. Many people opined for the days when Willie Mays played stickball with the neighborhood kids by day and the Brooklyn Dodgers by night. They could relate to Willie Mays, but not to A-Rod and his modern brethren. Upon closer inspection, Brother A-Rod, as I call him, is much more like us than you may think.
Brother A-Rod has a job just like you. When he started his career, just like you probably did, he dreamed for rising to the top of his industry. In very short order, through hard work and applying himself, he became the most productive employee in his company, if not his entire industry. In the three years prior to signing his “lightning rod” contract, Brother A-Rod averaged 42 home runs, 122 runs batted in, and a .305 batting average with the Seattle Mariners. In other words, his average year was more productive than the most productive years in the careers of most of his peers.
Further, he was a model employee. He created absolutely no scandal or embarrassment for his employer or his industry when he was away from the office. Yet despite unprecedented production for someone his age in his industry, his first employer was unwilling to pay him fair market value for his talent. He was incredibly accomplished and not yet even in his prime, yet his employer made a business decision and declined to give him the raise he was seeking. Even then, he was on track to be one of the best if not the best performer in the history of the industry, but his employer was unwilling to invest in him for the long term. Brother A-Rod was forced to seek other employment. Sound familiar?
Brother A-Rod got the salary he was due from his next employer. Rather than resting on his laurels, Brother A-Rod took his performance to another level. The next three years after getting his rightful contract, he averaged 52 home runs, 132 runs batted in, and a .305 batting average for the Texas Rangers. To put those numbers in perspective, Hank Aaron, the most prolific home run hitter in the 100-plus year history of Major League Baseball, did not have a single season in which he hit 50 home runs or more. “Fiddy” home runs was an average season for Brother A-Rod during this time.
In the last of those three years, he was named the best professional in his industry, winning the 2003 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Yet, his employer at the time decided to reorganize after the 2003 season. Despite all his success, despite doing much more than was asked of him, Brother A-Rod was told by his employer that it could no longer afford to pay him. Again, he was looking for work. Sound familiar?
In 2004, Brother A-Rod, the unquestioned top professional in his industry and a model citizen, was working for his third employer in five years. His new employer, the New York Yankees, was actually getting Brother A-Rod at a discount. Through the terms of his severance package, his second employer would continue to pay one-third of Brother A-Rod’s salary for up to the full seven years remaining on his contract. No problem. Brother A-Rod simply went about his business for the next three years, nearly replicating the performance that earned him his lofty but appropriate contract in the first place.
Again in 2005 he was named the best professional in the industry as the 2005 American League Most Valuable Player. In addition, he maintained this high level of performance while accepting a transfer different functional area. He chose to change job descriptions (moving from shortstop to third base) despite being a clearly better shortstop than the incumbent, Derek Jeter, all in the interest of workplace harmony. Imagine being the best sales manager in the country, but being asked to go run a production facility because your new company had a sales manager. Brother A-Rod did just that without complaint. His new employer should have been in love with Brother A-Rod, but it was not. His performance still was not enough. Sound familiar?
Just one year after being named the best in his industry, Brother A-Rod had an “off-year” in 2006. He hit 35 home runs, more than all but seven men in the American League, and drove in 121 runs, all but more than three others. Because of this “off year” by no one’s standard but his own, his employer sat idly by as its customers mistreated Brother A-Rod. His employer sat unconscionably silent as Brother A-Rod’s co-workers and his direct manager publicly criticized him.
In 2006, Brother A-Rod, did not perform well at his industry’s year-end conference (the Major League Baseball playoffs), but he was by no means alone. His entire company underperformed expectations. Yet by the end of the conference, his company had marginalized him by moving him to a role well beneath his talents (batting eighth in the batting order). His employer chided him privately and embarrassed him publicly. Yet, he refused to retaliate. He did not criticize any of the members of this organization or its customers publicly. He took the high road.
Well-known to Brother A-Rod and his employer, he had a provision in his contract which would allow him to void the contract after the 2007 season and join any other company he desired thereafter. This would have been a wonderful time for his employer to demonstrate its faith in Brother A-Rod, to make a renewed commitment to a young man still in his prime and still one the best performers in his industry. Instead his employer made a business decision. Thinking they may be able to get his services on the cheap after the 2007 season, they declined to make such a commitment. In effect, despite being arguably the most productive employee in his company, Brother A-Rod was placed on a performance improvement plan. Clearly, there was some “old-boy”-ism at play here. The entire team failed miserably at the big conference, but Brother A-Rod was shouldering the majority of the blame. Sound familiar?
So as the 2007 season began, Brother A-Rod began the year on a performance improvement plan. By midseason, he had responded to this adversity by having the most productive three months of his already illustrious career. He set all-time performance records for the month of April in 2007. Remember his industry is more than 100 years old!
Also by midseason, Brother A-Rod’s employer had realized that it had made a grievous error, a horrendous business decision by not committing to him earlier. Against their stated, and generally self-serving, company policy, Brother A-Rod’s employer wanted to renegotiate his contract. They wanted him to sign a new deal with it without testing this worth with other companies. His employer knew that his current performance will drive his price up much higher than it would have been at the start of the season. Many more companies in the industry could be willing to pay this higher price. Further the mistreatment that A-Rod endured in 2006 insured that his current employer would get no “home town” discount.
So why have I been calling Alex Rodriguez “Brother A-Rod?” Alex is our brother in the struggle. He is just like us, just in a different tax bracket. He started his career working hard and proving his worth only to discover that his first employer was unwilling to pay him what he was worth. He went to a different employer and produced even better results, but got “reorganized” out of his job there. His third employer, in a typical “what have you done for me lately” corporate move, threw him under the bus the year after he earned his second MVP award for having an “off year.”
And now, after A-Rod reminded his bosses of the jewel they had with a torrid start to 2007, they approach him and ask him to give away his leverage by negotiating a new contract with them without the benefit of determining the new market for his services. His employer wanted far better treatment from Alex than it was willing to give him just six short months ago. It wants him to forget what they have been making abundantly clear to him for the last three-plus years. Business is business. Yes, Alex is our brother!
Alex Rodriguez has right now exactly what each of us would like to have at least once in our lives. I am not taking about the money, per se. Most folks don’t ever expect to make A-Rod money in a lifetime or several, let alone in a single 10 year period. What A-Rod has is much more important. A-Rod has the hammer!
He has performed at a high level his entire career and yet has had to move from place to place to get his due. He has endured indignities which he did not deserve from his current employer. They had an opportunity to show him love, to make this situation right, but they chose to let him twist in the wind. Now, he has the hammer. And my brother, with his statement that has opted out of his contract, has declared loudly and proudly that he is gonna lay the hammer!
He will lay that hammer in his business in a way that we all should when given the opportunity because those opportunities are rare. He will signal to his employers and all employers in the industry that deciding not to “do right” has consequences and ramifications. Perhaps he will inspire you to take care of your own business just a little bit better. Business is business.
The next time your employer tries to get you to forget that important fact, remember Brother A-Rod. Don’t capitulate, negotiate!