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What is behind a proposal for MLB players to become owners?

Why would a former commissioner want Major League Baseball players to push for team ownership shares?

Earlier this week, former Major League Baseball commissioner Fay Vincent penned an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Albert Pujols’s Capital Opportunity.”

At face value, Vincent appeared to be offering a public service to those players already being paid the highest salaries in the game by suggesting they relieve some of their considerable tax liability by pursuing ownership shares in their teams as part of their compensation.

Vincent cited examples of corporate executives and film industry bigwigs that have prospered in such an arrangement, while wondering aloud why MLB stars currently pushing for contacts such as Albert Pujols and Derek Jeter don’t demand the same treatment.

Initially, I was intrigued by the premise, but after reading more, I became alarmed over the impracticality of Vincent’s recommendations. I began to wonder why he would be advocating an approach that he acknowledges is not allowed under baseball’s current agreements.

Why is Vincent pushing for a solution to a problem that may or may not exist for a very few? Even if the tax burden on these elite athletes was a major issue, their agents often secure long-term payouts of contracts and deploy savvy financial professionals to manage their clients’ investments.

Why in the world would Vincent care about this?

I can only draw the conclusion that not far beneath the surface, the deposed commissioner seems to be trying to stir up trouble during the final year leading up to a new agreement between players and owners. His proposal could drive a wedge between the top players and the rank and file as well as cause heartburn for the owners who fired him almost two decades ago.

In an article touting the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee candidacy of former Vincent adversary and Players’ Union head Marvin Miller, MLB.com’s Peter Gammons outlined several gaping holes in Vincent’s proposal.

“For instance, it has recently been suggested that one way to resolve the Derek Jeter and Albert Pujols contractual stalemates is to give each a piece of ownership. If only Miller were in the MLBPA office to roar to The New York Times or The Associated Press. What that would do is alienate Jeter or Pujols from teammates unhappy about the biggest or smallest of issues. As a member of ownership, neither player would be allowed in union meetings, and how could they be eligible for postseason shares? If Phil Hughes or Colby Rasmus were shaken down by management, why wouldn’t they harbor animosity toward Jeter or Pujols?”

Even prior to that, in fact as soon as I read his Monday article, I emailed Vincent to express my concern. I waited for several days, but he did not respond. The content of my note follows.

“Mr. Vincent, we have spoken and exchanged messages about umpiring and the Hall of Fame in the past. I enjoyed and appreciated your openness.

I am contacting you now about your Wall Street Journal article on the subject of team ownership shares by players. While I agree with your basic proposal as a valuable long-term direction for a small group of elite players, I find your specific recommendations for the here and now surprisingly impractical.

Specifically, you state there is nothing in MLB rules which prohibit player ownership, yet later acknowledge that the current union agreements do just that. Despite this reality, you express surprise that players negotiating for current contracts are not demanding that which is not allowed and would not realistically be negotiated into the current CBA. Further, you erroneously said the CBA ends this year.

You and I both know that Albert Pujols’ next contract will be signed long before a new agreement is in place. Given that, how in the world could he request and receive a share of ownership of the Cardinals as you say he should in your closing statement?

You also avoid any discussion of the challenge within the union of implementing a change that would only benefit the very top tier of players. To negotiate such a change may mean the rank and file would likely have to give in another area just to ease the tax burdens of the elite few. That could be a very tough sell.

Agents, which as you know can be very savvy, may have personal compensation issues with such a proposal. For example, if Scott Boras thought he could prosper financially from such a change, chances are very high that he would have been pushing for player (and even agent ownership?) long ago.

You, more than 99.9 percent of your readers, understand the myriad of complexities behind such changes, yet gloss over many of the realities in your WSJ article. For that, I am disappointed.”

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