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legal_ramifications_of_schuerholzs_promise | December | 2008 Articles

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Legal Ramifications of Schuerholz's Promise

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By now, you all know the situation between the Braves and Rafael Furcal. Public posturing by the two parties quickly evolved from simple "he said, she said", to a heated exchange through the media. Frank Wren and John Schuerholz promised that the Braves would never again deal with the Wasserman Media Group (Furcal's agency), while Arn Tellem (head of WMG's baseball division) replied that carrying through with that promise could have legal ramifications for the Braves. This got me thinking about whether there was anything to substantiate Tellem's implied threat of legal action within baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement.

There are a number of sections within the CBA that deal with player representation, the first of which is Article IV:

"A Player, if he so desires, may designate an agent to conduct on his behalf, or to assist him in, the negotiation of an individual salary and/or Special Covenants to be included in his Uniform Player's Contract with any Club.... no Club may negotiate or attempt to negotiate an individual salary and/or Special Covenants to be included in a Uniform Player's Contract with any Player Agent(s) other than such Player Agent(s)."

I cut out a segment of little importance for the sake of brevity, but essentially this says that a player is allowed to be represented by a recognized (by the commissioner's office) agent and teams are not allowed to negotiate a certain player's contract with any representative other than that player's official agent (or the player himself). This has nothing to do with a team's refusal to negotiate with a certain agent though.

The next possibly relevant part is Article XV(A):

"The Clubs will not interfere with, restrain or coerce Players because of membership in or lawful activity on behalf of the Association, nor will they discriminate because of Association activity in regard to hire, tenure or employment or any term or condition of employment.

The provisions of this Agreement shall be applied to all Players covered by this Agreement without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.
"

This section seems to again avoid the issue at hand. The second paragraph is pretty straight forward, while the first paragraph focuses solely on a player's participation in the MLBPA and not their choice of agent.

Two sections down and still nothing that keeps a team from refusing to deal with a player due to their choice of agent. The final hope for Tellem is Article XX(E):

"(1) The utilization or non-utilization of rights under Article XIX(A)(2) and Article XX is an individual matter to be determined solely by each Player and each Club for his or its own benefit. Players shall not act in concert with other Players and Clubs shall not act in concert with other Clubs."

Right off the bat it's obvious that it isn't relevant to the Furcal situation. This section of article XX is designed to stop collusion between multiple teams or players (What Barry Bonds' agent was alleging this past season). Going past that, the sections mentioned don't even have to do with a player's choice of agent.

Now, I'm not a legal expert by any stretch of the imagination (Kristi is our resident legal expert), but the wording of the CBA seems pretty straight forward. In addition to actual wording (or lack thereof) about this type of dispute, there are two more roadblocks to some sort of legal action against the Braves. The first is that Article XXII specifically prohibits the CBA from restricting "the rights of the Clubs to manage and direct their operations in any manner whatsoever except as specifically limited by the terms of this Agreement". Any restriction against Frank Wren refusing to do business with a certain player because of his agent would have to be expressly stated in the CBA and it's not. To explain the second roadblock, I'll turn back to Bonds' situation. The collusion to keep him out of the league that his agent alleged would be a violation of the CBA, but it's so hard to prove any wrongdoing that the validity of the complaint really didn't matter. Even if refusing to deal with a certain agent was a violation of the CBA, it's not like Frank Wren would say, "No thanks. I'd be interested if you weren't his agent." if and when one of the WMG agents approaches him about a client. This looks like Tellem is just blowing smoke and only time will tell if Wren and Schuerholz are doing the same.
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