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ESPN to keep A-Rod away from Mets games

ESPN broadcaster and former Major League Baseball star player Alex Rodriguez. (ESPN)

ESPN said it will veer away from having Sunday Night Baseball color analyst Alex Rodriguez announce New York Mets games due to his ongoing efforts to buy the Major League Baseball franchise. 

As MLB plans to resume play next week in an amended 60-game schedule, network producers intend to have Rodriguez work games involving other teams to avoid any appearance of bias or impropriety.

The Mets play one of the first two Sunday Night Baseball games on July 26, but Hall of Famer Chipper Jones will work that game, and Rodriguez will instead shift to a contest between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.

“Right now, I think we would certainly shy away from having Alex do a Mets game just so we don’t put him in a bad position, put the Mets in a bad position,” said Mark Gross, ESPN senior vice president of production and remote events. “We certainly don’t want to put Alex…in a difficult position given what’s going on.”

A former MLB superstar, Rodriguez saw the end of his career tainted by a suspension due to use of performance-enhancing drugs, only to resurrect his image as a broadcaster after retiring from his playing career. He was named earlier this year with play-by-play announcer Matt Vasgersian to a reset announcer team for ESPN’s flagship MLB broadcast property.

Rodriguez is now also in the midst of bidding on the Mets, who are again up for sale after a potential deal valuing the franchise at $2.6bn with minority team owner Steve Cohen fell apart in February. Rodriguez is bidding for the Mets along with fiancé Jennifer Lopez. According to industry sources, rival bids have also surfaced from Cohen again, and Josh Harris and David Blitzer, billionaire owners of the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers and National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils. A fourth unidentified bidder is also said to be involved. 

Despite earning more than $440m during his playing career and twice signing nine-figure free agent contracts, Rodriguez during an ESPN conference call advocated for MLB team owners and players to “split the economics evenly,” a phrase that in the labor vernacular of US pro sports is typically code for implementing a salary cap. 

The MLB Players Association since its formation more than 50 years ago has vehemently opposed salary cap-like structures.

“We have to really work collaboratively with the players and the owners to say, ‘how do we compete together to become No. 1 [in US pro sports]?,’ ” Rodriguez said. “The only way it is going to happen is if they get to the table and say the No. 1 goal is to get from $10bn to $15bn [in aggregate industry revenue] and maybe we split the economics evenly.”

Rodriguez said his stance stems from concerns that baseball’s standing among American fans is slipping.

“The [National Basketball Association] has become an international conglomerate. the [National Football League] is a juggernaut. Back [in 1994] there was no Netflix. There was no Snapchat. There was no Disney+, ESPN+, and everything in between…There’s too much competition out there right now,” he said.

Rodriguez’s comments quickly drew rebuke from Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, which recently finished bruising negotiations with owners to restart the season, talks that finished without a negotiated agreement over the number of games to be played. The parties are also entering collective bargaining agreement negotiations next year, with those talks expected to be fractious as well.

“Alex benefited as much as anybody from the battles this union fought against owners’ repeated attempts to get a salary cap,” Clark said in a statement. “Now that he’s 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 sought to clarify his comments in a subsequent tweet.

“I suggested on the call that both sides – players and owners – work together to make baseball as big as the NFL and NBA,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with Tony Clark to make sure we’re aligned in taking our sport to the next level and showcasing the world’s best athletes.”