MLBPA ouster sparks controversy, concern
Former MLB Players Association attorney Rick Shapiro, whose firing is at the center of controversy in baseball, did not have any secret communications with the league despite allegations in the media, a top league official said last week.
“All our dealings with Rick Shapiro during his entire tenure with the players association occurred within the normal collective-bargaining process and, to our knowledge, occurred with full authorization and knowledge of the union leadership,” said MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem.
Shapiro, a top union lawyer who had worked at the MLBPA since 2010, was fired by Executive Director Tony Clark on July 19. His dismissal has been a topic of speculation and has generated outrage from some agents.
Some of the speculation centers around an allegation that Shapiro, who worked with players, agents and the union on arbitration matters, was involved in undermining the MLBPA in its current negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement. The allegation was first alluded to in a July 27 story in The Athletic.
Shapiro, who started representing players at IMG in 1988, said last week, “I will let my 30-year career of representing players speak for itself. I wish the union and the players nothing but the best.”
An MLBPA spokesperson, meanwhile, did not shed any more light on Shapiro’s firing. “There were a number of factors that went into the decision, all of which are internal matters.”
Clark added: “Players are moving forward in a unified way to achieve their objectives.”
Agents, meanwhile, are divided in how they view Shapiro leaving the MLBPA. “It’s the worst thing the union has done in 20 years,” according to one agent, while another said, “The loss of a senior leader within the PA at a time of discord in labor relations is significant. Rick was a dedicated and skilled legal advocate for the players.”
On the opposite side, one agent said: “I couldn’t be happier.”
Those who support Shapiro say the idea he would do anything to undermine the players is ridiculous, adding that he has institutional knowledge that can’t be replaced. Shapiro worked as an outside consultant to the union in the early 2000s before being hired by late MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner in January 2010 as special assistant to the executive director.
Shapiro was involved in bargaining the last two CBAs, in 2011 with Weiner and 2016 with Clark. Those two agreements have been blamed, at least in part, for a cold free-agent market the last two offseasons. That’s why the union and league have begun collective bargaining two years early. The current CBA expires on Dec. 1, 2021.
Shapiro also ran the union’s arbitration department.
The MLBPA informed agents in recent weeks that Greg Dreyfuss, associate general counsel and recently named director of analytics and baseball operations, would head up arbitration and that assistant general counsel Matt Nussbaum would support him. “We’re expediting existing plans to upgrade our salary arbitration program,” a union spokesperson said.
Shapiro, by all accounts, could be gruff, but agents who support him say that those who don’t likely were dressed down by him for not being prepared for an arbitration.
Sports unions being at odds with agents or large sections of the agent community is not new. What’s new is it hasn’t happened in baseball, at least to this extent. MLB agents rarely speak out against union decisions, and although agents are not talking publicly, they are buzzing.
Complicating matters is a widespread belief that powerful MLB agent Scott Boras was involved in Shapiro’s firing or has taken credit for it. Agents who opposed Shapiro’s ousting said they heard from team general managers that Boras was saying he was “running the union.” Those who are happy Shapiro is gone said Boras was claiming to be involved.
Both the union and Boras, however, denied he influenced the union.
“Scott Boras was not involved in the decision,” a union spokesperson said.
Boras, who represents several MLB stars, said he’s not involved in union business other than to advocate for his clients.
“I have dealt with Marvin Miller, Don Fehr, Michael Weiner and now Tony Clark,” he said. “We have meetings regarding the union’s communication of their policies to players and my players’ thoughts and opinions about union matters and the state of the game, which I communicate to the union.
“I have no involvement in union operations, administration or employment decisions. I am an attorney for individual players, and the union represents the collective interests of all major league players. Our roles are completely different.”
One thing agents and others in baseball agree on is that Shapiro and Bruce Meyer, who the MLBPA brought in as senior director of collective bargaining and legal in August 2018, were at odds from the beginning.
Meyer worked for 30 years and was a partner at international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, where he served as outside counsel to the NFL Players Association, the National Basketball Players Association and the NHL Players’ Association before leaving to work directly for a union. Some sources said Shapiro would not work with Meyer, creating an untenable situation. Other sources said that was not true.
Meyer did not comment for this story.
Shapiro would not comment on his relationship with Meyer.
Pressed to tell his side of the story, Shapiro said, “The truth will come out in time.”