Friday, May 8, 2009

Has Manny Ramirez Violated His Morals Clause?

Yesterday, I was quoted on behalf of SportsJudge in the Wall Street Journal about fantasy disputes that have arisen from Manny Ramirez's drug-related suspension.

Today, Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter contacted me about a real world question stemming from this mess: whether the Los Angeles Dodgers could release Manny Ramirez for breaching his moral clause.

Specifically, Section 7(b) of the Major League Baseball Standard Player Contract states as follows:

The [Major League Baseball] Club may terminate this contract ... if the Player shall at any time ... fail, refuse or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship or to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey the Club's training rules.

Indeed, this language is somewhat ambiguous. It is also not all together clear how it applies in conjunction with the specified drug-related suspensions set forth in baseball's collective bargaining agreement.

However, it seems at least possible that the Dodgers are within their rights to void the remainder of Manny's contract ... at least after Manny's 50-game suspension expires.

For more on Manny and his morals clause, see Eriq Gardner's full article on this topic.

Also, for more on the Manny fallout in general, see SportsJudge writer Rob Burckhard's column, The End to Mannywood.





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3 comments:

nurseandlawyer said...

Thanks for that analysis... I'll be really interested to see what kinds of legal consequences emerge from all this! It seems likely to me that, like many kinds of rules and laws, that language is vague on purpose, which gives the club more flexibility, but might make it harder to prove that something falls under it... it seems pretty clear to me that taking a banned substance could fall under that umbrella. You?

Tim Cedrone said...

Marc,

You make some great points. Personally, I think the Dodgers would have recourse under the clause, and particularly the parts that read "fail...to conform his personal conduct to the standards of...good sportsmanship" and "fail...to obey the Club's training rules." One would assume the Dodgers have a rule in place requiring players to follow all MLB policies, including the drug and steroid policy.

Unfortunately, I would venture to say that if a player is ever terminated via a morals clause, the public would likely not learn the details of any decision rendered after full litigation. This would be particularly true in the NFL, where players must bring grievances under the CBA if they wish to contest their termination. Grievance arbitrations typically are private in nature, and so if a player were cut, the general public would likely not find out why an arbitrator ruled the way he/she did on a morals clause issue.

marc edelman said...

Tim,

Great points. However, in the NFL substance grievances are heard by a member of the league front office, and not a neutral. As a result, in at least one Minnesota case the players have challenged an arbitrator´s ruling into Minnesota district court. As a result, more information might actually become available.

Nurse of Lawyer, I think it is possible that Manny´s conduct falls under the umbrella, however, before I could speak in a definitive manner, I would need more facts as well as knowledge of how a court would interpret these ambiguous clauses.

Either way, it has always been my position that it should be much easier for a team to void a player contract than to allow a league to suspend a player. This is because when a decision is made on the team level it does not preclude that player from practicing his profession nor interfere with the free workings of labor markets.