Exclusive interview with MLB All-Stars: player representation, social media, copyright infringements and much more
LawInSport gets an exclusive interview with Rick Vandenhurk & Chris Dickerson Published 23 November 2012 By: Sean Cottrell
On Friday 16th November, in a London hotel, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet two stars of Major League Baseball (MLB), Rick Vandenhurk, a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates & Chris Dickerson, an outfielders for the New York Yankees. Both where in London as part of the European Big League Tour (EBLT), an organisation founded by Vadenhurk, a Dutch national, who wanted to organise free clinics with All-Stars from the MLB for kids in his home country The Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
With these clinics Vadenhurk wants to promote his sport in Europe and give something back to the game of baseball, which brought him to the highest level of play of his 'American dream'.
Vandenhurk and Dickerson took some time out of their busy coaching and schedules duties to talk to me about player representation, social media and copyright infringement.
I was intrigued to hear their views on some of the differences between American and European sport, especially how the players interact with their Players' Association and how decision making process works considering the well publicised lockouts in the NFL and NHL.
The MLB players are heavily involved in the majority of decisions made by their association and do not rely on others to make their decisions. Dickerson explained: "The meetings with the MLB Players Associations are important. We not talking about what snack players prefer we are talking about things like Collective Bargaining Agreements involving players in this. For example this we meet with David Shapiro the GM for the Cleveland Indians going through packs of information working out how funds can be reallocated to the lower teams. We are talking about revenue sharing; some of the facts are truly astonishing. The payroll of the five lowest teams do not make as much money collectively as one of the top five teams such as New York, Boston, LA teams, etc. So being in those conversations and being able to give our input. We can look at what we can do for the draft and the importance of signing players and the world draft comes into that as you [the teams] can save a lot of money putting a cap on the draft money, which is more likely to have people sign and help to stop top players getting away from the smaller teams."
This sounded like a familiar problem to that experienced in European football where some of the bigger clubs have been accused of poaching talent of the smaller clubs. However, the MLB are taking steps to address this.
Vandenhurk believes that the MLB are doing a great job to even things out: "The way they do this is great. The highest paid teams can't spend what they want to spend and if they go over the salary cap they have to pay a luxury cap and the lower teams get compensated by draft picks. The Players' Association look after this and any other issues in the Collective Bargaining Agreement."
Vandenhurk and Dickerson seemed well briefed on the issues in their sport and the agenda of both the Players' Association and the MLB. I wondered how the Players' Association disseminated information to the players. Particularly when one considers some of the criticism of the Professional Footballers Association has come under in the last few weeks from black players who do not feel truly represented by the organisation. Dickerson's explanation was quite simple: "It's an open forum, anyone is made welcome. If you are in New York where the headquarters are you can just pop in and have meetings about various issues." Vandenhurk backed-up this view: "We take votes. A topic is tabled and we all take a vote on the course of action we want to take." Dickerson then went onto explain that there are two strands of player representation in baseball: 1) the Players' Assocation who protect the rights of the players at the MLB offices; 2) the Players' Trust who take care of all the extra curricular and non-profit charities: "The Players' Association can get involved with charities such as Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI), setup by Kyle Griffin for inner city youth; the Haiti Earthquake Relief Fund where we have reached out to companies so this is something that as players we sign off on. So before coming here I was on the phone with a representative from the Players' Trust asking if we should donate $500,000 to the Haiti Relief Fund. A vote is taken and the players who take the decision." Dickerson made it clear that the players are the ones who table the agenda. When asked why he thinks American sports seem to be more successful at establishing charitable initiates he felt there are two reasons: 1) player ego and 2) the support of the teams:
"Well, when we went to the BBC for an interview, do you know what they said to us? Do you know how many basketball, basketball and American football players who have come to see us?..lots. Do you know how many Premier League football players have? None. Therefore the players may get some traction, but it seems it the teams need to get behind the organisations to make sure they are successful. My organisation [Players For The Planet https://playersfortheplanet.org/?p=15] got a huge start. If it is wasn't for the club there is no way I could have got in contact with players from other teams and get them involved. We did one of them [charitable event] and it was unbelievable. We recycled 275,000 lbs of electronic equipment in three days. We took that success and went to five different teams. It is now a big thing. It is things like that the team really need to be behind. But that goes into all encompassing motive to be more environmentally friendly."
Vandenhurk puts down the success of these initiatives to the structure of the support the players receive: "the structure of the Players' Association, MLB and teams is strong that is why the Players' Association is one of the strongest in the whole of sport." So what lessons can European sports learn from this example? Vandenhurk believes it has to starts with the players: "They need to be approachable, putting the egos aside as these can get in the way. If a player has a good idea organisation should jump to help and as should the other players. Often if one player gets involved others will say, 'Hey, he is doing something positive. How can I get involved?'"
However, given well structured system they have in place I was surprised to find out that they do not receive much in the way of social media training. Vandenhurk only uses it to post updates on the European Big League Tour. However, the League and clubs do give some guidance and players are not allowed to tweet less than 1.5 hours before a game. I would have thought given the prevalence of social media that the clubs and sponsors would be keen put in measures to prevent problems arising similar to that of the Ashley Cole Twitter affair, and many others, in the UK.
Nevertheless both players have been involved in some interesting legal matters recently. Dickerson went on to explain: "In the first two months we received a letter from the Huston Astros as we originally named the program 'We Play Green'. The [Houston] Astros were doing a green program with Waste Management Food doing a project called 'Play Green' which they had filed a right to two months before us. So we had to stand down and find a new name and logo. Then six months ago the Detroit Tigers wanted to do something a green program and they wanted to use our logo which we had copyrighted. They [Detroit] couldn't use it as we had protected the logo and they had a team of lawyers trying to [find a way to] work around it, but without our permission they cannot use it.... Oh, last year I was with [sponsored by] Franklin batting gloves and wore Nike gloves, for whatever reason, and I hit a home run against Seattle from a pitch from Felix Hernandes, the best pitcher in baseball. It was played all over ESPN all day. Franklin flipped and cut the contract right on the spot."
Vandenhurk has had less legal troubles but he was told to remove the stars from around the European Big League Tour logo by the EU as this was a protected trade mark. He has now changed the logo and is pleased with his new "awesome" logo.
I have to admit that I do not have a vast knowledge of baseball, but I will certainly now start to take more of a keen interest.
A special thank you to Gen Gordon, Sponsorship and Marketing Agreement Consultant at Major League Baseball, for helping arrange the interview for LawInSport.
Notes - The European Big League Tour:
During the 2008 and 2009 season, MLB-player Rick Vandenhurk wanted to turn his dream into reality. He wanted to organize free baseball clinics with All-Stars from Major League Baseball for kids in his home country of The Netherlands and the rest of Europe.
With these clinics, the resident from Eindhoven wanted to promote his sport in Europe and give something back to the beautiful game of baseball, which brought him to the highest level of play of his 'American dream'. Next to that, kids could make their dream come true: practice next to players from MLB.
In 2010, Vandenhurks dream became reality. In collaboration with Major League Baseball, the MLB Players Association and a couple of helpful sponsors, the European Big League Tour was born. From across the Atlantic, American All-Stars and coaches came over to show of their skills and experience to the wildly enthusiastic kids. Clinics were held in Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Haarlem and the Belgian Antwerp. They all turned out to be a huge success.
John Baker (C Florida Marlins), Adam Jones (OF Baltimore Orioles), Jeremy Guthrie (RHP Baltimore Orioles), Roger Bernadina (OF Washington Nationals), Gregory Halman (OF Seattle Mariners), Brady Anderson en Kyle Barbour (Strength and Conditioning trainer Arizona Diamondbacks) were the first who helped the EBLT during the clinics in The Netherlands and Belgium.
In its first year, over 1200 kids attended the clinics.
In 2011, the second edition of the European Big League Tour came to the Netherlands with clinics in Utrecht and Amsterdam. Afterward, the tour went on to Prague (capital Czech Republic) and the Italian Parma. Once again, over 1200 young baseball fanatics participated during the clinics.
Mike Stanton (OF Florida Marlins), Dexter Fowler ( OF Colorado Rockies), Adam Jones (OF Baltimore Orioles), Prince Fielder (1B Detroit Tigers), Roger Bernadina (OF Washington Nationals), Greg Halman (OF Seattle Mariners) en Bobby Bonilla (six time All-Star) were the big names who supported the EBLT during the 2011 clinics.
In 2012, the European Big League tour is getting ready for its third edition, and it's going to be a good one. Once again, the EBLT will have the support from MLB, MLBPA and many sponsors.
In November, Rick will show up with great players from the USA to give free clinics for kids who love the game of baseball. We will publish the names of the players as soon as possible. One thing is certain already: the clinics will be held in Rotterdam and London, United Kingdom.
Together with the city of Rotterdam, The EBLT will organize a Master class/ Meet & Greet for Dutch coaches, players, sponsors and media. For the first time, they will have the possibility to speak with the All-Stars and exchange ideas about what is necessary to make it into the big leagues.
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