Monday, October 29, 2007
A-Rod putting himself above the game
By Buster Olney
ESPN The Magazine
Alex Rodriguez couldn't be at the World Series to receive an award from Hank Aaron -- a family commitment was the stated reason -- but he managed to upstage Game 4, with the help of agent Scott Boras, who announced in the early innings that his client is opting out of his contract.
The way this played out could not have been more apropos, because A-Rod needs to be bigger than the game; he needs to be more important than the Red Sox or the Rockies or any other team, or any other player. He is one of the greatest players in history at compiling statistics, the greatest ever at compiling wealth, and his next employer will have to buy into that. The World Series can't matter as much as A-Rod.
Maybe that will work for the Angels, or the Giants, or the Dodgers, or the Red Sox. It is not going to be the case for the Yankees, who were prepared to pay Rodriguez the highest salary in history and couldn't even get him to the negotiating table, after his four tumultuous seasons with the team.
There were some within the Yankees' organization who thought that Boras was bluffing, that there was no way he'd walk away from the Yankee dollars, but there were others who have been convinced for the better part of a year that Rodriguez would sprint away from the team at year's end.
Rodriguez talked intermittently about loving New York and loving his place with the Yankees, but some of his peers within the team thought this was the real bluff. In the end, this meant so little to him that his time with the Yankees didn't end with the requested face-to-face meeting, but with Boras sending a text message with a document attachment to GM Brian Cashman.
It's his prerogative to move on, of course. He has the right to make as much money as he can. But buyers beware: If you buy into A-Rod, well, he has to effectively own your team. He has to dominate your clubhouse. He has to be the story. His salary demands virtually require all of that, because no matter where he goes, A-Rod will likely account for 20-35 percent of his next team's payroll. He must be bigger than the manager, bigger than his teammates.
His pursuit of Barry Bonds' record will be the focal point of your organization, the way that Bonds' chase of Aaron possessed the Giants the last five years.
The Yankees have insisted that they won't chase Rodriguez, and assuming they stick to their word, maybe it's for the best. A-Rod never seemed particularly comfortable playing under the pressure of the Steinbrenner Doctrine, which renders all regular-season statistics meaningless without the validation of a championship.
And some of Rodriguez's teammates were constantly perplexed by him, wondering why he had a knack for melodrama; they were awed by his talent and by his seeming insecurity, which they thought was at the root of his postseason struggles. He has played four seasons in New York and will almost certainly leave after two MVP awards, 173 homers and 513 RBIs, and yet somehow he never seemed to fit in entirely.
Somebody will buy into A-Rod, of course. He's an extraordinary player. The cost will be hundreds of millions, and the heart and soul, of his next franchise.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. He updates his Insider blog each morning on ESPN.com.
Early line on A-Rod
--For Buster Olney's complete list of possible destinations for A-Rod, please visit his blog.
- Angels: Owner Arte Moreno said in the past that devoting a huge share of his payroll to one player -- and with A-Rod, it would be about 25 percent -- is bad business. Maybe he will change his mind.
- Tigers: A big-time sleeper in this, perhaps. Owner Mike Ilitch is loaded, the team has a longstanding relationship with Scott Boras (who represents Magglio Ordonez, Pudge Rodriguez, Kenny Rogers and No. 1 pick Rick Porcello), and the team has demonstrated the willingness to ignore the salary suggestions of the commissioner's office. And it just so happens that Detroit is looking for a shortstop.
- Giants: No other team understands better than San Francisco what it means to build around a prolific home run hitter. A-Rod would put rear ends in the seats of the Giants' park, especially as he draws closer to Barry Bonds's home run record.