- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Alex Rodriguez wields the sort of unselfishness that inspires. Others might think of money, of gaudy championship rings, of Madison Avenue appeal. But A-Rod is thinking of Rangers owner Tom Hicks. "I want what's best for Mr. Hicks, if it were down to the Rangers improving or me being happy," he said Wednesday.
"If the Rangers found they could be better off without me, whether now or a year or two down the road, I'd be willing to sit down and talk."
Bless you, A-Rod. (Sniff, sniff) What sacrifice. And Alex Rodriguez will probably leave the Rangers one day; he'll be the one speeding away from the sinking ship in a solid-gold speedboat. For the good of the Rangers, and for Mr. Hicks, of course. "It's just something that, being my third year here, you want to see improvement," he said, "and I don't know if we have improved over three years. It may be a year or two down the road. And obviously, I don't want to be the one that handicaps this team."
These are Rodriguez's first steps toward forcing his way out of Texas, a predictable divorce; this was like Dennis Rodman hooking up with Liza Minnelli. Once the euphoria of getting the biggest paycheck wore off, Rodriguez was bound to be dissatisfied; it's too bad he didn't have the foresight to realize that 32 months ago. And let's hope he doesn't continue to play his passive-aggressive I-only-want-what's-best-for-the-team schtick. It's embarrassing.
The Rangers didn't have pitching when they signed Rodriguez and it figured to take several years, at least, for the organization to rebuild the staff. When A-Rod signed on, he had to know he was in for some losing -- and he could have played anywhere. If winning was important to him, he could've signed with another team that appeared closer to success.
The Mets' front office has taken some heavy criticism for closing down negotiations with Rodriguez quickly, and A-Rod has talked wistfully about what might have been in New York. But last we checked, agent Scott Boras is not A-Rod's legal guardian. Rodriguez could have simply flipped open his cell phone and called the Mets' owners and pushed them to a deal. It would not have been for $252 million, maybe not for $200 million, but the Mets would have paid a very high price for the game's best player.
But Rodriguez wanted more money, so he turned down Seattle, a well-run franchise coming off a successful season (Part of his objection to the Mariners, incidentally, was the relatively deep dimensions of the outfield fences. A-Rod chose The Bandbox At Arlington, where -- surprise -- pitchers struggle.).
He turned down Atlanta, where they had merely won 10 consecutive division titles. He turned down Baltimore, where he would have replaced his idol, Cal Ripken.
If winning was so important to A-Rod, he could have pushed himself on the biggest winners. Hello, Mr. Steinbrenner, this is Alex Rodriguez. Winning is the most important thing to me, and I know you'll pay me very well, so I'd be thrilled to play third base, alongside my good buddy Derek ....
Rodriguez could have gone anywhere, but he chose Texas, which, at the moment he signed, met his criterion: Biggest offer. Never mind that he'll probably never know the difference between $150 million and $252 million. "You can't spend it in your lifetime," said one player who signed a mega-deal in the last five years. "I could buy six houses, all over the world, have all kinds of toys, take trips, buy clothes, and I cannot possibly spend what I'm going to get."
At the moment Rodriguez agreed to the contract with the Rangers, he could say his contract was worth precisely double that of the previous largest deal, the $126 million contract of the NBA's Kevin Garnett. It's an ego trip that apparently isn't worth that much, however, when you're standing at shortstop in the fifth inning and your team is losing 10-1, day after day.
He should have thought about that 32 months ago. And if winning and Mr. Hicks are so important to Rodriguez now, maybe he'll extend himself in other ways -- renegotiating large chunks of deferred money into his contract, or taking a pay cut so that the Rangers could approach equal value in any trade.
But Rodriguez won't do that. He'll talk more about how much he cares about the Texas franchise -- and devalue it every second as he continues to talk -- and how much he wants the best for Mr. Hicks, and how losing is so hard.
Enough. Stop whining. Honor the commitment.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
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