By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
The trade, duplicitous or not, was destined to happen, even before the badly botched flirtation with Boston made it a necessity to send him somewhere, anywhere. There were plenty of rumors about Rodriguez and his act wearing thin. One day he was said to be arguing with his teammates; the next he wasn't talking to his manager. (Buck Showalter denies harboring any resentment. Or even having any to harbor in the first place. When asked if the buzz about having a contentious relationship with A-Rod was overblown, he bristled. "Right," he said, shooting me an uncomfortable glare, "it was.")
The whole saga was a beating, an annoying national story. Every time I turned on the television or the radio or picked up a newspaper, I was confronted by the trade and the fallout and the speculation. Especially the speculation. Qualifications didn't matter; if the pundits had heard of A-Rod, or anyone named Alex for that matter, and were vaguely familiar with the concept of baseball, they broke down the deal and tried to look serious doing it. There was so much analysis, I ran out of legal pads and had to start scribbling notes on scrap paper. It reached a nadir when Kelly Ripa, looking very hot but equally dumb, glanced at a picture of A-Rod in his Rangers uniform and then declared to the TV audience that "he sure looks like a winner to me."
Amazing. He was part of three straight teams with abysmal records. His salary strangled the life out of the organization for years to come. To boot, he could be a pretentious prick at times, an amateur politician who mugged for the cameras when the lights were on but refused to talk to The Dallas Morning News because of a petty beef with columnist Gerry Fraley. A-Rod's skin, though flawless, was also thin.
"He's a phony," one local reporter told me before spring training. "Everybody thinks he's this great guy, but he wants what's best for Alex, and that's all."
Well, he got it. He took his .298 average, 47 home runs, 118 RBIs and his MVP trophy and made off for Gotham. In exchange, the Rangers got second baseman Alfonso Soriano (.290, 38 homers, 91 RBIs; also 19 errors). Oh, and a player to be named later. You can't forget the player to be named later.
"A-Rod is so happy with this trade," ESPN's Tim Kurkjian reported shortly after the deal was done. "If they put him in right field, he'd be fine--just so long as he gets to be on a winning team."
I can see the SportsCentury episode now. A-Rod, dapper in pinstripes, pouring champagne over Derek Jeter's head, laughing and smiling with a championship ring bling-blinging from his finger. It's almost too much to take.
The FAQ around Rangers camp, then, is whether Texas is better off without him. There's no simple answer. In the long run, it's probably best that they moved on. A-Rod's specter was omnipresent, and more than one player told me they expect it to be easier for the young guys to develop their talent and identities without him and the attendant hype.
But it seems that it's awfully hard to get better by subtracting the league MVP. It wasn't the safe play, and the Rangers made people talk in the process, both of which are to their credit. But that doesn't mean it'll work out. The situation feels reminiscent of Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean shortly before the Iowa caucuses--impending doom disguised as a bold move. The bleak truth, at least from the view afforded in Surprise, is that the trade was pretty great for the Yankees, but it doesn't look so fantastic for the rest of baseball, and certainly not for the Rangers (except that it gives them more money to spend in the future).
"Make no mistake about it," general manager John Hart began frankly, "we're getting a good player, a good kid, but he's not Alex Rodriguez."
What he didn't say, at least not blatantly, is that you're stuck now. Those of you who still count yourselves among the number of disaffected Rangers fans will be held hostage by a team that might be worse than it was last year but won't be as entertaining. No A-Rod, no Raffy, no Gonzo, no Carl "I'll punch you in the head so you better shut up" Everett. No fun.
"I sure enjoyed watching Alex play--the fans did, too," Hicks said following the trade. The great thing about that news conference was that the Rangers also announced the re-signing of third baseman Hank Blalock. It was classic redirection, the same stuff used and loved by Jerry Jones. What big trade? Who's talking about that? Don't you know we've signed William Hung of American Idol fame to sing our national anthem? Get your f-ing priorities in order. "I think we'll all look back fondly and say we had three years watching him."
Yeah, 'cause that makes up for the constant losing and abandoned hope. Makes you warm inside, too.