By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
He does, in fact, have time, but only if you're the right kind of person--namely Evan Grant, the beat writer from The Dallas Morning News. Aside from an Associated Press reporter, Grant is the only scribe in Surprise to score the biggest Rangers interview of spring training--an audience with Rogers, the 40-something All-Star pitcher turned curmudgeon. In place of professionalism, Rogers has become cantankerous, posting a sticker on his locker in plain view that pretty much sums up his current position:
"My Shitty Attitude Is None Of Your F#&%ing Business."
Right. Got it.
Rogers, it would seem, is still hot over the way things unfolded (or didn't) for him in the off-season. A few months ago, Rogers, who went 18-9 last year and won his third Gold Glove in five seasons, had a private conversation with Hicks in which he asked for more money. On this, both parties agree. It is the only thing on which they agree.
The dispute stems from whether Rogers--who is in the final season of a two-year $6 million deal--threatened to walk out and retire if more money and/or more years weren't added to his contract. (None of that came to pass--the Rangers denied his request and Rogers reported to camp on time.) Rogers, through his interview with Grant, denied it went down like that. He said he never issued an ultimatum with an "I'll quit and screw you as a result" kicker. The Rangers, through a piece written by T.R. Sullivan in the Star-T(the first story to detail the private conversation thanks to a leak from within the organization), say otherwise--which is what pissed Rogers off and is why he isn't talking to the vast majority of the media here. In fact, Rogers was so livid that, when a reporter working for a different outfit called him on his cell phone shortly after the Star-T piece ran, Rogers allegedly threatened to kick his ass and called him a "motherfucker." (Again, Rogers declined comment.)
This isn't the first time that Rogers and the Rangers have had a falling-out. Despite the fact that Rogers is one of the longest-tenured Rangers in club history, he lashed out at them last season following the A-Rod trade, criticizing Hart for dealing one of the game's best and saying that it wasn't "what I signed on for."
As with anything else, there are two sides to this story. Somewhere in the middle is the truth. Or maybe the truth is forever lost, deleted and replaced with the selective memories of the parties in question. It's become a lot like that game we played as children--whisper down the lane. You line a bunch of people up in a row. The first person whispers a word into the ear of the guy sitting next to him--apple, let's say. By the time it reaches the person sitting at the end of the line, it's been twisted and reworked--maybe by accident, perhaps by design--so that it doesn't come out apple at all, but something radically different.
That has people around here wondering something else: What if the team leaked the retirement story as a pre-emptive strike, as a big fat fuck-you to the pitcher and his dervish of an agent, Scott Boras? (Boras also declined to talk to the Observer. When reached on his cell phone, he followed the Kenny Rogers blueprint for PR tact, saying: "I don't know who gave you this number, but don't you ever call it again." Then he hung up.) It's plausible that it wasn't an accidental leak but rather a masterful, Machiavellian attempt to control the spin on the part of the Rangers--get out in front, make Rogers look like the bad guy. If that's the case, it would make Hart a sort of baseball Lyndon Johnson. (Johnson, as lore and the History Channel have it, once told his aides to leak a story to the press saying that one of his opponents was a pig fucker or something similarly vile. His aides bristled, pointing out to LBJ that it was a lie. "I know that," Johnson supposedly said, "but let's make the bastard deny it.") However it unfolded, public opinion was overwhelmingly in the team's favor on not caving to the Old Man's contract demands.
But beyond that, regardless of who said what and to what end, isn't this a supreme distraction for the club on the whole? And if the team and Hart created that distraction in an effort to shape public opinion, shouldn't they get crucified for it?
"No--because it didn't happen that way," Hart says. "There's been a lot made that, well, we've got to go out and spend money. At some point you do go out and make a decision based on what's best for the organization.
"Listen, I think we're all in unison. We said a ton of good things about Kenny before we made this decision--Kenny's a great guy; he's in great shape; he's left-handed; he represents the franchise well. But from a business standpoint, 10 days before spring training, to say we're going to make a big commitment, we just didn't see that as the right thing to do for the Rangers. Players understand it's a business. The club understands the business. We are a baseball group--we pull for our players; we care about our players; we try to do everything first-class. But at some point you do have to make decisions that may not be popular with a player or players. You can't always make everyone happy. If you do it professionally and do it the right way, that makes it easier.