T.R.’s Memoirs: No one took Rangers’ pursuit of Alex Rodriguez seriously — until they signed him
(The Associated Press/LM Otero)
Editor’s note: T.R. Sullivan retired after 32 years over covering the Rangers, the longest tenure of any beat writer in club history. He is contributing his memories to our website. In the latest installment, T.R. recounts the events leading up to Alex Rodriguez signing with the Rangers in December of 2000.
Alex Rodriguez, in Arlington on a free-agent visit, had lunch in the Rangers clubhouse on Monday, Nov. 27, 2000. Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves took note of that in his column the next day.
“I’m afraid that’s as close as he’ll ever come to Rangers uniform,” Revo wrote.
No doubt most readers nodded their head in agreement when they read Revo’s insights into Rodriguez’s “recruiting visit” as a free agent in the winter of 2000. Rodriguez was a highly coveted free agent, and the Rangers were supposedly in the running. That’s why Rodriguez was in town, but …
Who was anybody kidding? Owner Tom Hicks?
“We’re going to give it our best shot,” Hicks said.
Two years earlier the Rangers had given it their best shot with Randy Johnson, only to see him sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Of course, Johnson made his permanent home in Phoenix, but … .
By the time Rodriguez showed up in Texas on his much-hyped recruiting visit, Rangers fans had become hardened to a few realities over the years:
The biggest names in free agency just didn’t want to play in Texas.
Even if they did, Rangers owners were never too eager to pay what it took to get them.
“But this is a new regime,” insisted Hicks, who had taken ownership of the Rangers just 2 ½ years earlier.
There was that. When Hicks purchased the Rangers for $250 million from the previous ownership group headed by George W. Bush and Rusty Rose, he brought the aura of a highly successful businessman unafraid to play at the highest financial levels in the game.
Hicks had a commanding, almost intimidating presence: 6-foot-4, well-spoken and well-dressed. This is what a true business tycoon looked like. Yes, he could be intimidating, but actually Hicks had an engaging, friendly way about him and could be quite accommodating with the media.
We all had his private number, often to the great dismay of his general managers.
In the offseason after the 2000 season, Hicks was at the height of his popularity with the DFW sports world. The Stars, which he also owned, had won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and the Rangers had won division titles in his first two years as owner. They fell to last place in 2000, but there was much confidence in Hicks among the Rangers fan base, an owner perceived to be flush with cash who could hold his own against free-spending Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and others.
The Bush-Rose ownership group did not enjoy that reputation. Part of that was Bush kept saying they were not handing out blank checks. Instead, Bush held forth to the mantra of being “good stewards” as owners.
Rangers fans perceived that philosophy of being … well, “cheap” would be too strong. Frugal or careful with their money would be more like it. The perception was not particularly fair.
During the Bush-Rose era, the Rangers acquired Jose Canseco and his hefty contract, and did sizable deals with Will Clark, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez and John Wetteland. The perception of being cheap particularly rankled club president Tom Schieffer.
In February of 1994, the Rangers signed Gonzalez to a seven-year, $45.45 million contract, a princely deal at the time. It was the largest contract ever given out by the Rangers.
But before the ink dried on the contract, it was being suggested in the media that the Rangers needed to show how serious they were by signing pitchers Kevin Brown and Kenny Rogers to long-term deals as well. That one really made Schieffer furious considering the commitment made to Gonzalez.
Now Bush was getting ready to move into the White House and Schieffer was headed Down Under to be ambassador to Australia. Hicks was in charge and had his eyes on the biggest prize on the free-agent market.
Hicks wanted Alex Rodriguez. The drama would be quite public, played out on the local stage of the annual winter meetings being held at the Dallas Anatole, just a couple miles away from both Hicks’ office and Highland Park mansion.
On the opposite end of the negotiating table was Scott Boras, far and away the most powerful and successful attorney/player agent in the game. Boras had no equal back then, still doesn’t today, and there may never be anybody like him. No doubt the vast majority of teams certainly hope that is the case. There are still some organizations that simply refuse to draft, trade for or sign a player who is represented by Boras.
Hicks had no such reservations. In fact, a perception would eventually develop that Hicks and Boras were too cozy.
But, as far as Rodriguez was concerned, his destination seemed predetermined once the 2000 season ended and the offseason began. Everybody just knew where Rodriguez was headed.
He was going to sign with the New York Mets. No question. It was a slam dunk, a foregone conclusion.
Mets strike out
The Mets and Alex Rodriguez were ripe for each other. It seemed like the perfect fit as the offseason opened.
The Mets, led by manager Bobby Valentine, had just gone to the World Series for the first time since 1986. Their loaded lineup included catcher Mike Piazza, first baseman Todd Zeile and third baseman Robin Ventura. They needed a shortstop, and Rodriguez …
Well, he was 25 and one of the best players in the game, maybe the best with the possible exception of Barry Bonds. In 2000, Rodriguez hit .316 for the Mariners with 134 runs scored, 41 home runs, 132 RBIs and a .631 slugging percentage. He was also 11 years younger than Bonds.
The Mets were also strictly second fiddle in New York. The Yankees had won their fourth World Series in five years, led by charismatic shortstop Derek Jeter.
They owned the town.
Rodriguez could have helped change all that. He also made no secret he wanted to play for the Mets. Rodriguez professed to be a Mets fan growing up, with Keith Hernandez being his favorite player.
All signs pointed toward the Mets, except a funny thing happened on A-Rod’s way to Queens.
That November, Boras had a face-to-face meeting with Mets general manager Steve Phillips. The sit-down took place in November at the annual general managers meetings, which are always the precursor for the much bigger winter meetings in December.
It is at the November meetings where GMs initiate discussions with clubs and agents about their plans for the offseason. That’s what Phillips was doing when he met with Boras at Amelia Island in Florida.
There is no official transcript of the meeting. Versions differ as to what was said. But what was clear was the Mets made a decision after the meeting that they would not pursue Rodriguez.
At that point, it was established that Rodriguez was looking for $20 million-$25 million annually over 10-12 years. That was far more than Kevin Brown’s seven-year, $105 million pact Boras negotiated with the Dodgers just two years prior.
Allegedly there were other demands, including the use of a private plane, a major billboard presence around Shea Stadium, a marketing tent in spring training, extra administrative staff to tend to Rodriguez’s needs and the necessary office space to accommodate them.
Phillips, in announcing his decision to the New York media, said he was concerned Rodriguez would turn the Mets into a “24-plus-one team.” Phillips also didn’t want it to destroy the “fabric of the team.”
Pursuit of A-Rod
Scott Boras hardly seemed concerned. He announced at the GM meetings there were 16 teams interested in Rodriguez. The Rangers weren’t one of them according to Simon Gonzalez, the Star-Telegram backup baseball writer who was covering the meetings. (I never covered the GM meetings because I needed the time off after a long season followed by postseason.)
Gonzalez, after interviewing GM Doug Melvin, wrote in the Nov. 7, 2000, edition of the Star-Telegram: “Melvin said the Rangers aren’t one of them because of [Rodriguez’s] contract demands, which could approach $20 million a season. Club officials believe only a handful of teams can combine the interest with enough money to woo the talented free agent.”
That was on a Tuesday. That same day, Melvin had his own face-to-face meeting with Boras and emerged with a different perspective on the subject. Suddenly, 24 hours later, the Rangers were no longer completely ruling out going after Rodriguez.
“It was a good conversation,” Melvin said. “I got a sense of what he’s looking for. I think we meet a lot of the criteria.”
As the winter meetings approached, the Mets were still considered the slight favorites even despite Phillips’ vow they would not re-engage with Boras. The Yankees were considered a threat because of their deep pockets. But, at least at that time, Rodriguez made it clear he wasn’t moving off shortstop, not even for Derek Jeter.
Other teams? The Braves were prominently mentioned even though their shortstop, Rafael Furcal, had just won National League Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers were as well. They were owned by Fox, which had deep pockets and a heavy payroll. The Rockies and the White Sox were on the list, and, of course, so were the Mariners, hoping to have a “home-field” advantage in the process.
After the GM meetings, Rodriguez and Boras started doing recruiting visits, including Nov. 26-27 in Texas. Rodriguez met with Melvin, manager Johnny Oates, hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo and several players including Rafael Palmeirio, Rusty Greer and Kenny Rogers. Rodriguez got a full-court presentation on the Rangers’ farm system and the future of the organization on and off the field.
You have to remember that in 2000, the Ballpark in Arlington was six years old and there were still grandiose plans to develop the land around the stadium. On paper, those plans were dazzling to the extreme. In reality, they never got off the drawing board.
Most amusing was Rodriguez had dinner with Mike Modano, star of Hicks’ hockey team. Rodriguez was not a big hockey buff, but Modano was able to give him all the reasons why playing for Hicks was a good thing.
Hicks and Rodriguez hit it off for one simple reason. Rodriguez viewed himself much more than a baseball player. Rodriguez was intrigued with the business world and saw himself high on more than one corporate ladder even while he was playing baseball and long after he was finished.
When it was all over, Rodriguez held a press conference and was at his corporate best, spit and polished in his best Dressed For Success tailor-made suit and tie. He said all the right things as smoothly as possible.
“I am really beginning to think about the Texas Rangers for the very first time,” Rodriguez said.
And almost nobody believed it. The whole scene appeared to be nothing more than a dog-and-pony show. The smart money believed Rodriguez and Boras were trying to lure the Mets back into the game before the winter meetings began in two weeks.
Then, I had a late-night, off-the-record phone conversation with Boras about a week before the winter meetings began. He insisted the Rangers had a real chance.
“T.R., the meeting in Texas went extremely well,” Boras said. “Extremely well. Texas has a hell of a shot. It all depends on if Tom Hicks is willing to step up and do what it takes.”
Four days in Dallas
The winter meetings began on Friday, Dec. 8. On that first day, Phillips reiterated the Mets’ stance on Rodriguez
“We’re out and we’re not getting back in,” Phillips said. “We’re not going down that road.”
The rumor going around was the Dodgers were also not getting involved because of a bloated payroll. Boras continued to insist there were as many as eight teams involved, but it seemed clear the Rangers, Braves and Mariners were at that top of the list. The Rockies dropped out when they signed pitcher Mike Hampton, but the White Sox were still thought to be hanging around.
Nobody, though, knew for sure.
The Rangers opened up the meetings on Friday by signing free-agent slugger Andres Galarraga to be their designated hitter. Next on the list were third baseman Ken Caminiti and pitcher Mark Petkovsek. The Rodriguez saga seemed to go quiet for a few days while other business was transacted.
Then came Super Bowl Sunday. Hicks arrived at the Anatole to meet face-to-face with Boras.
It was game on, with all the action being conducted behind closed doors in the guest rooms upstairs. The media and the rest of the baseball world hung out in the lobby waiting for whatever scraps of news, rumors and gossip that presented itself.
Bits and pieces trickled out like Chinese Water Torture. Star-Telegram columnist Gil LeBreton was there helping to work the story. So was Scott Monserud, the Star-Telegram baseball editor. The Dallas Morning News had the full-court press on along with every prominent baseball writer in the industry. Everybody was working their sources, trying to figure out where Rodriguez was going.
A Mariners official told me his club was out. The Mariners were offering $94 million over five years and that wasn’t going to work. Rodriguez later said it was actually two years and three options, a lack of commitment that was a deal-breaker for him.
Around 5 p.m., Hicks suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I found him just outside the main entrance to the Anatole. He was going home to have dinner with his family, then he was coming back. The negotiations were intense.
“I’m glad I do this for a living,” he said.
As for the Rangers chances …
“My understanding is it’s between us and Atlanta,” Hicks said.
Sometime later, I learned it wasn’t going to be the Braves. A source with the Braves related to me a meeting held upstairs in their war room.
Manager Bobby Cox really wanted Rodriguez and told general manager John Schuerholz, “We have to give this our best shot.”
Said Schuerholz, “Bobby, we already have.”
It appeared that everybody had dropped out but the Rangers.
Early in the evening, Boras walked through the lobby and was mobbed by reporters. I managed to get in a question about the Rangers being either the favorites or the last team standing.
“Texas has put a lot of work into it and so have we,” Boras said. “It’s hard to say right now, though. It’s very competitive and a complicated process.”
One obstacle appeared to be the “out clauses” that would allow Rodriguez to elect to become a free agent at certain points in the contract. The Rangers were balking at that.
Later in the evening, I reached Johnny Oates by phone. He told me the two sides were talking about a $240 million deal over 10-12 years.
“At least that’s what I’m hearing,” Oates said.
Newspaper deadlines approached with no resolution in sight. Finally, in the final hour, a source said the Rangers were going to get him, but nothing was official. It was time to file a story for the Star-Telegram.
My lead was this:
“Alex Rodriguez is on the verge of joining the Texas Rangers for what would be the largest contract in sports history.”
I added at the end of the second paragraph, “there is a strong possibility an agreement will be announced today.” And then I laid out all the evidence.
I sent the story in that Rodriguez was on his way to Texas, and the Star-Telegram went to press to be delivered to 300,000 people the next day.
Then, around 12:30 a.m., Boras showed up in the media workroom and I immediately grabbed him.
“Do you have a deal done with the Rangers,” I asked anxiously.
“No, it’s not done,” Boras said. “There are still five teams involved.”
My heart literally sank. I couldn’t believe it. Five teams? No way.
“T.R., I’m telling you, there are still five teams involved,” Boras said.
Meanwhile, ESPN was telling the world that the Fort Worth Star-Telegram was reporting Alex Rodriguez was on the verge of signing with the Rangers.
Monserud, LeBreton and I talked among ourselves. We started second-guessing the decision to go so hard on the story. We seemed so absolutely sure at deadline, and now … .
Now, if Rodriguez signed with another team, my next assignment would be covering Paschal High School football.
Finally, somewhere around 1:30 a.m., there was nothing to do but go home. It was time to make the 30-minute drive back to Plano.
I walked through the vast lobby of the Anatole and saw Jeff Moorad, another super-agent who represented Will Clark and Manny Ramirez. We had an excellent relationship. Moorad was in a corner talking to Phillips — of all people — and waved me over.
“What’s the story,” he asked. “Is it done?”
“That’s what I’m writing,” I said. “But you know your buddy Boras [actually, they hated each other], he can be tough to deal with.”
Moorad laughed, but I wasn’t in a joking mood.
“I wrote that Rodriguez is going to sign with the Rangers,” I said. “But if I’m wrong, I am going to be covering high school football.”
They laughed. I barely knew Phillips, but then he said something I will never forget.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said quietly with a knowing smile. “Stick to your guns. You’re going to be fine.”
That made me feel slightly better. I finally got home at 2:30 in the morning. My wife Helen — an award-winning newspaper woman from way back — was still awake. I told her what was going on. I also told her that if I was wrong, I would be back to covering Paschal again.
“You’ll be fine,” she said, reassuringly.
Early Monday morning, I went back to the Anatole, where I ran into Star-Telegram columnist Jim Reeves and Braves scout Jim Fregosi. Revo asked Fregosi if he had heard anything.
“All I know is the agent called us this morning and said we were out of it,” Fregosi said. A flood of relief washed over me.
The Braves, in fact, were out of it. The deal had been done the night before. It was done even before Boras had stepped into the media workroom and popped my bubble. He just hadn’t told the other clubs, which was the reason for his late-night denials.
The Rangers had landed Rodriguez for a 10-year deal worth $252 that gave him the right to opt out after seven years. The official press conference was held that night, although Rodriguez was not there.
His press conference was held early Tuesday afternoon at the Ballpark in Arlington.
“You guys didn’t think I was serious about playing in Texas,” Rodriguez said. “I guess you’ll take me seriously now.”
He also said, “I love the hot weather. It reminds me of Miami.”
One problem. It was not hot in North Texas on Dec. 12, 2000. As Rodriguez was being introduced in Arlington, a winter storm was headed straight to DFW and it was going to bad.
My original plan was to write my story at the Ballpark and then make the 45-minute drive to Plano. Instead, I decided to beat the weather. Again, I jumped in my car and started out around 4 p.m. for what should have been a 45-minute drive to Plano.
But then …
The ice and snow hit with a fury. DFW traffic was reduced to a crawl. My cell phone was running out and, no, I did not have a car charger. By 7 p.m., I was stuck on Preston Road somewhere in the North Dallas/Richardson area with no chance to get home anytime soon.
On top of all that, we had early deadlines. All newspapers do when there is bad weather. I needed to be done by 9 p.m., and there was no chance of that stuck on Preston Road. Wifi did not exist.
I talked to Monserud with the last drops of my cell-phone power. He suggested I find a pay phone somewhere and just dictate my quotes. They would write the story in the office and we would be good.
I found a sports bar on Preston, and it had a pay phone. It was in a small hallway in the back with the men’s room on one side and the woman’s room on the other. There was no light in the hallway, though, for me to read my notebook.
So, I dialed the number, held the phone in my right hand, my notebook in my left, stretched out and held the door to the men’s room open with my foot.
And read off my Rodriguez quotes.
There was another famous quote that was applicable that night, although I did not realize it at the time.
“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit in our lifetime.”
That was said by the British foreign secretary on the eve of World War I.
Soon, all Rangers fans would understand the meaning.