Oh, poor neglected Pay-Rod

  • JOHN MCGRATH / The News Tribune
  • Wednesday, December 13, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

By JOHN MCGRATH

The News Tribune

Shame on you, Howard Lincoln. I hope you’ll be able to sleep tonight, Chuck Armstrong.

And just because you’d rather remain behind the scenes in Japan, Mr. Yamauchi, doesn’t exonerate you, either. Have you no sense of decency, sir?

All these months I had been duped into believing you men were extending Alex Rodriguez the simple courtesies he merited as – to borrow the term agent Scott Boras uses to describe his most celebrated client – an icon. All these months I figured you were trying to convince Rodriguez he belonged in Seattle. Turns out, your hollow gestures and empty platitudes masked an indifference toward Rodriguez’s never-ending battle to feel good about himself. Oh, sure, you extended him the standard lowball offer, as if putting $95 million in the pockets of a 25-year old, to spend a few seasons in Safeco Field, was supposed to impress him.

Gentlemen, $95-million is not an offer. It is a little something to help pay the heating bill.

“They didn’t give me a choice,” Rodriguez groused Tuesday. “They didn’t give me an option.”

Then again, the Mariners didn’t give Rodriguez a lot of things during their doomed, spectacularly inept contract courtship of the free agent. Would it have cost too much to deliver The World’s Greatest Baseball Player a fresh fruit basket every morning? A truckload of the world’s finest table wines?

And why wasn’t anybody dispatched to Rodriguez’s Miami home to oversee his daily sponge bath? We’re talking about a ballplayer who finished the 2000 season with only 12 fewer RBI than Mike Sweeney, and merely six homers behind Troy Glaus. And the Mariners don’t even think of sending a care-provider brandishing a terrycloth robe and a selection of towels embroidered with Rodriguez’ initials?

That’s an outrage.

Ever the gamer, Rodriguez never would dwell on the painful snubbing he endured before joining a team that actually respects him. But he was only being honest during the Tuesday press conference that heralded his arrival in Texas when he said of the Mariners: “I’m a bit disappointed in the way they handled the situation.”

When Rodriguez first showed up in Texas for an exploratory tour of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, Rangers owner Tom Hicks picked up his bags at the airport. That a billionaire mover and shaker – Hicks is a personal friend of George W. Bush – was there to spare Rodriguez the indignity of having to tip a redcap is the sort of symbolic act of kindness the beefbrained Mariners never considered.

As Boras put it: “Alex spent eight years in Seattle and never met the owner.”

That would be Hiroshi Yamauchi, who clings to this outdated notion that donating millions to preserve a franchise where it belongs ought to be the extent of his involvement.

Get real. Owners are supposed to be meddlesome cads with a cell phone attached to their ear. They’re supposed to slap backs and shake hands and distribute pink slips to support staffers three days before Christmas. They’re supposed to behave, in general, as if they invented the game.

In lieu of a conspicuous hands-on owner, the Mariners regard Lincoln as their corporate point man. Some point man. While Rodriguez was mulling over contract-extension proposals the Mariners initiated 14 months ago, Lincoln had the audacity to take a Hawaiian vacation he’d planned for a year.

“When their owner and president were vacationing in Hawaii,” Rodriguez said, “I knew that was it.”

The Mariners showed up at Rodriguez’ house with a traveling party that included manager Lou Piniella and recently rehired consultant Lee Elia, a 42-season baseball man who served as Rodriguez’s hitting instructor in those days before A-Rod became infatuated with smashing home runs

Nothing against 42-season baseball vets, but, gads, you’re trying to pitch the future to Alex Rodriguez, and the best you can do is show up with Lee Elia? How many future White House residents does he know? A lesser athlete probably would be scarred for life, finding out that the corporate purse-string operator was relaxing on a beach instead of begging at his superstar’s feet. But the harrowing episode served to toughen Rodriguez.

“Hopefully, when it’s all said and done,” he mused, “people will just remember me as a Ranger.”

Wise words. If there’s any justice, A-Rod’s five summers in Seattle will be looked upon as a modest preface to the main volume, a trivia item as inconsequential to the big picture as Sean Connery’s days as a truck driver, or Ronald Reagan’s as a baseball announcer, or Muhammad Ali’s as a sign painter.

It’s little solace, I suppose, but at least we’ve been enlightened about the rest of the story. Had Rodriguez simply chosen to say, “I enjoyed Seattle, but it was time to move on,” who’d have known the depth of his disillusionment?

On behalf of Mariners fans throughout the Pacific Northwest, Alex, permit me to apologize for being unworthy of your royal presence, for impeding your destiny like so much frost on a spring blossom. In short, for being hicks, when the world now knows you belonged, all along, with Hicks.

P.S. See you in April!

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