By LARRY LaRUE
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
ARLINGTON, Texas – A proud and humble owner of the richest contract in the history of professional sports, Alex Rodriguez put on a Texas Rangers cap and jersey for the first time Tuesday – and said the Seattle Mariners had given him no choice but to wear it.
“The Mariners were never an option,” A-Rod said. “They made a three-year offer with two option years, at about $15 or $16 million a year. Everyone else offered 10 years, they offered three with two options. I was disappointed by the way they handled it.
“When it came down to the wire, it was the Rangers and Mariners. I wanted the Mariners to have the last chance, I felt I owed them that. It’s hard to walk away from people you love, from teammates and a manager you’ve been to war with. They didn’t leave me a choice.”
A day after the Mariners management had issued a statement saying they’d done all they could to keep Rodriguez – and wished him well – they found themselves taking fire from a national forum.
“I always believed Seattle would be the high offer in this process, that they’d make it a very tough decision. When I heard the owner and team president were in Hawaii, I knew it wasn’t going to happen,” Rodriguez said. “I was disappointed. I was hurt. I just walked away.”
With Rangers owner Tom Hicks, A-Rod said, he found something he hadn’t had in Seattle.
“The main ingredient here was the owner. If we stay close this summer, he’ll get us help – a pitcher, a hitter, whatever it takes,” Rodriguez said. “He’s visible, I know him, I can talk to him. That’s a huge factor. I like his commitment.”
Clearly, Rodriguez felt slighted by Seattle’s effort.
“Edgar (Martinez) called me a lot. He was calling me every day,” Rodriguez said. “If the Mariners had recruited me that hard, maybe I’d be with them.”
For all that, the anticipated bidding war for free agent Rodriguez didn’t include the teams he believed would be most interested, and when the Rangers entered the fray, he admitted he was surprised.
“I never thought Texas was an option, I didn’t think much about it until I came here to visit,” he said. There was a lot of giggling in the media about ‘What’s Alex doing there?’ But I told you I was serious.
“In the beginning, I’d heard the Mets, Dodgers and Braves were interested, but I’d never heard that Texas was. When they called, I started to get excited.”
The Dodgers and Mets were never factors, never making offers, Rodriguez said. The White Sox showed interest, but “they got in to late,” he said.
“The Braves made an offer, but they wouldn’t include a no-trade clause, and that was a big factor for me,” Rodriguez said.
For a number of reasons then, he said, it came down to two teams.
“I was in Las Vegas, playing golf all weekend, and I’d been to a show Sunday night,” Rodriguez said. “It had come down to Texas and Seattle.”
The Rangers offered him 10 years and $252 million, Rodriguez said, and the Mariners countered with three years, two one-year options and a total package of well under $100 million.
“Who would have chosen differently?” he asked. “It was no choice at all.”
Since then, Rodriguez said, he’s seen himself labeled ‘greedy’ and owner Hicks called a fool for the contract.
“Because of the money, I’ll have my critics, and I understand that. It’s a lot of responsibility,” Rodriguez said. “I thought I had plenty of money coming into this process. What’ll I do with it? Invest it, take care of my loved ones, take of some charities that mean a lot to me.
“Was it a wise investment by Mr. Hicks? Only time will tell. If we get three or four championship rings, nobody will be calling him a fool. I’m glad the process is over, I thought it would never end. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”
Someone asked Rodriguez if it were hypocritical to chastise Lincoln and Armstrong for not being part of the negotiations when he’d spent his weekend in Nevada, not in Dallas at the winter meetings.
“I’m a ballplayer. I hired an attorney and let him deal with this,” Rodriguez said.
The subject of Safeco Field was raised, and Rodriguez didn’t back away from his comments about moving the fences back there, but insisted it had nothing to do with his leaving the Mariners.
“Safeco Field wasn’t what kept me from going back. I saw what type team they had, and if they want to move the fences back 10 feet, that’s fine,” he said. “In 10 or 20 years, with a different kind of team, they’ll move those fences in.
“When a team hits .210 at home and .310 on the road, something’s wrong.
“I love Safeco Field, but I stand by what I said. You can bring those fences in a bit and it would still be a pitchers’ park, but it would be a fairer park.”
Technically, Rodriguez’s math was a bit off. The Mariners hit .248 at Safeco this season, .289 on the road.
“It’s always been a media circus in Seattle, first with Randy Johnson, then (Ken Griffey) Junior, then me,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to play baseball.”
And then he said something that no Mariner fan will want to hear.
“I hope I’ll be remembered as a Ranger,” A-Rod said.