Sunday, February 22, 2004

ARod Magnum Opus: What Went Wrong in Arlington

(Greg's note: I wrote this as a way to psychically and emotionally cleanse ARod from my system. I recommend writing a magnum opus for anyone similarly afflicted. I really love ARod on the field. And I was sad he was gone. I feel better now.)

When compared with fans coming from Tarrant County, a disproportionately low number of Ranger fans come from Dallas County, and a disproportionately low number of that group comes from the City of Dallas itself.

Tom Hicks lives in Dallas. When he looked at purchasing the Rangers, his attention focused on Dallas County as an untapped reservoir of Ranger fans. A franchise deal was made with this in mind: increased Ranger attendance from Dallas County would equate to increased Ranger revenue.

Based on his Brett Hull free agent experience, Hicks thought he knew the formula: a star free agent, living in Dallas and being an enthusiastic member of the Dallas community. Dallas would be proud of their star, and Dallas would flock to The Ballpark to watch the star play for the Rangers.

Examples of this dynamic exist all over the sports world: Roger Staubach in Dallas, Brett Favre in Green Bay, Dan Marino in Miami, John Elway in Denver; Julius Irving in Philadelphia, Magic Johnson in L.A; Ozzie Smith in St. Louis, Derek Jeter in New York, Nomar in Boston, Bagwell and Biggio in Houston. Even in Dallas, Brad Davis and Derek Harper and Rolando Blackmon were perfect examples. All continue to live in Dallas; all are respected icons of the community. Brett Hull was another good example. Hull loved living in Dallas, and might of lived there in retirement if he had he not been traded. The fans took to Hull partially for this reason. Which is all how Tom Hick's gaze fell on ARod.

Tom Hick's didn't fully consider that ARod was already a God/icon in Miami, and ARod had no intention of diminishing that status. ARod is approximately as big as Dan Marino in Miami. In the offseason, when he's not on the sidelines of University of Miami football games, and not working out with the University of Miami Baseball Team, ARod works out at his childhood Boys Club, with his childhood Boy's Club Director giving him soft toss and batting tips as needed. Minicams record those workout swings for 10 O'Clock Newscasts. ARod is revered among Miami's Latin community, who read his Spanish Language interviews in the sports sections of their Spanish Language Newspapers. ARod knows the pulse of Miami, and loves to go out to the restaurants and clubs in South Beach, and to hob knob at charity functions and golf tournaments.

Maybe it was impossible to see the impact of this dynamic in advance of signing ARod. For whatever reason, Hicks did not see the full repercussions of ARod's marriage to Miami. Before negotiations began, Hicks laid out his scenario for ARod: Hicks would not pursue ARod unless ARod was willing to wed himself to Dallas, and become Dallas' Superstar. Hicks conducted an elaborate Chamber of Commerce type campaign to woo ARod for Dallas, and to simultaneously woo Dallas for ARod. All parties fell into lust.

And here is the moment ARod began lying to Hicks and treating Dallas like his mistress: ARod promised to divorce Miami and wed Dallas. And he re-promised over and over, even after the contract was signed. Every offseason, ARod ran back to Miami, calling over his shoulder that he would divorce Miami soon, just not right now. When ARod returned the next season, did he go out for fabulous nights on the town with Dallas? No, he did not. He holed up in his Highland Park love-nest and did to Dallas what all men do to their mistress, month after month and year after year.

I specifically remember the ARod contract speculation: How much would it take to sign ARod? $16M/season? No, ARod would break the bank if he came to the Rangers: $18M for sure. If the Rangers really wanted him, they could go to $20M/season and ARod would crawl on broken glass to get to Arlington-- who wouldn't?

We now know ARod was going for the money, and the media salary speculation was very accurate: $18Mish would've likely gotten ARod, $20M would've done the deal almost for sure. But Hicks had that Dallas County revenue stream in mind, and he went higher. Also, somewhere inside the negotiations, Hicks developed ARod fever, just like Jerry Jones had done 5 years earlier with Deion. Like Jones, Hicks began bidding against himself, and eventually went to $25M/season. Who wouldn't have given up everything for ARod? But ARod was a too-smooth Latin lover. A Julio Iglesias for the ages.

Besides not wedding himself to Dallas as promised, ARod had another problem when it came to drawing fans through the turnstiles: ARod is a cool as ice personality. He is not outwardly fiery and swashbuckling on the field of battle-- like a Staubach or a Favre or a Marino or an Elway. He is not earthy in interviews-- like a Ditka or a Barkley or a Warren Sapp, or Curt Shilling or Jeff Bagwell, or...Brett Hull. When ARod failed, he lightly chalked it up to the law of averages. ARod never mourned his failures. He never publicly felt pain over them. Had he done so, it would have bonded him more to the fans. ARod was cool and corporate, which did not arouse passion among Ranger fans in either county. Fans liked ARod, but their like did not energize them to the turnstiles. Rangers' attendance declined every year ARod was here, sinking below 1.7M last season.

And now ARod's Achilles Heel flared up: his ego/selfishness. He was ARod, Goldangit! ARod was the best player in the game. ARod did not deserve to lose!

Every offseason, with ARod's strong encouragement, the Rangers would sign free agents and get their hopes up. Every season their free agents would bomb, and the Rangers would finish in last place, with lower attendance, and more dead money going to injured and useless free agents. All of that dried up the funds for purchasing future free agents, so the future looked steadily bleaker and bleaker. It was a vicious cycle.

Two and a half seasons into ARod's Ranger career, Tom Hicks decided enough was enough, and made a firm commitment to build with young players. This meant 2-3 more seasons of losing, so ARod immediately let it slip that he would accept a trade, followed by: Oops. Just thinking out loud fellas, don't take it seriously. I love being with the Rangers.

Whereupon ARod began to maneuver and conspire behind the scenes to get out of Arlington, and even went over to the Dark Side: becoming a discontented locker room disruption who fought with his manager. Impeccable ARod followed the "me-first" tradition of every jerk-athlete who had come before him: Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds, Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, ARod(and Scott Boras). I believe it was a deliberate attempt to be a pain in the butt so the Rangers would seek to trade him, and would also make him available at favorable terms. In this he succeeded more than admirably. As a bonus, he used his media savvy to come through the process with his reputation unscathed.

ARod left the Rangers and Dallas and Tom Hicks used up and crying in crumpled disarray, as well as responsible for a baby on the way: which is the money Ranger's fans will be sending to New York over the the next 7 seasons, residue of the ARod affair. ARod got the money and the future World Championships and the Pinstriped Immortality. It's easy to see what Ranger fans got, for we are the ones paying 1/3 of ARod's future salary in NY.

At least we know for sure what ARod is worth to a good team: $16M/year-- which is basically what the Yankees will be paying. Ranger fans will be paying ARod a lot of deferred money, and our part equates to maybe $7M-$8M per year(figuring time value of money). Still, it's worth it to get rid of ARod. Relationshipwise, he was no good for us. We'll be better off without him, baby responsibilities and all. It was a hard lesson, but we learned it fully: We will not be dating any more married men. Are you listening, Tom Hicks?

I feel a need to warn New York to watch out. It's not hard to envision more World Championships in NY. It's also not hard to envision ARod working his Machiavellian behind the scenes strategies.

ARod's presence puts a lot of pressure on Jeter and Torre. If Jeter slumps or gets injured, or the Yankees hit a losing streak, there will be an outcry for ARod at SS. ARod might say diplomatic things which will cleverly imply the following:

"I love Jeter, but really we're all in this to win, and I, ARod, ought to be the SS. I love Jeter, and I love his athletic pride, but really he's being selfish by clinging to SS."

ARod would have the advantage of being right about this: he should be at SS. ARod might subtly and masterfully build the pressure on Jeter and Torre, until things finally boil over. Torre could be fired for refusing to replace Jeter. The new manager would put ARod at SS, Jeter at 2B. ARod might skip merrily to SS without facing public blame for his role in the drama. It may not happen, but it's sooooo easy to see it happening. Watch out,New York.

Thus ends the ARod Magnum Opus.

Update: This article (hat tip: Joe Siegler) is exactly what I'm talking about: it speculates about friction between ARod and Jeter. There's no way to know if there's truly friction or not, but this is one of many articles that will speculate about that very thing.

Notice ARod's role, and the role of ARod's Ego, in the entire 2001 spat. Notice also, ARod never said: "You know, I was just wrong to say that, and I'm sorry." Instead, he doggedly tried to justify his statements about Jeter.

Final thought: The best scenario would be if Jeter rose to the occasion, and used ARod's competitive push to sharpen his own play to it's highest level. I love Jeter, and this is my preferred outcome. If it doesn't happen, I will still love Jeter at 2B. I know everyone says Jeter will go to 3B, but he looks like a 2Bman to me.

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