The players: On the conference call was Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks, general manager John Hart, assistant general manager Grady Fuson, manager Buck Showalter, director of baseball operations Jon Daniels, director of public relations Gregg Elkin and a “crisis management” specialist, on retainer by Hicks.
The subject: Less than one month after a deal with the Red Sox fell through and Alex Rodriguez was made team captain, the cash-strapped Rangers were about to trade the shortstop to the New York Yankees. How were they going to sell this story to the media?
The crisis management expert proposed this: “There has been a breakup and, on this Valentine’s Day, the Rangers and Yankees are trying to make a love connection.”
The suggestion hit the cutting room floor, but the trade went through.
Ten years ago this week, the Rangers changed baseball when they officially sent the player who never wanted to be here and the contract they could never handle to the Yankees in a deal that altered the direction of both teams and the path of one of the game’s most talented men.
A-Rod would go on to win one World Series with the Yankees but further damaged an already sullied reputation that now is nearly ruined. He is sitting out this season for violating baseball’s rules on using performance-enhancing drugs.
The Rangers would successfully remake themselves through scouting and player development, reached two World Series and have become the consistent winner the team thought it would become when it signed A-Rod in December 2000.
This deal is a subject of “The Deal,” a new ESPN 30 for 30 documentary short, which focuses primarily on the Red Sox/Yankees side.
Here is an oral history by some of the major players involved in a period that changed the Rangers forever.
BEGINNING OF THE END:
By the end of 2003, it was apparent A-Rod wanted out despite pledges from Hart that the team would not deal him.
A-Rod’s relationship with Showalter was strained, and Hicks could no longer carry the burden of the player’s 10-year, $252 million contract.
Michael Young, Rangers second baseman: “After the last game of the season in 2003, we were in Anaheim, and Alex had had an MVP season. He told me, ‘This might be it for me here.’ He said the team might want to move him. We had had three really, really bad years, and that was the first indication a trade was on the horizon.”
The Rangers reached out to the Yankees and Red Sox. The Red Sox took the hook, and a deal was set up.
Grady Fuson, Rangers assistant general manager: “At that time, there was the sense that you could not pay one guy on your roster that much more than everybody else and try to do things with your club.”
Young: “They called me and asked me if I would move to shortstop. I was shocked. I had not heard anything about Alex going to Boston.”
The Rangers had arranged a deal to send A-Rod to the Red Sox, likely in return for outfielder Manny Ramirez and pitching prospect Jon Lester. The Red Sox wanted A-Rod to take a reduction in salary by $28 million, which he approved. The union would not, which killed the deal.
Jon Daniels, director of baseball operations: “There was every expectation he would be back with us. We were preparing for him to be our shortstop — no one else was brought in for the possibility of him being dealt subsequently. That only came about after Aaron Boone got hurt.”
On Jan. 16, 2004, Yankees third baseman Boone suffered a torn ACL in his left knee, creating a need in the Yankees infield.
Gregg Elkin, former Texas Rangers media relations director: “We were in New York for Alex to accept the MVP award (on Jan. 25, 2004). Hicks, Hart, Buck and A-Rod had a meeting in a hotel suite where they were going to talk about what they were going to do moving forward. I walked into the suite, and (A-Rod’s agent) Scott Boras was there. This was the meeting where they decided Alex was going to be captain. I remember Alex asking me, and I hadn’t been with the team very long, ‘What do you think about this?’ ”
Hicks was excited and called for a news conference before Rodriguez accepted his MVP trophy. The captaincy was created for A-Rod to somehow make the situation more desirable for him to remain and perhaps ease the strain that existed between him and Showalter, among others.
T.R. Sullivan, longtime Texas Rangers beat writer from the Star-Telegram, and now with TexasRangers.com: “They made him a captain because they wanted to throw him a bone after the deal to the Red Sox fell apart. The relationship with Buck was definitely strained. The relationship with (pitching coach) Orel Hershiser was strained. (A-Rod) got into a big argument with Orel about calling pitches from shortstop.”
The Yankees originally rejected a Rangers’ overture to take A-Rod because they had Derek Jeter at shortstop. On the night A-Rod accepted the MVP award in New York, Yankees team officials broached him. Would he be receptive to moving to third base and playing next to Jeter? He was.
Less than one week before the start of spring training, news leaked that the Yankees were trying to land A-Rod. It was a matter of how much money the Rangers would take and what players they wanted in return.
The Yankees wanted to trade second baseman Alfonso Soriano, and they gave the Rangers a list of available minor-league prospects as the player to be named later. On the list available to the Rangers was 21-year-old infielder Robinson Cano.
Fuson: “The Yanks gave us a short list, and I don’t know if Cano was on it.”
According to the ESPN doc, he was.
Fuson: “John (Hart) sent some scouts into Yankees camp to sit on about three guys, I believe, and (shortstop Joaquin) Arias came out of that.”
The Rangers agreed to take minor-league shortstop Arias.
On Saturday, Feb. 14 — Valentine’s Day — news broke from New York that the Yankees were working on acquiring the defending American League MVP. What was remaining to figure out was the money. The Rangers agreed to pay $67 million of the remaining $179 million still owed to A-Rod.
Daniels: “The Yankees benefited from a dip in the free-agent market in 2002-03. Alex’s contract was marked down to a level perceived as what his current value in the market would have been, but in reality, he was a bargain at $16 million a year, given his production.”
Commissioner Bud Selig reluctantly signed off on the deal, and on Feb. 17, 2004, the Rangers officially traded Alex Rodriguez to the New York Yankees. The Rangers paid A-Rod $140 million for three seasons. In his three seasons in Texas, he hit .305 with 156 home runs, 395 RBIs and one MVP trophy. The team finished in last place all three seasons at 216-270.
Sullivan: “I remember Hicks telling me he was relieved he traded him.”
Fuson: “I know the people who were happy were the people counting the money. But I don’t know about relief because we had just traded away the best player in the game to a team in our league. We had traded away the American League MVP.”
Young: “It was about two weeks into spring training I heard from Alex and he said, ‘How’s it going?’ I said, ‘Thanks a lot, buddy.’ He said, ‘I know you are out of your comfort zone, but it’s a hell of a position to play.’ There were no hard feelings. I just think that Alex felt like it wasn’t the fit he envisioned.”
In an April 2004 interview with ESPN: The Magazine, A-Rod said he would never have signed with the Rangers had “they told me, ‘Alex, it’s going to be you and 24 kids.’ ”
Daniels: “The trade marked a shift toward lowering payroll and going with younger players and a more scouting/development focus. Alex’s quotes after the fact — about him and ‘24 kids’ — reinforced that it was best for both sides.”
In the first year without A-Rod, the Rangers had their first winning season since 1999 and finished 89-73.
In A-Rod’s first year with the Yankees, the team blew a 3-0 series lead against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship series. In Game 6 of that series, A-Rod was called out at first base in the eighth inning when he infamously slapped the ball out of Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove on a close play at first base.
The Red Sox went on to win their first World Series since 1918.
In 2010, the Rangers reached their first World Series by defeating the Yankees in six games in the ALCS. The batter who struck out to end the series in Arlington? Alex Rodriguez.
Young: “Alex thought other guys were going to sign and the Rangers were going to be consistently competitive. The team he wanted to sign with is the team the Rangers are now.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
—A-Rod: Won one World Series with the Yankees in 2009 and AL MVP awards in ‘05 and ‘09. He eventually admitted to taking PEDs while with the Rangers. He recently dropped a lawsuit against MLB and will serve a 162-game suspension for using banned substances stemming from his relationship with the Biogenesis clinic.
—Soriano: Played two seasons with the Rangers, batted .274 with 64 home runs and 195 RBIs. He is 37 and played last season with the Cubs and Yankees.
—Arias: Played in 91 games for the Rangers from 2006-10. Spent the last two seasons with the Giants.
—Hart: Left the team after the 2005 season and remained with the club as a special adviser for many seasons. He is now a special adviser to the Atlanta Braves and is a contributor to the MLB Network.
—Fuson: Left the team after the 2004 season. He returned to the Oakland A’s, where he serves as an assistant to GM Billy Beane.
—Hicks: Put the Rangers in bankruptcy and was officially out as Rangers owner in August 2010.
—Daniels: Replaced Hart as general manager after ’05, where he remains.