A-Reck

I’ve never made any secret about the disdain I feel for Bud Selig and Scott Boras; I feel both are negative influences on the game and baseball will be far better off once they’re out of the picture.

Now if we could only do something about Jeffrey Loria and David Samson.

But I digress.

Anyway, the more I think about it, the more I think Scott Boras has been a very destructive influence on Alex Rodriguez.

Oh sure, he’s helped him make a ton of money but I think it’s safe to say that his skills would have made him a wealthy man regardless of who represented him as an agent. Nevertheless, I do think that absent Boras, Rodriguez might be a better player and certainly he would be better liked.

It goes far beyond 252, although it did play a factor. His free agency at the end of the 2000 season was a definite turning point for A-Rod insofar as being both a baseball player and an icon.

Of note, when he was with the Seattle Mariners, it was Ken Griffey Jr. and not Rodriguez that was king in the clubhouse. A-Rod enjoyed a single season as “top dog” (although he would have had to share that status with Edgar Martinez) and after he left as a free agent there weren’t all the stories about the special privileges he enjoyed there as there were when Junior was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds. The slugging shortstop assumed a leadership role on the 2000 Mariners, and it appears that he wasn’t given the type of perks and privileges that would cause other players to resent him in the Pacific Northwest.

However, when he became a free agent, Boras made it known that a team would have to move heaven and earth to land him—it was entirely about what a club could do for Alex Rodriguez; as Boras put it, it was about ‘their desire to bring A-Rod to them.’ Allegedly he demanded a long list of perks from the New York Mets, and even though Boras denied asking for such things, he did get a lot of them out of the Texas Rangers.

Did these perks originate in the mind of Boras or Rodriguez?

While it might be tempting to blame A-Rod for such outrageous demands, don’t forget, Boras is always looking to push the envelope insofar as contracts go (and few free agents have ever enjoyed the leverage he had) and made sure the deal with Texas included escalator clauses and opt outs. Boras is going to ask for the moon since it helps him recruit players to his stable. Heck, when one considers how badly Rodriguez wants to be liked, it’s hard to imagine that he could sit down one day and come up with a long list of items of special treatment that he would want on his own.

I’m willing to bet that Boras seeded the young man’s mind about what he could get and what he’d be worth to a club; oh sure, I’m not saying that Rodriguez might have a few goodies in mind himself but the scope and extent seems out of place for a 25-year-old baseball fanatic who wouldn’t even be entirely certain of what might be available.

Ironically, it was shortly after the contract was signed that Rodriguez—with Boras at his side—made the comments to Esquire magazine downplaying Derek Jeter’s contributions to the Yankees’ success.

I wonder who put the comparisons to Jeter in his mind in the first place? Here’s his remark: “Jeter’s been blessed with great talent around him … He’s never had to lead. He can just go and play and have fun. And he hits second—that’s totally different than third and fourth in a lineup. You go into New York, you wanna stop Bernie [Williams] and [Paul] O’Neill. You never say, Don’t let Derek beat you. He’s never your concern.” That always sounded to me like something Boras might say to an owner or general manager on selling why Rodriguez is a more valuable property to a team (hence worth more money) than a guy with four rings.

Regardless, Rodriguez was made king in the Arlington clubhouse and his every wish would be somebody’s command. To his credit, A-Rod wanted to live up to the contract and allegedly his desire to do so is what got him dabbling in anabolic steroids.

He had this environment for three years; by the time he reached the Yankees, the concept of getting his own cup of coffee was foreign to him. He had gotten into the habit of saying jump and having someone on hand ask “how high?” Further, when you consider the close relationship between Boras and the Rangers during this period of time it’s reasonable to conclude that the care and keeping of one Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez was a frequent topic of conversation.

It was in Texas that Rodriguez would’ve become truly obsessed with his stats and conditioned to think that’s all that matters. After all, great stats translate into winning baseball—who is gonna argue that a Gold Glove shortstop that can clobber 50 home runs isn’t a huge asset to a winning team?

One problem though–despite his amazing numbers in Arlington, they were accumulated in an almost stress-free environment. In 2001, the Rangers were 16 games out of first place on May 15 and went 15-20 over the next 35 games. The following season they were nine out on May 16 and again went 15-20; in 2003, Texas was again nine out (albeit on May 15) and despite a seven-game winning streak that gained them but one game in the standings, they went 4-23 thereafter tumbling to 23 games back.

In short, the Texas Rangers were never in it, and by the time June 1 rolled around, there was nothing left but to focus on his own numbers. After all, in his mind they were paying him all that jack to put up huge totals; that would be his contribution to winning baseball.

However, that’s three years of being treated like a king and never facing any real pressure to perform where the team is counting on you to carry them to the promised land. The club is playing out the string long before the All-Star break.

With the trade from the Rangers to the Yankees he was dropped from an almost pressure-free environment where all he had to worry about was accumulating gaudy stats to the ultimate pressure cooker where nobody gives a damn what your numbers are and the expectation is winning the World Series or bust. This was a place where the team had won six pennants and four world championships in the previous eight seasons and was coming off a stinging six-game loss to the Florida Marlins. They didn’t expect A-Rod to hit 50 bombs—they expected him to get the Yankees back to the top of the heap.

Yet Rodriguez hadn’t played a meaningful game since 2000 and now had to share a clubhouse with the man he trashed who was still stinging from those remarks. Further, it was a clubhouse where folks got their own coffee and he would be expected to subordinate his own goals to those of the team without the special treatment he had become accustomed to in Arlington.

Can you say “culture shock?”

252 had already made him a pariah, and while he started red hot in the 2004 postseason batting .424/.472/.788 over the first seven games spanning the LDS win over the Twins and the first three games against the Red Sox, he hit a slump at the absolute worst possible time against the worst possible team—one that almost landed him had his contract not been quite so large. The image from the biggest collapse in baseball postseason history was Rodriguez slapping the ball out of the glove of Bronson Arroyo.

Three more postseasons came and went and the Yankees couldn’t win a series and A-Rod was all but invisible in all of them. After being eliminated in 2007 by the Cleveland Indians (where he was decent, but far below his MVP form of the regular season) Scott Boras disrupted the Fall Classic by announcing that Rodriguez was opting out of the final three years of the most lucrative sports contract ever signed.

For a master of PR, Boras really stepped in it—while the Yankees and their fans were stewing over yet another October one-and-out, the player that is perceived by many to be about money and stats rather than winning and rings is putting himself in a position where it looks like he is leaving the team probably most committed to winning the World Series in search of yet more lucre after a season of statistical greatness.

Ugh.

What better way to reinforce every negative stereotype about Rodriguez than to use a year where he put up amazing numbers in the regular season but couldn’t sustain it when it counted in the minds of a critical public and using those (regular season) stats for more money even if it meant he landed on a club less devoted to success than the Yanks.

To his credit, Rodriguez wanted none of that and booted Boras to the curb and built a bridge back to the Bronx.

While Boras helped negotiate another 10-year deal, in year one he hit like a Hall of Famer with nobody on base (.329/.401/.679; 23 HR) and decently enough, but far worse with runners in scoring position (.271/.406/.458; 8 HR). The Yankees missed the postseason for the first time since the strike. This was followed by an offseason where he was forced to admit using steroids and will miss the first part of the season (and the opening of a new ballpark) after hip surgery.

He has no goodwill to fall back on.

Rodriguez stated that he always wanted to be a Met—one has to wonder what direction his career would’ve taken had he enjoyed different representation and an agent who was more interested in serving his client than setting new standards and concepts in major league contracts.

Would A-Rod have been a Met at eight years/$184 million (just a guesstimate) and still battle hardened from his time in Seattle with a different agent and helped the Mets again reach the World Series in 2001? A contract like that wouldn’t have stuck out as much from the deal Manny Ramirez signed, and the consensus was that Rodriguez would land something in the range of $200 million. He would’ve gone to a winning team where he’d be fulfilling a childhood dream.

Assuming he’s telling the truth, maybe a $184 million deal wouldn’t have made him feel pressured to juice, and the three years of simply playing for stats in Texas never occurred. He’d go on to build upon the legend he began in Seattle. He wouldn’t have been royalty in the Mets clubhouse with Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura to help him stay on an even keel, and he wouldn’t have developed the bad habits he acquired in Texas as the crown prince of Rangers baseball and the only reason to watch the team after the first of June.

Sadly, he will always be linked with the most despised man in the game—Scott Boras did make him a lot of money, but he would’ve been rich in any event. Alex Rodriguez may be the author of some of his problems (as we all are), but I think Scott Boras ruined him.

In an alternative time line Alex Rodriguez may have been a legend instead of an enigma.

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