The $252 Million Man

At the Monday press conference announcing the record-shattering, ten-year, $252 million deal that sent slugging short­ stop Alex Rodriguez to the Texas Rangers, Johnnie Oates, the Rangers manager, referred to the new "partnership" between the 25-year-old A-Rod and Tom Hicks, the billionaire owner of the team. The word was music to the ears of super agent Scott Boras, whose strategy through­ out the four weeks of the Rodriguez negotiations was to present his client as much more than just another hired hand.

From the start, Boras prsented the deal as a "merger," and urged team presidents and owners to meet with A-Rod in person. "With the magnitude of the contract, the length of it, these owners have to know, have the right to know,who this player is as a person," Boras says.

Hicks had his meeting with A-Rod. "He convinced me he's a natural born leader," the owner told Newsweek in the days before the deal was announced. Baseball pundits accuse A-Rod, who had said he wanted a berth on a winning team, of selling out by signing with a pitching-poor loser (the Rangers finished the 2000 season in last place). But they're overlooking the obvious fact that Hicks isn't afraid to spend money to turn the team around. Now that's he's got the offensive and defensive heart of his team on board, Hicks over the next couple of years will no doubt acquire the pitching he needs. Certainly the Yankees, as well as the rest of the American League, can't be thrilled to know that there's another owner as hungry for wins, and as willing to pay for them, as George Steinbrenner.

Beyond the Rangers, the A-Rod deal could profoundly influence the game itself. Critics see it as further exacerbating the competitive imbalance that plagues baseball. With salaries skyrocketing, only a handful of teams can afford to sign the best players. That means that the richest teams, with payrolls in the $100 million range, dominate the game, while the teams at the other end of the spectrum, with payrolls one-fifth the size, can't hope to compete.

With the contract between the owners and the players set to expire at the end of the 2001 season, many in the game are expecting a lockout that could mean no baseball at all in 2002. Such a drastic move, observers say, may be the only way for the owners to regain economic control of the game. If it happens, it won't matter how much A-Rod is supposed to be paid, he won't see a nickel if he and his fellow players can't work out differences with their "partners."