Rodriguez refutes Gonzalez's claim that the Rangers mistreat Latins. The catcher adds, "I think those comments are not coming from Juan. I know Juan. He is not the type to say that himself. I don't want to mention any names, but ideas like that come from people close to him, not Juan."
Says Oates, "I learned that you have to deal with Juan one-on-one. When I did that, I never had a problem. The problems occur when other people get involved."
Neither Oates nor Melvin defends Gonzalez's actions of last year. Melvin says he suggested to Gonzalez that he retract his statements about the All-Star appearance and issue an apology. "He told me, 'No, I feel fine with what I said,' " Melvin says.
Smith wasn't bothered by either incident. The Tigers G.M. had been badgering Melvin about a trade for Gonzalez since last June. Melvin kept telling Smith he didn't have the nerve to trade Gonzalez with the team still in a pennant race. The Rangers eventually lost to the Yankees in the Division Series. At the World Series, Melvin bumped into Gonzalez's agent, Jim Bronner. Knowing that Gonzalez's contract ran out after the 2000 season, Melvin asked, "Would Juan consider a deal similar to what Larry Walker [six years, $75 million] took from the Rockies?"
"I don't think we can do that," Bronner said.
Melvin wasn't interested in paying Gonzalez any more than that, not when he knew Gonzalez wasn't the kind of player who made a difference at the gate or who could win games with his glove or base-running. So the next day Melvin called Smith, and the deal was done in less than a week.
Melvin says Gonzalez was stunned. The outfielder had a limited no-trade clause in his contract that required him to submit a list of teams to which he would accept a trade. He had filled the list with teams he figured would never swing a deal for a player earning $7.5 million in the last year of his contract—teams such as the Florida Marlins, the Kansas City Royals and the Tigers.
When the Tigers made their $151.5 million offer to Gonzalez, they also invited him to Detroit for an introductory news conference. Who knows, Smith thought, maybe he'll even sign the contract when he steps off the plane. Except Gonzalez didn't show.
Tigers manager Phil Garner, who often throws batting practice, swears that he has heard a Gonzalez line drive displacing air as it screamed past him. "He hits the ball so hard it creates a vacuum effect, like an Indy race car as it passes you," Garner says. "Nobody hits it harder."
In his seven full big league seasons (not including the strike-shortened 1994 and '95 seasons), Gonzalez has averaged 41 home runs and 127 RBIs while batting .298. "I don't care if he's high-maintenance," says Detroit third baseman Dean Palmer, who played with Gonzalez in Texas. "When you produce like he does, it doesn't matter. I'm sick of hearing him take crap. The bottom line is the guy drives in 140 runs year in and year out and works as hard as any player in baseball. That's what counts."