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Powerball
Tom Verducci
December 18, 2000
Alex Rodriguez hit the jackpot when the Rangers' owner offered him $252 million and the city of Dallas
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December 18, 2000

Powerball

Alex Rodriguez hit the jackpot when the Rangers' owner offered him $252 million and the city of Dallas

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SIGNING BONUS: $10 million

PAYDAY

AMOUNT

March 1, 2001

$1 million

Dec. 1, 2001

$1 million

March 1, 2002

$1 million

Dec. 1, 2002

$1 million

March 1, 2003

$1 million

Dec. 1, 2003

$1 million

March 1, 2004

$1 million

Dec. 1, 2004

$1 million

March 1, 2005

$1 million

Dec. 1, 2005

$1 million

It was 1:30 in the morning on Monday when the three people in room 633 of the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas knew they had reached the finish line. They could tell by the curtain of silence that fell over them. After nine grueling hours of negotiating over two sessions that began last Sunday afternoon, there was nothing left to say. The finality was written in the mad jumble of numbers on an easel, which had the dizzying look of a physics professor's chalkboard at the end of a marathon lecture. What the numbers added up to was this: The Texas Rangers had agreed to pay free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the next 10 years—the most lucrative contract in sports history and more than twice as much money as any baseball team had ever guaranteed a player.

Scott Boras, the agent for Rodriguez, caught the eye of Doug Melvin, general manager of the Rangers, and they smiled. Then Tom Hicks, the owner of the club, stood in his cowboy boots, the ones with the Rangers' logo branded into the leather. Hicks also owns the NHL's Dallas Stars and is chairman and CEO of a Dallas-based private investment firm that manages billions of dollars. He is the kind of man who thinks big but can show a commoner's touch. Rodriguez, for instance, had been impressed last month when Hicks gave him a tour of Dallas and insisted on getting behind the wheel of his gray Mercedes SL500 and doing the driving himself. Hicks had left his life on hold for two days then to recruit Rodriguez.

Now Hicks gestured toward the easel and said, "Well, look at it. Any questions?" No one answered. The deal was done. Boras walked toward Hicks, who extended his hand and gave Boras what the agent would call "a big ol' Texas handshake." Then Hicks pulled Boras close and threw his arms around him in a tight hug.

Both men got exactly what they wanted. Hicks landed one of the best and most marketable players in baseball as the center of an imagined universe that he believes will produce revenue streams and World Series runs to rival those of the New York Yankees. "We're Number 4 in [major league] revenue," Boras said Hicks told him, "and heading up."

Boras, selling a player the likes of which 25 years of free agency has never seen—a handsome, bilingual, slugging shortstop and four-time All-Star at the tender baseball age of 25—got a contract the likes of which the game has never seen. Rodriguez's guaranteed $25.2 million annual average income blows away the previous record of $17 million (chart, page 106), set only 52 days earlier by Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado. What's more, Rodriguez's contract is spiced with incentives and escalator clauses that can earn him even more money (box, below). "This is an economic decision and a career decision," Rodriguez said by phone from Florida on Monday, in a rare moment of brutal honesty for a royally compensated athlete.

The player, unlike the owner and the agent, saw his desires change as the deal unfolded. In early November, after he had become a free agent, Rodriguez told friends that he wanted to play in New York for the Mets. Unless the Seattle Mariners, who had made him the first pick of the 1993 draft, made an all-out strike to keep him, Rodriguez thought he might be willing to accept a contract with the Mets for about 10 years and between $180 million and $190 million. He would play on the world's biggest stage, become an even bigger star and get to compete on the same turf with his friend and rival, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. The Rangers? "People hadn't talked about Texas, so I hadn't given it much thought," he said on Monday. "It's like the girl you never think about dating, but then you meet and...whoa?

Before the match could be made, though, the Mets would suddenly and curiously have to turn away from Rodriguez; the Atlanta Braves would again have to show they don't have the stomach for bidding wars; a mystery team would have to complicate the last days of the process; and the Mariners would have to give him, as Rodriguez said, "no choice but to leave."

THE PRELUDE

Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. were alone, showering in the visiting clubhouse of Yankee Stadium. It was May 7, 1999, and New York was pummeling Seattle 10-1 in the ninth inning. Rodriguez, who was on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in his left knee, and Griffey, who had been removed from the game by manager Lou Piniella, were getting a jump on their teammates for postgame showers. Both were already thinking about their impending free agency after the 2000 season. "Do you want to stay here and put up with more of this?" Rodriguez said of what would be a 79-83 season. "I can't stand the losing."

"I don't know," Griffey said. "It might not be that bad. You saw the young pitching we have in spring training. It could get better here."

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