"I don't know," Rodriguez said. "I don't know about this."
In 1997 the Mariners came within two wins of reaching the American League Championship Series with a team that featured three players whose tickets are punched for Cooperstown: Griffey, Rodriguez and lefthander Randy Johnson. All are now gone. Johnson was traded two months short of free agency in '98. Griffey would grow increasingly pessimistic about Seattle as '99 wore on and demand a trade to the Cincinnati Reds after that season. Rodriguez's outlook, however, would improve.
With Griffey gone, Rodriguez emerged in 2000 as the leader of the Mariners. In April he was enthused about staying in Seattle and playing in the Mariners' spacious new home, Safeco Field. "No team since 1985 has won a world championship with anyone hitting more than 35 home runs," he said then. "We don't have to hit home runs to win in Safeco. We're playing better baseball now. I like it in Seattle."
This time the Mariners fell two wins short of the World Series, losing in the ALCS to the Yankees in six games. Seattle had passed up an opportunity to acquire David Justice from the Cleveland Indians in June; instead they acquired light-hitting Al Martin, a cheaper alternative, in July. Justice, who had fallen to the Yankees, led them in home runs after the All-Star break and hit a critical homer in the ALCS clincher. The cost-conscious move worried Rodriguez.
Nonetheless, Rodriguez entered this off-season with Seattle and the Mets running "1 and 1A," as he put it. He had heard from Boras that the Los Angeles Dodgers might offer the biggest financial package and make him "an international star, not just a national star." Said Rodriguez, "Being a star is good enough. I don't have to be Michael Jordan."
He wasn't sure about Los Angeles, anyway. Rodriguez was looking for a good baseball town, and he had heard the stories about the late-arriving, early-departing, blas� Dodger Stadium crowds. Still, a bidding war that included the top two markets, New York and Los Angeles, would be juicy. Except it never happened. The Dodgers, despite wild rumors, never showed real interest and never made Rodriguez an offer, having already committed a total of $40 million per year to righthander Kevin Brown and outfielders Shawn Green and Gary Sheffield. The Mets, though, changed the entire landscape with one stunning move.
On Nov. 13, three days into the free-agent shopping season, Mets general manager Steve Phillips announced that his club no longer had interest in signing Rodriguez. Reacting to what Phillips said were "demands" by Boras for special treatment—billboards, office space and a marketing staff for Rodriguez, for instance—the Mets would not tolerate what Phillips called the "24-and-one" environment that a "managed" athlete would create in the clubhouse. (Boras maintains that Phillips's account of their contract talks is "not factually true.")
"The next day six other teams called," Boras says. "They saw a path open with New York out." The Rangers, who had met with Boras before the Mets did and were one of those six teams that called, never discussed such demands with the agent. The contract Texas agreed to includes no provisions for any special treatment of Rodriguez. "Let me tell you this," Rodriguez said on Monday, his voice firm and strong. "I hope someday we get to play the Mets when it really counts. I'll be the one leading 24 of my teammates, so we can go out there and beat them."
In mid-November, Rodriguez and Boras asked to meet with the ownership of each of the six interested teams. They also asked each club to present an overview of its farm system so they could gauge the long-range future of each organization. The Rangers put together a slick computer presentation, in which, for instance, Rodriguez could see how his potential double-play partners turned the pivot at second base or top-hitting prospect Carlos Pe�a swung the bat. By comparison, the Mariners offered information about their top minor league prospects in the form of photocopied Baseball America clips that were held together in a flimsy plastic report cover. As Seattle vice president of scouting and player development Roger Jongewaard flipped through the booklet, it came apart and pages fluttered to the ground. Rodriguez stifled a laugh. The Mariners' presentations never got much better than that.