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Rodriguez hasn't played a meaningful game after April in his two years with the Rangers, who by that point have been buried in the standings on their way to consecutive last-place finishes. This year's outfit has a 5.22 ERA, the worst in the big leagues, which means that the Rangers have a chance to become the first team since the 1956-58 Washington Senators to finish with the highest ERA in the majors for three straight seasons. Texas added outfielders Juan Gonzalez and Carl Everett and pitchers Chan Ho Park, John Rocker and Todd Van Poppel this year, and they have all been busts.
Next season doesn't look any better. Hicks has pledged to keep his 40-man payroll under the new $117 million luxury tax threshold. That will require cutting $14 million from his payroll, which all but guarantees the departure of soon-to-be-free-agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, a 10-time All-Star.
This is Jordan playing for the Clippers, Tiger hitting the Buy.com tour, Nelly doing the Catskills. "What A-Rod is doing is even more impressive because he's never given in to losing," Orioles coach Sam Perlozzo says. Rodriguez, ever optimistic before notebooks and cameras, says, "Sooner or later we're going to get it together and turn it around here, and it will be rewarding to be a part of that."
Few people see behind that public face. Eddy Rodriguez (no relation) is one of them. Eddy, the chief counselor at a Miami Boys and Girls Club has been Alex's close friend, unofficial coach and father figure since Alex walked into his club at nine. The 49-year-old Eddy often travels with Alex and stays with him in Dallas. They speak three times a day when Eddy is in Miami. Eddy knows when Alex is too tense at the plate (he bites his lips) and when he's locked in (he blows small bursts of air from his mouth). He knows Alex and his swing so well that a friend of theirs called him into Pittsburgh this year to help rescue Alex from a 3-for-34 slump. Rodriguez banged out three hits that night and nine more over the next five games.
"Let me tell you, sometimes it's not just the losing, it's the effort when they lose that bothers him," Eddy says. "He takes it very personally. Alex is very emotional. And he wants to win more than anything else."
Rodriguez didn't set out to play for the Rangers when he became a free agent after the 2000 season. According to several of his friends, Rodriguez, who was born in New York and moved to Miami in 1984, wanted to play for the Mets, who were coming off a World Series appearance, and was willing to give them a discount. New York G.M. Steve Phillips, however, angrily broke off talks with Rodriguez after claiming that agent Scott Boras had asked for perks that would have created what Phillips termed "a 24 and one" division in the Mets' clubhouse.
"We had heard for a while that we were his first choice," says one Mets official, "but there was always some doubt as to whether Boras would have allowed him to sign for the discount people speculated about. Who knows, he might wind up here, though I'd have to think it would be later rather than sooner."
The Mets are 143-153 since passing on Rodriguez. Last winter they added Mo Vaughn, Jeromy Burnitz, Roger Cede�o and Robbie Alomar to what had been the worst offense in the National League. Through week's end those players had contributed a combined 48 home runs at a cost of $28.5 million this year.
Unlike the Mets, the Mariners have succeeded without Rodriguez. They reached the American League Championship Series last year and are contenders again this year. Asked if he ever harbored second thoughts about leaving Seattle, Rodriguez quickly replies, "Never. It was a chapter in my life I enjoyed, and it was time for me to end it and move on. I wish them the best." Rodriguez, who still lives in Miami in the off-season, never took to Seattle's cool, wet weather nor its spacious, un-heated ballpark.
"You know how much time I spent in Seattle in the off-season all the years I played there?" he asks. "Three days. Total. I love Dallas. It's a very underrated big city, and I'm a city person. I have season tickets to the Mavs. I'm back here a lot in the winter."