SI Vault
Tom Verducci
September 09, 2002
Everyone knows Alex Rodriguez is baseball's highest-paid player, but unless you're a die-hard fan of last-place Texas, you might not realize he's the best player in the game
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September 09, 2002

The Lone Ranger

Everyone knows Alex Rodriguez is baseball's highest-paid player, but unless you're a die-hard fan of last-place Texas, you might not realize he's the best player in the game

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Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles


.323 BA, 34 HRs, 114 RBIs, 210 hits



Ernie Banks, Cubs


.313 BA, 47 HRs, 129 RBIs, 119 runs



Andre Dawson, Cubs


.287 BA, 49 HRs, 137 RBIs



Ernie Banks, Cubs


.304 BA, 45 HRs, 143 RBIs



Hank Sauer, Cubs


.270 BA, 37 HRs, 121 RBIs



Robin Yount, Brewers


.318 BA, 21 HRs, 103 RBIs, 101 runs



The official announcement is about to be made in New York: Alex Rodriguez and his $252 million contract did not kill major league baseball as we know it. Rodriguez watches the press conference on the giant television set in the giant living room of his 7,500-square-foot mansion in Dallas's Highland Park section. Barefoot and dressed in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, Rodriguez lounges on a sofa as commissioner Bud Selig and players' association executive director Donald Fehr announce that a strike has been averted. Players and owners have negotiated a labor agreement without a work stoppage for the first time since 1970, this only 20 months after Rodriguez signed his contract with the Texas Rangers, the one that was supposed to be the asteroid that wiped out planet baseball.

As Rodriguez watches, his chef, his housemaid, his bodyguard, his personal assistant and his landscapers discreetly attend to their duties in and around the house. Using a computerized touch pad that controls the television and four outdoor security cameras, he mutes the sound of Fehr's voice. "I have enough [wealth to last] forever," Rodriguez says. "Not one day goes by when I don't remind myself of how grateful I am for those who came before me over the last 25 years. When I see players like Mike Schmidt and Johnny Bench, I thank them. They did all the work to get the runner over to third, and all we need to do is hit a sacrifice fly. We don't have to set a nice table. They did it. We just have to keep the table set."

Ruth has the copyright on 60. DiMaggio has 56. Williams has .406. Aaron has 755. Rodriguez has 252. It is the symbol of his generation's prosperity and of the game's emphasis on finances. His contract is the smoking gun for disillusioned fans in their case against overpaid ballplayers.

And yet he is also the poster boy for those who cherish the game. People who know baseball do not boo Rodriguez. Listen to an opposing manager, Mike Hargrove of Baltimore: "Every big league player should aspire to be like Alex Rodriguez, and I'm not just talking about his talent. I'm talking about the way he goes about his business, his attention to detail and his respect for the game."

Listen to his own manager, Jerry Narron: "He is without a doubt the best player in baseball, but that's not what impresses me the most. I only hope that someday he might be as good a player as he is a person."

Listen to Rangers owner Tom Hicks, the man who enriched him: " Michael Jordan made something like $30 million a year and was celebrated as the greatest player in the game. Nobody made an issue of his salary. Why is it that people want to criticize our best player when he should be celebrated?"

Since Hicks gave him the 10-year contract, Rodriguez has played 298 straight games while hitting .317 with 100 home runs. At week's end he led the majors this season in home runs (48), RBIs (119) and total bases (340) while hitting .316 and playing the best shortstop of his career. It is such a superlative season—maybe the best ever by a shortstop—that Rodriguez could join Ernie Banks and Cal Ripken Jr. among the rare players from noncontending clubs to win an MVP award (chart, page 40).

Moreover, he is the unchallenged team leader who upbraids rookies and veterans alike and is such a baseball junkie that he watches games and highlights until 3 a.m., often eats his low-fat gourmet lunch (perhaps baked Alaskan halibut or handmade tamales) on a TV tray in front of the televised version of a New York sports radio show and is jacked about a possible trip to St. Louis to watch a postseason game next month. He is also a bookworm (currently reading Jack Welch's autobiography) whose idea of fun is touring elite college campuses. Last month he hit Harvard, stopping students to inquire about their majors, their SAT scores and how they were able to gain admission.

Only 27, Rodriguez is the ideal man to resuscitate baseball in what will be the game's longest uninterrupted run of labor peace since free agency began in 1976. But there is a hitch. Before he can save baseball, Rodriguez has an even more difficult challenge: He must save the Texas Rangers.

" Rodriguez is the best player in this game, and it feels like nobody even talks about him," says one National League executive. " Texas just isn't on the radar."

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