Despite A-Rod's cool reception in Texas, the trade was a win-win deal
Last Friday night, Alex Rodriguez was greeted with a chorus of boos and a sea of insulting signs (A-RAT, read posters distributed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram). But in his first game in Texas since being traded to the Yankees in February, Rodriguez was expecting far worse from Rangers fans who packed Ameriquest Field. "I was surprised," said Rodriguez, who had been through this in 2001 after he had left the Mariners for the Rangers as a free agent. " Seattle was a lot worse."
The shortage of invective from Texas fans can be attributed in part to their delight over how things have turned out for their team since the departure of the $252 million infielder. After taking two out of three from the Yankees last weekend, the Rangers were not only A-OK, getting off to their best start (25-18) since 1998, but also one of baseball's biggest surprises this season.
In fact, three months after Rodriguez was swapped for second baseman Alfonso Soriano, the two clubs and the two players are all happy with the deal. "It's been a win-win-win situation," says Texas owner Tom Hicks. "The Yankees have the best player in baseball. Alex is enjoying the limelight. And we've got a great thing going."
The Rangers started fast because young hitters like third baseman Hank Blalock (.287, 12 home runs) and shortstop Michael Young (.349, eight) have stepped up in Rodriguez's absence. Even with the loss of A-Rod's production, Texas still led the American League in runs per game (5-6), homers (60) and hitting (.287). "There are no egos in this clubhouse," says 37-year-old utilityman Eric Young. "The personalities of these young players have come out more, and they've grown because they realize this is their team now."
The trade has also been a blessing for Soriano (.298, six homers), who says he needed a month to get over the disappointment of going from a perennial World Series team to a club coming off four straight losing seasons. He has developed a strong bond with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who told Soriano to narrow his stance to improve his balance. That adjustment has helped the two-time All-Star return to form after a dreadful 2003 postseason in which he struck out a record 26 times in 71 at bats. "I'm very happy here," says Soriano. "There's not the same big expectations, so everything is so relaxed compared to New York. I've become more relaxed myself. I'm having fun."
After a slow start, during which he was concentrating more on making a seamless transition from shortstop to third base than on his hitting, Rodriguez was putting up his usual All-Star numbers. At week's end he was hitting .292 and leading New York (also 25-18) with 10 home runs and 30 runs scored. A-Rod also says he's more comfortable playing under Torre than for Texas manager Buck Showalter, a hands-on disciplinarian. "[ Showalter's] philosophies were a little different from my philosophies," says Rodriguez. "[Torre] lets the veteran players do their thing. To me, it just works."
That seems to be the bottom line on this trade.
Randy Johnson's Dominance
Big Unit Reaches Perfection
Before tossing a perfect game against the Braves on May 18, Diamondbacks lefthander Randy Johnson was a frustrated pitcher with a short fuse. He felt he had been removed too early in a May 7 loss to the Phillies, and then he was beaten 1-0 by the Mets five days later. A day after the latter game Johnson bristled at reporters when asked if he was bothered that only 27,750 fans had showed up for the game at Bank One Ballpark "It's a lot of money to come out to a ball-game, and it's probably spent better going to the movies than coming to watch the Diamondbacks," he snapped. "You done?"