Alex's obsession had obvious on-the-field benefits. "He was aware of everything," says Haselman. "He was aware of guys trying to steal signs, of guys taking too big a lead. He was aware of how important it is to hold a guy on second with one out, not letting him steal third—the little things that don't show up in stats. In that regard he was tremendous. He knew the pitches [that were] coming."
This attention to detail cut both ways, though. During his three seasons in Texas, former Rangers say, A-Rod would also use his insider's information against his own team. In games that were lopsided (and for the Rangers, there were plenty), Alex would occasionally violate a sacred clubhouse code: From his shortstop vantage point, he would tip pitches to the batter at the plate in a quid pro quo. It would always be a middle infielder, who could reciprocate—"a friend of his, a buddy who maybe had gone 0 for 3 and needed a hit," says one former player. "Alex would see the catcher's signs. He'd signal the pitch to the hitter, do a favor for him. And down the line, Alex would expect the same in return."
According to ex-Rangers, here's how the pitch tipping worked: The game is out of hand—say, one team has an eight-run lead in the late innings. Alex picks up the pitch and location signs being flashed by catcher Pudge Rodriguez. This is normal for shortstops, the quarterbacks of the infield, who often use the knowledge to align the defense. If a scouting report indicates a hitter will pull a curveball, a signal by a shortstop to his defense helps infielders adjust.
The key questions are: When is the signal given, and how is it delivered? A shortstop's cue to the defense is usually subtle—a hand slipped over a kneecap, a jab step forward—and it coincides with the pitcher's windup. This way, the hitter cannot pick it up. His eyes are on the pitcher's release.
Some Rangers say that at times Alex's cues appeared to be more conspicuous, suggesting that he was conspiring with the opposing batter. Before the Texas pitcher's windup Alex, with his left arm hanging by his side, would twist his glove back and forth as if turning a dial on a safe's lock. Then the hitter knew a changeup was on the way. Alex would also sweep dirt with his cleat to tip a slider to the batter. And he would stretch his back and lean left or right to let the batter know if the pitch was going inside or outside.
"It wasn't like he did it to throw a game—that wasn't it at all—but he did it to help himself," says a former Ranger. "He didn't care if it killed his own guys. It was about stats for Alex: his."
Alex expected the same courtesy. If he was having an off night near the end of a meaningless game, he could look to a buddy in the middle infield for a sign. "Here was the game's best player, and yet he felt he needed this," says a former player.
Neither Texas nor any opposing team was ever in on these tipping conspiracies. In fact they were detectable only because of repetition over many games and because Alex's mannerisms were so animated. The few Rangers who were aware of the tipping, however, were maddened by it. Even if the buddy-ball Alex was playing with a small circle of opposing players meant only a dozen extra hits for him and his pals during a long season—a home run here, an RBI there—that's a dozen moments when an inning might be extended or a pitcher's psyche might take a hit.
So if a small group of Rangers believed Alex was betraying his own guys, why didn't they do anything about it? Most saw a great risk in confronting Alex. They were certain Alex would go running to owner Tom Hicks to squeal on his accusers.
At least one Ranger did caution Alex. "I think you're signaling a little too soon out there," he said.