- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

ARLINGTON, Texas Among the inspirational posters scattered about the Texas Rangers' clubhouse at the Ballpark in Arlington is this gem:
"It's not what's on the back of the jersey that counts … It's what's on the front!"
Try telling that to Rangers fans who have seen their once-contending team plummet to last place in the American League West after spending a quarter-billion dollars on free agent Alex Rodriguez last winter.
Fairly or not, A-Rod has become the poster boy for the greedy professional athlete, the one who doesn't care what team's name is spread across the front of the jersey so long as the person whose name is on the back is receiving his regular paycheck.
How else can you explain baseball's brightest young star bolting the first-place Seattle Mariners after six seasons and signing with Texas for the unprecedented sum of $252 million over 10 years?
Criticized by fans, writers and sports talk show hosts across the country at the time of the signing, the Rodriguez saga took on epic proportions once the Mariners jumped out to the best record in baseball. Before last night's doubleheader with the Baltimore Orioles, the Rangers were 30 games behind Seattle with more than two months of the season left.
"The Mariners made a good business decision," Rodriguez said. "And I followed that up with my own business decision."
He's no longer the bright-eyed 20-year-old youngster who became a star in 1996, batting .358 with 36 homers and 123 RBI in his first full major league season. He's the cautious 25-year-old adult (he'll be 26 tomorrow) who has been blamed by anyone and everyone for the Rangers' frustrating season.
But the fact is, A-Rod has done nothing but shine since coming to Texas. He leads the Rangers in virtually every offensive category: batting average, home runs, RBI, hits, runs, doubles, total bases and slugging percentage. And he's the only player on the team to play every game, a mainstay in the lineup and at shortstop much like his childhood hero, Cal Ripken, used to be.
A-Rod isn't the reason the Rangers are in last place. Without him, they might have the worst record in the majors.
"Alex has played tremendously well," teammate Gabe Kapler said. "To me, we as a club have gotten everything we could possibly hope for out of Alex Rodriguez."
Truth be told, many of the clubs that participated in last winter's A-Rod shopping spree the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox and Rangers aren't exactly in the thick of the pennant races.
"If you look at my six or seven choices [of teams to sign with], they are all pretty much in last place or next-to-last place," Rodriguez said. "That's how unpredictable baseball is."
It was a gamble the Rangers felt they had to take. A perennial playoff team for much of the mid-'90s that never could seem to get past the wild-card round thanks in large part to the New York Yankees they were beginning to see their chances grow slimmer and slimmer.
The team's biggest star of the '90s, outfielder Juan Gonzalez, was traded to the Detroit Tigers in 1999, leaving the franchise with All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez as its only marketable name. When the Mariners made it clear they were not going to commit the amount of money Alex Rodriguez was asking and he became available, Texas owner Tom Hicks and general manager Doug Melvin stepped up and bought themselves the biggest name in the game.
And it only cost slightly more than the $191 million spent in 1994 to construct the stadium Rodriguez now calls home.
Not that the Rangers' plan never had a chance to succeed. The method of signing a big-name free agent has worked for several franchises over the years. So has the route currently being taken by the Orioles: trade high-priced veterans and build for the future with youth. There is no sure answer.
"When I was with the Indians, I saw about eight different five-year plans in about four years," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said. "You can get fooled by circumstances and make a move that makes sense if you are legitimately in contention. And then it blew up what you were trying to accomplish a year or two years down the road."
It's still too early to tell what the long-term effects of the Rodriguez signing will be for the Rangers. Well out of contention with a record under .500, Texas one of only two teams in baseball along with the Mets to have a payroll larger than $85 million appears to be embarking on a roster shakeup. Veteran first baseman/DH Andres Galarraga was traded to the Giants on Tuesday for three minor leaguers, and more deals are likely before Tuesday's deadline.
All of which makes another poster hanging in the Rangers' clubhouse particularly appropriate: "Your worst day at the ballpark is better than your best day at work."
Texas has had plenty of opportunity to test that theory this year.

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