Thursday, February 22, 2001

High pay heightens expectations for A-Rod

        PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Alex Rodriguez will make this work. He will tell his story and we will buy it because he knows what buttons to push and what details to omit.

        The Texas Rangers' $252 million shortstop will speak of his overworked mother and make us feel guilty for thinking him greedy. He will be humbled by wealth others would flaunt. He will convince us that he embodies The American Dream and not a society of skewed values.

        “Growing up, I came from a very humble background,” Rodriguez said Wednesday at the Rangers' training complex. “My mom had to work two or three jobs at times. I remember counting tip money when
she was a waitress. Forty dollars was a great night. Sometimes, it was $18.”

        Now, $40 is a little less than A-Rod earns for every minute of every hour of every day of the year.

        “I'm almost embarrassed and ashamed of the contract,” he said. “It's like I have this 252 thing over my head. What I enjoy is the responsibility that comes with it, both on and off the field.”

More money, more effort

        He sat in a folding chair on top of the first base dugout at Charlotte County Stadium. The format was borrowed from Ken Griffey Jr.'s first press conference last spring, but the conduct of the two Seattle expatriates were in stark contrast.

        For all of his ballplaying excellence and interview experience, Griffey never has grown comfortable in front of a microphone. A-Rod, meanwhile, is as glib as he is graceful. He understands, as Griffey sometimes forgets, that the size of his salary reflects not only the quality of his play, but the effort he is expected to expend promoting the product.

        “If (Rodriguez) is worth $20 million a year for his physical skills, we think he's worth another $5 (million) for what he does for the franchise,” Rangers general manager Doug Melvin said. “When you're spending that kind of money, you have to make sure you're getting significant talent and a significant individual.”

Franchise player

        The significance of A-Rod's talent is virtually without precedent. He is a 25-year-old infielder with 189 career home runs — the same total Griffey had when he turned 26. In the history of the game, the only shortstop with comparable power numbers is Ernie Banks.

        In today's game, these credentials command serious cash. A-Rod's 10-year contract is worth more than Tom Hicks paid for the Rangers franchise. It is more money than most of us can comprehend.

        “I don't know if Michael Jordan, Bill Gates or Alexander The Great is worth that kind of money,” Rodriguez said. “But they said the same thing about Babe Ruth.”

        (Adjusted for inflation, A-Great's annual pillaging proceeds would make A-Rod look like a pauper. But we digress).

        Rodriguez said whatever expectations the public places on him will be more modest than his own. Then his conceit sensors went off and he returned to humility.

        “I hope people don't think because I signed the contract that I'm going to hit 90 home runs and drive in 200 runs,” he said. “Because that's unrealistic.”

        At his salary, it should be a starting point.

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