Tagged: John W. Henry

Alex Rodriguez: What If..?

In Comic Books they are known as ‘What If?’ (Marvel) issues or ‘Elseworld’ (DC) tales, taking the established character out of their established norm and seeing what would have or could have happened if….

What If 31

A decade later, we revisit called-off engagement between Rodriguez and Boston

From: Gordon Edes

They rank among the great what-might-have-been stories in Red Sox history.

What if an organization with a history of racial intolerance had given more than a sham tryout to Jackie Robinson or listened to the urgings of a scout named George Digby to sign a young outfielder named Willie Mays?

Jackie Robinson Red Sox

What if Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey had, in the cold light of morning, decided to follow through on the trade arranged over drinks the night before with Yankees co-owner Dan Topping, one in which the Sox would have swapped Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio? (Note: This deal also was scuttled due to the Yankees reluctance to include a young catching prospect named Yogi Berra.)

Teddy and Joe D

And what if the Red Sox had succeeded in their audacious effort 10 years ago to acquire Alex Rodriguez, generally acknowledged as the best player in the game at the time, from the Texas Rangers?

Ten years ago Monday, Rangers owner Tom Hicks declared that effort “totally, totally dead.” He would soon send a letter to Rangers season-ticket holders pledging that Rodriguez would be the team’s shortstop on Opening Day 2004. Then, on Valentine’s Day, he traded him to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees.

A-Rod dissapointment

With A-Rod now shamed and a shell of his former self, a player who went from being championed by the game’s ruling class to pariah, it is easy to regard Boston’s failed courtship as a blessing, a disaster averted.

But that’s with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, the Sox — and A-Rod — were bitterly disappointed that it did not come to pass, this deal first proposed by Hicks to the Red Sox within days of their crushing Game 7 loss to the New York Yankees in the 2003 ALCS.

A-Rod Texas presserHicks was looking to get out from under the game’s biggest contract, a $250 million, 10-year deal that in its first three years had not lifted the Rangers out of mediocrity. He asked for Nomar Garciaparra in return. The Sox countered by offering Manny Ramirez, whom they had placed on irrevocable waivers only weeks before without any takers.

With that deal in play, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein made another at the winter meetings, arranging to trade Garciaparra to the White Sox for slugging outfielder Magglio Ordonez. That second trade was contingent on the A-Rod deal being approved, but when Epstein entered the hotel room of his new manager, Terry Francona, and rattled off a prospective lineup that included Johnny Damon, A-Rod, David Ortiz and Ordonez, on knees made unsteady by multiple surgeries, Francona climbed onto his bed and did an impromptu dance.

That same night, Epstein slipped out of the meetings in New Orleans and flew to New York to meet with Rodriguez and his then-wife, Cynthia. Owner John W. Henry had already met with the couple in Miami, granted extraordinary permission to do so by commissioner Bud Selig, who had run into Rodriguez at Sammy Sosa’s party in the Dominican Republic and listened to A-Rod earnestly express his desire to play for the Sox.

I was working for the Boston Globe at the time, and I, too, went to Miami to meet with Rodriguez. I liked him. He was smart, engaging and gracious. I believe he really wanted to play for the Sox. I had seen him when he’d made his major-league debut at Fenway as an 18-year-old from Miami, and I was impressed with his appreciation of Boston and what it would mean to his legacy if he would be the one who led the Sox to a World Series title after 86 years without one.

The deal was complicated and ultimately collapsed under its own weight. The Red Sox, for luxury tax reasons, wanted to reduce the value of Rodriguez’s contract by $4 million a year, a total of $28 million over the remaining seven years of his deal. That was a nonstarter for the union. Any reduction, the union lawyers said, would require “added benefits” from the Red Sox — like the Mets gave Mo Vaughn when they added two more teams to the no-trade provisions in his contract in exchange for a $500,000 reduction. The Sox tried to sell the union on an “added benefit” of allowing A-Rod the chance to opt out of his contract after two years and become a free agent, a proposal ridiculed by the union, which argued that A-Rod, because his contract was so much more than anyone else’s, probably would have been looking at a pay cut. They made a counteroffer the Sox deemed unacceptable.

Hicks, meanwhile, was seeking some immediate financial help and not only wanted the Sox to assume A-Rod’s contract, but pay a portion of Ramirez’s deal so that he could pursue some pitching in free agency. That was not going to happen. But on his own, A-Rod contacted Hicks and offered to pay, out of his own pocket, the $15 million Hicks wanted from the Sox. That’s how badly he wanted to come to Boston.

By the end of talks, there were bruised feelings on all sides. Henry was upset that Nomar comes HomeHicks had made little effort to keep negotiations quiet. Hicks was furious with Sox CEO Larry Lucchino, to the point that Tom Werner became the Sox point man with the Texas owner. Lucchino and union lawyer Gene Orza took whacks at each other. Garciaparra never recovered from the shock of learning that the Sox had sought A-Rod, even as Henry later explained he initially thought that they could have co-existed. And A-Rod resigned himself to remaining with the Rangers.

The upshot, of course, is that the Sox won two World Series in the next four seasons without A-Rod, and won their third in the 10 seasons in which Rodriguez has been a Yankee. And A-Rod alienated his longtime friend Derek Jeter, the first of many soap operas that would mark his time in New York. And then came the PED revelations.

Ortiz A-RodThat part of the story, sadly, would have been no different had he played for the Red Sox instead of the Yankees. But the rest of it? Ten years later, I still believe it could have gone a different way for A-Rod in Boston. Instead of a wary Jeter, he would have been embraced by David Ortiz, who remains one of his good friends in the game. He also was very close with Ordonez, who would have combined with A-Rod to more than compensate for the loss of right-handed power Ramirez represented.

He would have remained at short, where his value to the club would have been greater than it was to the Yankees at third.

In his first five seasons with the Yankees, through the 2008 season, Rodriguez hit 208 home runs. No one in baseball hit more. And Fenway is much kinder to right-handed hitters than Yankee Stadium. He was one of 10 players who had an on-base percentage greater than .400 in that time. He averaged 6.8 in WAR in that time.

Call me naïve, but I think Boston would have brought out the best in him, and he would have been loved for it.

A-Rod befuddledWe’ll never know, of course. And in this town, I am well aware, that’s hardly a popular thought. But there’s a part of me that has never forgotten the shining promise of that 18-year-old and laments that it has ended the way it has.

 _____

On a personal note: I was at that same game, just a few rows up and sitting between home and the visitors dugout (best seats I ever scored) for that Fenway game where an 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez debuted for Seattle.  I sat close enough to see all the awe and wonder on the face of a kid who was walking out into a Cathedral to take his first big league swings.  My how times changed as he was on his way to Texas!

Before the PED’s, before the even more inflated ego and sense of entitlement, I was not a fan of the proposed trade.  I was a Nomar guy.  I didn’t dislike A-Rod at that point, I just disliked the perceived greed and the monster contract and the handcuffs that came with it.  How could you as a team hit the free agent market for pitching and additions under those circumstances?  Yeesh!  Sure the Yankees did it and eventually put a World Series ring on A-Rod’s finger, but we won two in the same amount of time and of course just added the third.

A-Rod TekWould or could any of that have happened if we found A-Rod under the tree for Christmas of 2003?  Maybe a ring… two at an outside chance?  Luckily, this is one of those Scarlett Hose / Bronx Bombers hypotheticals we don’t have to put too much emphasis on… after all, we came out for the better.

An MLB return to Montreal?

Montreal Expos logoNamed after the Expo 67 World’s Fair, The Montreal Expos (French: Les Expos de Montréal) were a Major League Baseball team located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from 1969 through 2004, holding the first MLB franchise awarded outside the United States. After the 2004 season, MLB moved the Expos to Washington, D.C. and renamed them the Nationals.

The Expos started play at Jarry Park Stadium under manager Gene Mauch. The team’s initial majority owner was Charles Bronfman, a major shareholder in Seagram. Following the 1976 Summer Olympics, starting in 1977 the team’s home venue was Montreal’s Olympic Carter and the ExposStadium. After a decade of losing seasons, the team won 95 games in 1979, finishing second in the National League East. The Expos began the 1980s with a core group of young players, including catcher Gary Carter, outfielders Tim Raines and Andre Dawson, third baseman Tim Wallach, and pitchers Steve Rogers and Bill Gullickson. The team won its only division championship in the strike-shortened split season of 1981, ending its season with a 3 games to 2 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

Pedro and FelipeIn May 1992, Felipe Alou, a longtime member of the Expos organization since 1976, was promoted to field manager, becoming the first Dominican-born manager in MLB history.  Alou would become the leader in Expos games managed while guiding the team to winning records, including 1994, when the Expos, led by a talented group of players including Larry Walker, Moisés Alou, Marquis Grissom and Pedro Martínez, had the best record in the major leagues until the strike forced the cancellation of the remainder of the season. After the disappointment of 1994, Expos management began shedding its key players, and the team’s fan suppoPedro Export dwindled. Brochu sold control of the team to Jeffrey Loria in 1999, but Loria failed to close on a plan to build a new downtown ballpark, and did not reach an agreement on television and English radio broadcast contracts for the 2000 season, reducing the team’s media coverage.

In November 2001, MLB’s owners voted 28–2 to contract by two teams—according to various sources, the Expos and the Minnesota Twins, both of which reportedly voted against contraction.  However, the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, operator of Minnesota’s Metrodome, received an injunction requiring the Twins to play in the Metrodome during 2002, so MLB could not eliminate the Expos alone while preserving its 162-game schedule. In December, the Boston Red Sox accepted a purchase bid from a group led by John W. Henry, owner of the Florida Marlins, and so Henry sold the Marlins to Loria, and MLB bought the Expos from Loria. In the collective bargaining agreement signed with the players association in August 2002, contraction was prohibited through to the end of the contract in 2006.

Pete Rose Expo

On September 29, 2004, the date of Montreal’s last home game of the season, MLB announced that the Montreal franchise would move to Washington, D.C. for the 2005 season.The Expos played their final game on October 3, 2004 at Shea Stadium, losing by a score of 8–1 against the New York Mets, the same opponent that the Expos first faced at its start, 35 years earlier. The Washington team was named the Washington Nationals, and retained all the Expos’ records, player contracts, and minor league affiliates, as well as their spring training complex in Viera, Florida.

The rebirth of the Montreal Expos might look like this: a relocated ball club bought for $525 million playing in the American League East, its new home a $500-million open-air downtown stadium, an average attendance sitting at roughly 28,000 keeping it healthy.

The Hawk ExpoThat’s the vision described by Ernst and Young in a feasibility study conducted for the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Montreal Baseball Project, concluding that a new team “would be financially viable under a set of realistic assumptions, including a modest but competitive payroll.”

The findings were unveiled Thursday and a copy of the impressively thorough 62-page report was forwarded to Major League Baseball, where officials were reviewing it. Last month, commissioner Bud Selig said “I am paying close attention to it, it’s great,” when asked about the study.

Big Unit ExpoStill, by no means is a return of “Nos Amours” to La Belle Province imminent – far from it actually – but the document offers a potential starting point for the pursuit of a team, and a baseball-only venue to house it.

“What we’re looking for in the next weeks is to see if the private sector is up to the task,” Michel Leblanc, president and CEO of the board of trade, said in an interview.

That this is being discussed seriously at all as the 10th anniversary of the Expos’ departure to Washington nears is remarkable, underlining exactly how much the environment has changed in a decade.

As the study notes, the business of baseball is much different now with increased revenue sharing among owners plus new revenue from national TV deals, advanced media and merchandising, not to mention a much stronger Canadian dollar, which ranged from 62-84 cents against the American dollar from 1994-2004 (the study is based on exchange rate at par but adds a decline to 90 cents “shows little impact on the viability of the study”).

Plus, the metropolitan Montreal area’s population of 3.8 million makes it the 15th largest market in North America, and the biggest without a baseball team.

Montreal Expos Canadiens

Those and other factors – like an ownership that won’t alienate the fan-base – led the study’s authors to draw a parallel between a new team and stadium in Montreal and the Minnesota Twins and Target Field, describing both as “a good model” for the endeavour.

Both franchises were once pegged for contraction by Major League Baseball, but a new stadium and better business conditions have helped the Twins become stable and profitable. The same could happen for a new team in Montreal under similar circumstances.

Some of the key numbers underpinning the viability of a new club include the $525 million purchase fee, based on various valuations and conversations with eight current clubs to test ideas, the $500 million cost of an open-air stadium (a retractable roof adds $150-$180 million to the price) and an average paid attendance of 28,742 with a season-ticket base of 60 percent.

To anyone who remembers the dismal crowds in the Expos’ final years, those last figures seem particularly ambitious, but Leblanc says “Ernst and Young experts are convinced that number is realistic for Montreal.”

An online survey conducted by Groupe Leger of 1,589 Quebecers (with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 2.5 percent) and a telephone poll of representatives from 392 Montreal-based corporations gave credence to those projections, predicting an average attendance of 27,600-31,600 with a willingness to pay $25-$75 for tickets.

Expo farewell

Additionally, 69 percent of Quebecers favoured baseball’s return to Montreal while 11 percent were opposed, 81 percent of businesses approved and 24 percent of businesses expressed interested in buying advertising, along with season tickets.

A downtown stadium near the corporate core is key to that, explained Leblanc, a lifeline the Expos couldn’t tap into because of the inconvenience of getting to Olympic Stadium.

Funding for the entire project would be a hybrid of private and public funds and a baseball-only venue is crucial because the study notes that Major League Baseball “has made it clear that a team returning to play at the Olympic Stadium would not be acceptable.”

The study envisions the club’s owners contributing 67 percent of the projected $1.025 billion cost to buy a team and build a ballpark, with governments providing the remaining 33 percent, while retaining ownership of the facility.

How the government receives the study will be worth watching.

Leblanc said preliminary discussions with various levels of government urged him “to do the work thoroughly” and then “they said, ‘We’ll look at this seriously.’”

Still, the plan is to start with business engagement before pursuing the political track and finally, trying to work with Major League Baseball. Leblanc explains the plan is to put every step in place progressively and for the moment, “we’ve got more homework to do.”

“We need to have a project that unites Montrealers and Quebecers in a positive way,” he added. “We want this to be something that gives Montreal some oomph.”

All those various pieces must be in place to get baseball officials onside, something that must happen since the stadium plans and the team acquisition must go hand in hand. No one’s building a baseball-only stadium without a real commitment.

There is no shortage of people in baseball who’d like to see it happen, and super-agent Scott Boras weighed in Wednesday at the winter meetings, naming New Jersey and Montreal as two possible homes for teams.

“I think Montreal would be a tremendous environment for baseball,” he told reporters. “I remember in 1994 — when you look at the attendance rates and the Canadian rivalry in baseball, I really think baseball was in a good place. Players enjoyed playing there. It’s a beautiful city.”

Last month, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston told Sportsnet that he’d “love to see baseball back in Montreal. It’s good for us, it’s good for Canada and the fans would really love it.”

Canada Day 1997

Later he added, “The timing has to be right – if a team wants to leave, OK, or the league wants to expand. To be honest, 30 isn’t the ideal number of teams, 32 is a much better number. Because you play every day, 32 would really make it nice. And Montreal is a big market and a great city, it’s a world-class city and it’s got a history of baseball.”

The Blue Jays will play a pair of spring games against the New York Mets in March, the first action at Olympic Stadium since the Expos’ 9-1 loss to the Marlins on Sept. 29, 2004. It will be yet another chance to spur the process along.

“We heard about those comments (from Beeston) and were happy to hear the positive signals from him,” said Leblanc. “The two spring games are a great opportunity for Montrealers to show their love for baseball.”

The goal of having a team of their own once again remains way, way off in the distance, but maybe the feasibility study is the guide that helps get them there.

Hmmm… sleep with one eye open Tampa Bay Rays fans.