How Alex Rodriguez became a human being.

The stadium scene.
Nov. 21 2007 5:00 PM

A-Robot

How the best player in baseball went from android to human being.

(Continued from Page 1)

In New York, Rodriguez will forever suffer in comparison to Jeter, the Yankees' captain and probably the team's most popular player. Jeter is a Yankees lifer with four championships, but he's also an aggressive media schmoozer and clubhouse politician. Though he's also well-paid ($19 million per season) and hardly more profound than Rodriguez, he has a better sense of how much he can get away with. According to Rodriguez, he and Jeter used to be "blood brothers," but their relationship began a steady downward trajectory after Rodriguez told Esquire that Jeter was a complementary player: "You never say, 'Don't let Derek beat you.' He's never your concern." Jeter never would have been so tone-deaf.

Boras' ventriloquism reached its reductio ad absurdum this November. It made sense that the agent would advise Rodriguez to opt out of the remaining years of his Yankees contract so that he could negotiate a longer deal for more money. But when the Steinbrenners requested a face-to-face meeting, Boras told them he wouldn't allow it unless they offered $350 million—a ludicrous amount even for the free-spending Yankees. Though Boras had a 10-day window in which to opt out, he chose to do so during the World Series. This captured not only the attention of the Fox announcers but Red Sox fans sitting near one of the dugouts, who begun chanting, "Don't sign A-Rod!"

Advertisement

One should not begrudge a player or agent for getting all that the market will bear. But the Game 4 fiasco seemed to be a tipping point. By outsourcing so much of his personality to Boras, Rodriguez seemed to realize he had sacrificed a huge amount of nonmonetary capital. A-Rod might be Michelangelo in the body of Hank Aaron, but fans loathed him because they knew him as nothing more than a self-interested punk—as Sports Illustrated put it, "a Narcissus who found pride and comfort gazing upon the reflection of his own beautiful statistics."

Last week, the robot seemed to awaken. After a consultation with billionaire Warren Buffett (!), Rodriguez met with the Yankees without Boras on Nov. 14. He hammered out the parameters of a new contract that, in humbling fashion, was worth less in guaranteed money than the Yankees had offered initially. It was perhaps less money, too, than Rodriguez would have gotten in a Boras-led auction between teams like the Dodgers and Angels. But in meeting with the Steinbrenners on his own, Rodriguez became, finally, a man who could communicate his own desires. "I think it's the best way you can do things," he later told MLB.com. "I felt sometimes the messages can be mixed up, and you may be getting some information that is not 100 percent accurate. I just took it upon myself to call Hank and talk to him one on one."

Boras was marginalized but not altogether absent. As of this writing, he is said to be finalizing parts of the contract. But it was clear, to borrow a term from the former co-owner of the Texas Rangers, who the "decider" was in this negotiation. And even if Rodriguez had merely dumped Boras to genuflect before Warren Buffet, an even more rapacious capitalist, he at least showed some temerity in making that decision. By speaking out, A-Rod showed that beneath his robotic exterior lurks a real player and a real human, one who values "comfort, stability, and happiness," as he put it in a message on his Web site. For once, Scott Boras had no immediate response.

Bryan Curtis is a staff writer for Grantland. Follow him on Twitter.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Nov. 21 2014 1:38 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? See if you can keep pace with the copy desk, Slate’s most comprehensive reading team.