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.

Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez. Click image to expand.
Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez

What to make of the news that Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have agreed to the outlines of a new 10-year, $275 million contract? Some have called it a triumph for Hank and Hal Steinbrenner, the once-hapless sons who have been tapped by their dad to run the club. Others have focused on the rare and humiliating defeat for "super agent" Scott Boras, the man who convinced Rodriguez not only to opt out of his previous Yankees deal—which still had $81 million left—but to announce this decision during the deciding game of the World Series, and thus incur the wrath of baseball. Both these things are true, but I prefer to read it another way: Last week was the moment that Rodriguez, baseball's most robotic superstar, finally gained self-awareness.

To this point, Rodriguez's eerie precision with the bat has been exceeded only by his ability, in nearly every setting, to project the personality of an android. His quotes to the media are masterworks of banality: "I'm just going to do my job and go out and play." This drabness has become more pronounced since Rodriguez joined the Yankees in 2004. For one thing, he was forced to move gingerly on a team with an established hierarchy; according to Sports Illustrated, his friendships with stars like Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada had to be brokered by Tino Martinez, who was friends with both camps. Moreover, Rodriguez has been assailed by the newspapers for his poor postseason performance, which only pushed him further into his shell. The only truly revelatory moment of Rodriguez's career in New York was his admission, in 2005, that he sees a therapist—quite a bit of candor for a baseball player. Even that was undermined when Rodriguez later said, "I didn't do it for me. I did it for the children."

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The gaps in Rodriguez's public persona have been filled in by Boras, who has been his agent since 1993, the year he was drafted first overall by the Seattle Mariners. As Ben McGrath pointed out in his recent New Yorker profile, Boras seems to mesh best with "less self-assured stars." Rodriguez and Boras had a symbiotic relationship that went beyond the usual player-agent connection. Boras not only negotiated A-Rod's contracts but, in the face of the latter's reluctance to say anything of interest, indirectly provided him with a kind of personality. It took Rodriguez many years to recognize that it was not a likable one.

When Boras orchestrated A-Rod's first mega-contract in 2000, he distributed a 70-page booklet to interested teams that put Rodriguez's statistics alongside quotes from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. During the negotiations, Mets general manager Steve Phillips said that, in addition to an exorbitant contract, Boras had demanded Rodriguez receive a private office at Shea Stadium, a merchandise tent, and a large "billboard presence" in Manhattan. (Both Boras and Rodriguez denied making these demands.) Rodriguez said he would just as soon re-sign with his current team, Seattle, but Boras brushed off the Mariners when their offer came up short. The Texas Rangers eventually signed Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252 million contract, double the amount of what was then the richest guaranteed contract in sports.

A-Rod was a perfect lab rat for Boras' rapacious capitalism. Rodriguez's statistics were unrivaled in baseball history. Moreover, his sphinxlike demeanor played to Boras' strength: the creation of an environment in which team owners have as little information as possible and thus are likely to submit enormous bids. When the Rangers began exploring trade possibilities for Rodriguez in 2004, the superstar maintained his circumspect style. Courtesy of Jamey Newberg's Newberg Report, an exquisite annual devoted to the Rangers, here's a list of A-Rod quotes as the player prepared to leave Arlington. A few weeks before he left the team: "I definitely think I'm going to be here for a long time. I'm probably pretty sure it will work out for the best." On what he wanted: "There is a difference between image and reputation. Image is nice; reputation is developed over an entire career. Reputation is what I'm searching for." Got that?

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