|DALLAS -- The news rattled the sprawling Wyndham Anatole hotel like a thunder bolt.
Ten years, $252 million.
For days, for weeks, for months, the sport of baseball has been braced for this -- for the fill-in-the-big-big-BIG-blank number that would represent Alex Rodriguez's staggering price tag.
But even as the rumors swept across the plains -- that A-Rod would be the first $200 million man -- many people refused to believe it.
Well, believe it.
A-Rod is a Ranger. Ten years, $252 million.
Forbes Magazine just valued the entire Rangers franchise -- including Pudge Rodriguez, a spectacular semi-new ballpark and several autographed color glossy photos of Rusty Greer -- at $294 million.
And agent Scott Boras managed to maneuver the Rangers into handing out that deal even though he was never able to lure the Mets, Braves or Dodgers into the same financial neighborhood -- or, in the case of the Mets and Dodgers, into the final bidding at all.
So it's a great thing to be Alex Rodriguez these days. Unless the shell-shocked masses turn him into the poster boy for greed. Which isn't out of the question, by the way -- no matter how wonderful a guy and how skilled a player he may be.
"I never, ever would have guessed, when this started, that he'd wind up in Texas," said one friend of A-Rod. "Not when I think about all the stuff he was saying before he went into this."
Remember all that stuff? How this was about more than just money?
That it was about playing on a proven winner?
That it was about elevating his profile to help get him into the Hall of Fame?
That it was about giving him opportunities to be a show-biz kind of guy -- chatting it up with Katie Couric, tap-dancing in the Broadway production of "A-ROD, the Musical"?
That it was about playing in a town that was right there on the center of baseball's radar screen, so those A-Rod highlights were rolling on every 11 o'clock SportsCenter in the East Coast?
OK, so none of that stuff wound up applying. But what the heck. He blew away the previous highest contract in baseball history (Mike Hampton's two-day-old deal with Colorado) by a mere $131 million. So he still figures to be fairly recognizable.
He is baseball's first quarter-billion-dollar man. And that is a distinction that was causing many a case of vertigo in the supposedly financially troubled sport of baseball.
Asked if the Rangers' final answer shocked him, Texas manager Johnny Oates replied: "We're way past that. I was stunned 10 years ago. I'm numb now."
"I was shocked 15 years ago," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "Now it's one of those things where you just say, `What's next?' I won't say it's numbing. But I will say it's not surprising."
"I can't even fathom this money," said Phillies manager Larry Bowa. "Your heart starts palpitating that they're giving this kind of money away. I'm happy for A-Rod, but when you ask is anybody worth that kind of money, I guess you need to rephrase that. You have to say: If anybody's worth that money, he is."
But where does that quarter-billion dollars come from? That's the question.
That's a whole lot of Texas Rangers key rings. We know that.
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But we have to remember what this is really all about. Tom Hicks, the man who owns this team, is a cable-TV magnate. So this isn't a deal that can be measured in traditional baseball terms.
For Tom Hicks, Alex Rodriguez is programming. He's WAROD in Arlington, on your cable-TV dial.
"Well, tell you what," said Bowa, who was Rodriguez's third-base coach in Seattle this year. "If he's programming, he's got a good program right there."
And then we have to think of what A-Rod means to the Rangers' franchise. This, remember, is a team that has never won a postseason series. This, remember, is a team that has spent most of its life thinking of itself as that team in the old Dallas metroplex that wasn't the Cowboys.
"I would say the Texas Rangers' name has been mentioned more nationally these last two days," said Oates, "than we got over the last two years."
So Alex Rodriguez is also an attempt to change the perception of this franchise -- not just in Dallas, but on planet Earth.
"If I were an owner," Oates said, "there are not very many players in this game that I would want to commit that much (money) to. He would not only have to be a good player on the field. He'd have to be a good baserunner, a good fielder, a five-tool guy. He'd have to be good in the community. He'd have to be very marketable. And here in Texas, he'd have to be marketable to the Spanish-speaking culture, to Latinos, to bilinguals.
"But for any ballclub, there are not a whole lot of guys they could make that kind of commitment to and expect they'd be getting their money's worth, on and off the field."
A-Rod, however, has the skills and the charisma and the life-size-poster kind of look that he seems to be that guy.
But he isn't Mark McGwire. He isn't Pedro Martinez. He isn't a nightly show, in and of himself. He's a great, great shortstop -- up there with any shortstop who ever lived in all-around brilliance. But if you start counting up all the shortstops in history who were prime-time drawing cards, you'd have a very short list.
"Ernie Banks maybe," said Bowa, one of the best shortstops of the '70s. "That might be it. But this guy -- everybody knows this guy."
Well, if they didn't know him before, they know him now. And they will know the Texas Rangers now.
Last summer, ESPN.com did a survey of major-league general managers. We asked the question: If you could start a franchise right now with any position player in baseball, who would you start it with?
A-Rod finished first. Pudge Rodriguez finished tied for second.
Now the Texas Rangers -- the Texas Rangers -- employ them both.
They've also added Andres Galarraga, Ken Caminiti and Randy Velarde this winter. So they've got a whole new infield. And all they've lost is closer John Wetteland, who may or may not be forced to retire because of back problems.
They were last in the American League in ERA this season. So unless A-Rod can pitch in his spare time, they're far from perfect. But Oates wasn't grumbling.
"In an ideal world," he said, "you'd get all the questions answered. You'd have a superstar at every position and five Cy Youngs in the rotation and a perfect closer. We don't have all the answers. But I bet we'll still find a way."
And it all starts with the 25-year-old shortstop who is now worth almost three times as much as the Montreal Expos.
Monday morning, Oates recalled one of his first conversations with A-Rod, back when Rodriguez was a senior in high school and showed up in Tampa one day to watch Cal Ripken take infield before a spring-training game.
"He said, 'Mr. Oates, do you think I should go to college or play professional baseball?'" Oates recalled. "And I said, 'Alex, that's up to you. But you've got so much talent, that some day, you could build yourself a college.' "
And what do you know? Now he can. Construction on A-Rod State should start any minute now, in a parking lot in Arlington.
But in the meantime, the state of A-Rod has never been better.
Jayson Stark is a Senior Writer at ESPN.com.
||But he isn't Mark McGwire. He isn't Pedro Martinez. He isn't a nightly show, in and of himself. He's a great, great shortstop -- up there with any shortstop who ever lived in all-around brilliance. But if you start counting up all the shortstops in history who were prime-time drawing cards, you'd have a very short list.
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