Seattleites like to believe there's something more important than money. Which is why when Alex Rodriguez left the Seattle Mariners for the Texas Rangers and a $252 million contract, people were pissed. A-Rod had said he wouldn't sign just for money, but in the end, that's what he did: departed for a dead-end team that paid him more than he was worth — and more than they could afford. You may remember what Seattle fans did when he returned to Safeco Field in 2001 to compete against his old mates: The fans spewed venom, booed, and dumped baskets of play-money from the upper decks. It was a rare show of resentment from live-and-let-live Seattle. Our egos were bruised and illusions shattered because A-Rod could be bought.
Many Mariners have come and gone. Some have found greatness elsewhere, others have lost their mojo. But none continue to disappoint the way A-Rod does. In these dismal days for baseball in Seattle, I often remember the excitement of 1995 when the city was gripped by a game and how it was when a group of under-acheivers over-acheived, which has to be the best one-two punch in sports.
But the lasting image is the famous newspaper photo of the pile of Mariners players celebrating the moment when the hated New York Yankees had been miraculously defeated and the lowly M's were headed for the American League Championship series. At the bottom of the pile, wriggling and grinning, were A-Rod and Ken Griffey Jr., youthful, laughing, heroic, and as stunned as the rest of us. This was Seattle baseball's high-water mark, and it captured the essence of what money can't buy.
A-Rod left for the money first to Arlington, Texas (an exit almost as insulting to local pride as being hornswoggled by the Okies), and eventually found his way to the New York Yankees, a team that could actually afford him. He continues to alternately thrill and disappoint fans and rake in the dough (he could earn more than $300 million over 10 years). But those of us who tried to prick his conscience showering him with Monopoly money suspected that the Texas move revealed a kind of character flaw that New York would only intensify. Now A-Rod graces the covers of the tabloids — re-dubbed "D-Rod" by the New York Post — involved in a messy divorce for cheating on his wife and consorting with Madonna, the Material Girl.
Is he a philandering cad, or a "brainwashed" innocent — the new Katie Holmes who has been whisked off his feet, and perhaps out of his mind, by a conniving queen of the Kabbalah cult? (And yes, I know this suggests that Madonna is the new Tom Cruise.)
A-Rod was one of the few name players in baseball to be openly in therapy — his soon-to-be-ex-wife said seeing a shrink was doing wonders for him back in 2005. His behavior now is hardly the advertisement for the process some then hoped. People seem to think Rodriguez is confused, and why shouldn't he be? In his heart, he knows there's more to life than celebrity, New York glitz, and money. We could have told him that. In fact, we tried to. But he wasn't listening.