ARLINGTON, Texas – Jeff Francoeur(notes), the erstwhile (and fleeting) New Yorker who has discovered postseason hardball satisfaction in the land of football, may have hit upon a sub-theme of October.
The Texas Rangers outfielder remarked to a Gotham reporter this week, “I always wanted to know what it was like to play meaningful baseball in New York, and I’m going to have the opportunity.”
We’ll assume the kind-hearted Frenchy didn’t intend to lay out the New York Mets, but some things write themselves, and the Mets probably had it coming anyway, and he won’t be the only guy here with such conflicted notions.
Together for a short time in Texas, and franchise underpinnings for 6½ seasons from the beginning of A-Rod to the end of Tex, once upon a time they sought meaningful baseball in this part of Texas.
Well, nine years after Rodriguez signed his $252-million contract with then-owner Tom Hicks and seven years after Teixeira arrived in the big leagues, they’ll bat third and fourth in an American League championship series that’s made the Rangers relevant for the first time in a half-century.
Just as Francoeur’s reality might be slightly askew to his intentions – he’ll play as a Ranger and not a Met, at Yankee Stadium and not Citi Field, but, hey, who’s got time for details – Rodriguez and Teixeira are here not as Rangers, but as Yankees, and almost half a billion dollars’ worth at that. Here, the pair of superstars remains symbolic of not simply ordinary baseball (the Rangers had but one winning season in the A-Rod/Teixeira years), but of a system that allows – even encourages – the Yankees to loot franchises in the middle and lower economic classes, and of the many paths the Rangers took to reach their first ALCS.
All in all, the departures of both are viewed positively. Rodriguez was traded three years into a 10-year contract Hicks determined had cornered his franchise. The return was Alfonso Soriano(notes) and payroll flexibility, though not nearly enough to afford Teixeira, who was traded 3½ years later, 16 months prior to free agency, or, as it turned out, Soriano.
The return on Teixeira was four players, including two teenagers – Elvis Andrus(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes) – who today serve the club today at shortstop and closer. They are Teixeira’s legacy, the Rangers’ future, and their newest stars. What A-Rod left behind was deferred salary (still nearly $25 million worth), which by itself did not cause Hicks’ economic failure, but it surely didn’t help when Hicks was forced to borrow money from MLB to run the team, then file for bankruptcy and finally sell the club to a group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan.
On Thursday afternoon at Rangers Ballpark, a local TV man greeted Rodriguez like he knew him, thrust a microphone into his mug and told him he’d earlier asked Hicks what he’d say to Rodriguez were he to see him again.
“Uh-huh?” Rodriguez said.
Hicks’ response, according to the TV man: “Good riddance.”
Rodriguez narrowed his eyes, seemingly somewhat hurt and unsure how to respond.
“My answer,” he said finally, “would have been to give him a hug. And I still would. I just hope he wouldn’t push me away.”
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels was an intern with the Colorado Rockies when the Rangers signed Rodriguez. Nearly a decade later, and seven years since Rodriguez took his last at-bat for the club, plenty of A-Rod money is still on the Rangers’ books. It is not, Daniels said, counted against his payroll, which is maybe one-third the Yankees’ payroll.
“No, not at this point,” he said. “Typically deferred money is. But we’re accounting for that separately. It’s still real money, though. And it all comes from the same place.”
Teixeira still has a home here. Rodriguez still has $25 million here. They return familiar with the rhythms of the place, the folks who turn out, and the somewhat confused but earnest organization that has made something of itself. They’ve been back plenty of times, so it’s not as though the different uniforms and the healthy paychecks will be a shock to anyone.
Truth is, they liked it here. But, sometimes you outgrow a place, and in baseball that usually means money, and often enough that means returning in a uniform with New York or Boston or Los Angeles written across the front.
It speaks to the players they are, and to what the Yankees and Rangers are, and to what the system is.
“Now here they are,” Daniels said, then smiled. “I’ll let you write the next paragraph.”
Maybe that’s unfair and maybe that’s why it took the Rangers 11 years to return to the playoffs and decades to win their first playoff series.
In 2003, the sole season they spent on the same roster in Texas, Rodriguez and Teixeira had for teammates Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro and Hank Blalock(notes) and Mike Young. That didn’t work. And it kept not working for years, with Rodriguez and without him, with Teixeira and without him.
“The thing about it is, just because you want to win doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” Rodriguez said. “The bottom line is, we didn’t win. … I thought our efforts were sincere. I thought we tried. I thought ownership tried. And it didn’t work out.”
So, they tried it with neither. They stressed pitching. They made, Rodriguez said, “one helluva trade,” for Cliff Lee(notes), among others. And then, finally, there was meaningful baseball in Texas. For everyone.
“That’s baseball,” Teixeira said. “It’s a tough business.”