Alex Rodriguez is back in the news this week. Going into this week's four-game series against the Indians in Cleveland, A-Rod is on deck to hit his 600th career home run.
This got me to thinking ... what if A-Rod was hitting all those homers at Fenway Park as the shortstop of the Boston Red Sox?
It almost happened. Actually, it did happen for a few days, but the almighty Major League Baseball Players Association intervened, forever changing the fortunes of a bunch of ballclubs when the A-Rod-to-Fenway deal was triggered in the winter of 2003-04.
Strange, but true. The near-deal was born in Boston's anguishing weeks after Aaron Boone's walkoff home run won Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS for the Yankees and drove a stake through the heart of Red Sox Nation. The epic collapse immediately joined the Bucky Dent game and the Bill Buckner game in the pantheon of Sox chokes. It also got manager Grady Little fired and motivated the Red Sox to consider trading for A-Rod, who was then property of the Texas Rangers and in the first trimester of his quarter-billion dollar contract.
Three days after Boone's blast off Tim Wakefield, Rangers owner Tom Hicks called the Red Sox to see if they were interested in trading for A-Rod. The Rangers wanted out of the Rodriguez pact and said they'd send the slugger to Boston for Nomar Garciaparra and a couple of kid pitchers.
That didn't fly, but discussions went back and forth over the course of the next two months and one week before Christmas, the Red Sox had two deals in place: Boston would send Garciaparra and reliever Scott Williamson to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez and prospects; Boston would also trade Manny Ramirez to the Rangers for Rodriguez. Sox owner John Henry had met with A-Rod and Rodriguez allowed a restructuring of his contract which creatively lowered the annual value (from $27 million to $20 million) and enabled the Red Sox to skirt some luxury tax. That's when player rep Gene Orza stepped in and killed the deal.
Hicks subsequently sent a letter to Rangers season ticket holders, telling them A-Rod would be Texas' opening day shortstop in 2004. Then the Rangers held a press conference and named A-Rod captain.
But it wasn't over. Boone blew out his knee playing pickup basketball in mid-January and on Valentine's Day 2004, the Yankees acquired A-Rod and his full contract from the Rangers in exchange for Alfonso Soriano. With Derek Jeter cemented at shortstop in New York, A-Rod agreed to move to third base for the Yankees. There was no "restructuring" of A-Rod's mega-deal.
The Sox were humiliated in that moment. The New York Times ran a Page 1 story headlined, "Summer or Winter, Yankees Show Red Sox How to Win.'' Texas scribe Randy Galloway wrote, "The biggest doofus organization in all of this turns out to be the Boston Red Sox ... in the ultimate Curse of the Bambino, A-Rod ends up in the hands of the hated King George.''
This is one of those It's a Wonderful Life themes where a moment in time changes the course of history for every moment thereafter. George Bailey gets to see the horrors of a world in which he'd never been born, so he re-thinks his wish and everyone lives happily ever after.
That's pretty much the deal in Boston. Without A-Rod, the 2004 Red Sox went on to win their first World Series in 86 years. Even better, they did it at the expense of Rodriguez' Yankees, coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series. Just about every sports tavern in New England features a photograph of Sox captain Jason Varitek with his catcher's mitt in A-Rod's face from a July '04 brawl which sparked Boston's comeback summer.
The Red Sox went on, of course, to win a second World Series in 2007. Meanwhile, A-Rod stewed and struggled in New York. He put up good numbers every regular season, then flopped in October. He was also outed as a steroid cheater. Sox fans, already happy to razz Rodriguez, had new fodder. They brought "A-Roid" signs to Fenway. When A-Rod was dating the Material Girl, some Fenway fans came to the park wearing Madonna wigs.
Rodriguez finally got his World Series ring in 2009 and he's in a good place to win a couple more while he marches toward 600, 700 and maybe 800 homers. But in Boston, no one ever looks back at the winter of 2003-04 with regret. No doubt Rodriguez would have been a lot better than Marco Scutaro, Julio Lugo, Edgar Renteria, Jed Lowrie, Nick Greene and the chorus line of shortstops who've failed to fill the void left by Nomar, but in more than six seasons since it all went down, I have never once heard a Red Sox fan say, "I wish we'd gotten A-Rod.''