A-Rod greets the New York press on February 17, 2004. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Do you remember Valentine’s Day 2004? For many, it was just another Valentine’s Day, a Saturday in February, but for Yankee fans, it was a big day for that was the day we first heard about the Yankees’ interest in Alex Rodriguez. I remember hearing the rumors and being completely unsurprised by them. The Yanks gave up Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias for A-Rod. It was a steal.
Today — February 15 — marks the six-year anniversary of the trade. The rumors erupted on Valentine’s Day, and by the next day, A-Rod was a Yankee, pending approval by the Commissioner. What struck me about the trade at the time was just how under-the-table it was. The Yanks targeted their guy and landed him before anyone really knew what was going on. In a way, it was similar to this year’s acquisition of Javier Vazquez in that no one knew it was happening or who was involved until the trade was complete.
For A-Rod, though, it wasn’t the first time that winter his name had come up. After the 2003 World Series ended and the Yankees and Red Sox looked to reload in anticipation of an October rematch, the early stories focused around A-Rod. Boston had grown tired of Manny Ramirez’s act and had placed him on waivers. The team later had a deal in place to acquire A-Rod for Manny Ramirez. The superstar short stop would have to give up some money, but the Red Sox had their guy. Boston then would have shipped Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox in exchange for Magglio Ordoñez to replace Manny.
The Players Union, however, didn’t see things the Red Sox’s way. The union quashed the deal over the restructuring of A-Rod’s contract. They didn’t want their marquee earner to give up guaranteed money, and so that deal was dead in the water. A-Rod would remain with Texas.
And then, February arrived and with it came a trade Jack Curry described as a “surprise move.” The Yankees would acquire A-Rod and all that came with him. He had his obsession with New York, his chilly relationship with Derek Jeter, his contract, his desire for attention and his prodigious ability and power. He would slide over to third base, and the Yankees would have two future Hall of Famers on the left side of the infield.
As the trade stories unfolded, it appeared as though the February move was a second chance for the Yanks. Tyler Kepner and Murray Chass reported of a phone call between the Rangers and Yankees just hours after the Marlins won the World Series. “On Oct. 26, about 12 hours after the Yankees lost the World Series to the Florida Marlins, Rangers officials called Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman to gauge his interest in trading for Rodriguez,” the two wrote. “Irritated by the timing and confident in his own star shortstop, Derek Jeter, Cashman passed.”
In Boston, fans were disappointed by the Yanks’ moves, and Mets’ fans felt jilted too. A-Rod was the one who got away. For his part, A-Rod said all the right things. ”To me, it was a very easy decision,” he said. ”To me, this came down to winning. Over the last three years, I’ve come to understand that winning is something I respect a lot. It was an easy decision. Hopefully, after today, it will be a dead issue. Derek Jeter is the captain of this team, and I’m going to follow his leadership.”
But the Yankees’ fans were less accepting. Words uttered by Reggie Jackson came back to haunt us all. ‘I’m taking for granted that A-Rod is a performer in the month of October,” Mr. October said in February. Of course, from Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS through the 2007 playoffs, A-Rod would come to symbolize not the Yanks’ successes in October but their high-price failures.
It would, in a way, take until 2009 for Yankee fans to truly embrace A-Rod. He suffered through an ill-timed decision to opt out of his contract, steroid allegations and a bad injury. But by the end of this past year, he was a playoff hero, the guy the Yanks wanted up every time. It all started six years ago today when the A-Rod Era kicked off.