NEW YORK -- He was here to receive the American League's Most Valuable Player Award. But even before he made it to the dais last night, Alex Rodriguez was accorded another honor by the Texas Rangers, one that should at last put to rest any more talk about the 28-year-old shortstop being traded to the Red Sox.
Rodriguez is the new captain of the Rangers, accepting an offer from Texas manager Buck Showalter in the course of a lengthy meeting yesterday afternoon between Rodriguez and Rangers officials, including owner Tom Hicks and general manager John Hart, before the New York Baseball Writers dinner.
"This was the first time we've all been in the same location since the trade fell apart," said Hicks, noting that Rodriguez and his wife had just returned from a European vacation.
"We spent five hours together and worked through the inevitable issues that build up when you go through something like this. As is often the case, two or three issues are amplified in the process to 10 or 12 issues, but we worked through those issues very quickly and put them behind us."
One of those issues was the contentious relationship that had developed between Rodriguez and Showalter, who reportedly had made futile attempts to contact Rodriguez since the end of last season.
"It's taken on a life of its own," Hicks said of the reported friction between the men. "You see it in business all the time, a lack of communication. But they had a chance yesterday to look each other in the eye, they had a chance to talk, and they both realize they want to win a championship."
Three hours into the meeting, Hicks said, Showalter offered the captaincy to Rodriguez.
"I was just an observer at that point," said Hicks, insisting he was not party to prior discussions Showalter had with Hart about the captaincy, "but I was real pleased with the way it came out. He's our captain."
Rodriguez, appearing at a hastily called press conference before the dinner, said he was touched by the gesture.
"I definitely think I'm going to be here for a long time," Rodriguez told reporters. "I'm probably pretty sure it will work out for the best."
Showalter, who shared a dinner table last night with Hicks and Hart and Rangers PR man Gregg Elkin, said that he first raised the issue of Rodriguez becoming captain last season, but because the team had so many veterans, among them Rafael Palmeiro, Ruben Sierra, Carl Everett, and Ugueth Urbina, the timing was not right. But all of those players have departed, and the Rangers are rebuilding around a core of young players, including third baseman Hank Blalock, second baseman Michael Young, and first baseman Mark Teixeira.
"The fit is real good for Alex," Showalter said. "I've only had one other captaincy in 28 years, and that was Don Mattingly [with the Yankees]. I take that step very seriously."
Showalter downplayed the perception that he and Rodriguez had been at odds. "A lot of it was separating fact from fiction," he said of their discussion yesterday, "and there was a lot more fiction than fact."
Hart said the offer of captaincy came as a surprise to Rodriguez. "This comes at the right stage of his career, and also for where our franchise is," Hart said.
For nearly two months, the Rangers and Red Sox had discussed a trade for Rodriguez, with the talks originally centering on a straight swap of All-Star shortstops, Rodriguez for Nomar Garciaparra, who last March turned down a four-year contract extension for $60 million. The deal eventually evolved into a proposed swap in which the Sox would have received Rodriguez for outfielder Manny Ramirez, minor league pitcher Jon Lester, and cash, Hicks insisting that he would part with the game's best player only if the Red Sox also included at least $15 million in addition to the players.
The deal began to come apart when the players' union refused to accept a restructuring of Rodriguez's contract by the Sox that would have reduced the value of the deal by $28 million. Without the reduction, the Sox said they could not take on the balance of Rodriguez's $252 million, 10-year contract, which had seven years remaining. The Sox also refused to accede to Hicks's demand for more cash, and a last-minute offer by Hicks to drop the demand for more cash if the Sox paid Rodriguez in full also was rejected by Boston, even as Rodriguez made an extraordinary offer to pay Hicks millions out of his own pocket to make the deal happen.
In the end, both teams walked away from the table frustrated: the Red Sox by what they perceived were harmful media leaks from Hicks, the Rangers by what they perceived as the Sox' inability to close the deal, shifting the terms as the talks went on.
But after openly lobbying to go to Boston, with the blessing of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, Rodriguez said last night he was committed to remaining with the Rangers.
"I feel very good about our plan as we move forward," he said at the news conference. "I feel we're going to be very good, very soon."
Hicks was asked if he regretted having explored the trade with the Sox.
"Our local media asked me that," he said. "If I had known the outcome, then my answer would be yes. But the way it evolved, it could have been win, win, win. It could have been great for Alex, the Rangers, and Boston. But things change, and I'm glad to put it behind us."
Still ahead, Hicks acknowledged, was some fence mending with Rangers fans, who have endured four straight last-place finishes, three since Rodriguez came aboard.
"But a side benefit of Alex now being the official leader of our team is that our fans are now confident that Alex is going to be here," Hicks said.
"It's all about winning. Everything is going to be fine. If we don't win, the fans are going to be mad. But we're going to win. We're going to turn this thing around."