What could’ve happened with certain tweaks in the historical timeline of professional sports. What if Mickey Mantle hadn’t crashed head on into Joe DiMaggio, ending the latter’s career almost instantly? What if the Lakers never traded for Kobe, allowing him to remain with the Michael Jordan owned Hornets? What if Tony Romo had been traded to the Saints in 2006?
Without further ado, here’s the 2nd installment of what I like to call, Into the Multiverse:
I guess to do this right I should probably give you guys some background and insight into who exactly Alex Rodriguez is, or better yet who he was.
At this point we’ve all now seen the iconic viral video of a 22 year old Alex Rodriguez professing his desire to take J-Lo out on a date, and now we know dreams really do come true. The A-Rod in that video, though not the pop-culture phenom he’s grown into today, was still a pretty big freaking deal in the world of baseball at that time (1998). The young shortstop was a human highlight reel in those first few years with the Seattle Mariners; debuting in 1994, he’d already been a two-time All-Star and MVP runner-up when this video was captured. His stock was rising…fast…
Fast-forward to January of 2001, and Rodriguez is the hottest commodity on the Free Agent market. After some incredible years with the M’s, including four All-Star appearances and four Silver Slugger awards, A-Rod was looking for a new home. Rumors swirled about him potentially joining best-friend, Derek Jeter, with the Yankees or heading to the crosstown Mets, but ultimately he “settled” for a record-breaking 10-year $252 Million contract with the lowly Texas Rangers. Rodriguez would spend three individually awe-inspiring seasons with the Rangers, culminating with a league MVP nod in 2003. But the Rangers were essentially a one-man-show, and despite A-Rod’s incredible stat lines the team never made the playoffs in his first three years of that new deal.
Upset by the fact that his team wasn’t up to snuff, Rodriguez asked out of the Rangers organization via trade at the close of his MVP campaign. They obliged by putting together a trade with the Boston Red Sox that would center around slugger, Manny Ramirez & prized pitching prospect, Jon Lester. Additionally, with Rodriguez headed to Beantown, the Sox had a deal in place to flip their own All-Star shortstop to the Chicago White Sox for Outfielder Magglio Ordonez.
Just as the deal was approved by all sides, the MLBPA jumped in at the eleventh hour to veto the trade. They sited that the move involved Rodriguez restructuring his megadeal so he’d come away with less than the amount he had signed for, something that the union couldn’t stand for. So the trade fell through, with Boston unwilling to pay A-Rod the full amount of his contract. About two months later, the New York Yankees came calling, and the rest as they say, is history.
But what if that trade to Boston went through…
The MLBPA doesn’t block the deal, choosing instead to allow A-Rod to diminish the value of his contract in exchange for happiness in a winning situation. So Rodriguez happily heads up to Boston in exchange for Manny Ramirez & John Lester. As previously advertised, A-Rod gets to man his native position of shortstop, because Nomar Garciaparra is headed to the South Side in exchange for Ordonez.
Magglio is already an obvious downgrade from Manny in the lineup, but even more so in the wake of his injury (only plays 57 games in ’04). Without discernible outfield depth Manager, Terry Francona, is forced to get creative. He moves the incredibly-adaptable Bill Mueller out to Left Field, opening a spot at third for a corner-infielder we otherwise wouldn’t become familiar with for another two years: Kevin Youkilis. In his mid-20s Youk is serviceable but not the stud we’d see begin to breakout in his age 29 campaign, so his numbers are an acceptable (.270 BA, 17 HR, 75 RBI). In our universe, 2004 sees the Red Sox have abysmal production from the shortstop position in the wake of Nomar hurting his Achilles, and then being shipped to the Cubs at the Trade Deadline. Instead they get A-Rod playing gold glove defense and putting up massive offensive numbers (.286 BA, 36 HR, 108 RBI). An argument can be made that with David Ortiz acting as his protector in the order (.301 BA, 41 HR, 139 RBI) and ripping balls off the Green Monster 81 times a year, we’d see an uptick in the stats here. But people forget that in our universe, A-Rod gets Sheffield backing him up in New York to the tune of a MVP runner-up finish, plus Yankee Stadium isn’t exactly a pitcher’s ballpark itself. The Sox lose a trio of games from their record, finishing at 95-67. Also, since A-Rod is on the other side of this rivalry now but still the same person, he still finds a way to initiate a massive brawl…this time against Yankees’ back-up catcher, John Flaherty (let’s face it, Posada isn’t biting on this).
Texas gets the massive upgrade in Left Field, with one of Manny Ramirez’s best seasons (.308 BA, 43 HR, 130 RBI) as opposed to the so-so years of David Dellucci. Even if you estimate a slight down-tick in these numbers to account for a worse supporting cast batting around Manny, he’s still likely a Top-5 MVP candidate just as he was in our universe. After dealing Rodriguez and not acquiring a suitable infield addition (Alfonso Soriano in our universe) the Rangers can use the financial wiggle room to add a serviceable second baseman, while Michael Young slides over to his natural position at Shortstop. The guy who best fits that bill, and is still on the market in mid-February: Tony Womack. With a huge middle of the order that reads: 3. Mark Teixeira/4. Manny/5. Hank Blalock; and Womack having his career year in ’04 (.307 BA) to the surprise of many in baseball, this team adds to its win total (93 instead of 87). Most importantly, a late summer run that includes a sweep of A-Rod’s Sox, makes the last few weeks of the season a dead sprint for the Wild Card spot, and adds to the “we’re better off without A-Rod” narrative in Texas. They ultimately jump over the Angels & A’s in the West, and get to see playoff baseball for the first time in the new millennium (six years before they’d get to in our universe). Plus they get to champion their new franchise savior, Manny Ramirez, like the city of Boston never really did.
The reason the Bronx Bombers were even interested in Rodriguez that winter is because playoff hero, Aaron Boone (yes, the guy who manages them in 2019), tore up his knee in a pickup basketball game in late January. No A-Rod means the Yankees don’t get a superstar to man third base in ’04 and since the biggest infielder on the free agent market that year, Miguel Tejada, had already signed with Baltimore, there was nothing the Yankees could realistically do externally. The Yanks enter spring training with the job wide open to several of their top prospects. High-ranked infield prospect Eric Duncan didn’t pan out because of his inability to contend with big league pitching…just like in our universe…but the Yanks get an earlier glimpse at a kid they’d come to adore in later years: Robinson Cano. Though a natural second baseman, the 21 year-old’s incredible arm translates well to third, and Soriano is still a defensive liability everywhere so they just opt to keep him planted at second. Cano has always been able to hit at an astounding clip, so we’ll simply move his actual stats up a year (.297 BA, 14 HR, 62 RBI). The Yanks miss A-Rod’s bat mightily in the regular season despite Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada putting up big stats; they don’t eclipse the 100-win threshold as we remember, instead finishing at 98-64, still with the division title in hand.
In the playoffs we get one of the greatest match-ups in history: the team Alex Rodriguez abandoned for being perennial cellar-dwellers, has met him and his new club in the playoffs…and they own home field advantage. If you thought the struggles of Alex Rodriguez that we watched in the playoffs were bad, imagine what they’d look like for 2 (possibly 3) games of the disgruntled Rangers-faithful screaming obscenities at a way-too-desperate to be liked superstar. Somehow the Sox pull it out and advance, but not without dropping at least one of the games in Arlington. In the other ALDS series, the Yanks still handle the Central champion, Twins, in short order. The matchup is set for the ALCS, Red Sox vs. Yankees. A-Rod’s playoff struggles worsen in this round, because just as in our universe, he only plays well when the entire team is playing well during this series. Boston goes down 0-3 to a far more postseason-savvy New York team. We can argue that no A-Rod means the Yanks don’t get the 2 early runs via his homer in Game 4. but on the same token: no Nomar trade to the Cubs at mid-season means no Orlando Cabrera singling home a run and then scoring on the Ortiz single to tie the game up. So instead here’s where things begin to change: Game 4 in Boston still goes 12 innings, but the bottom of the 12th doesn’t open with a Manny single…instead it opens with Rodriguez’s extra inning at-bat: a weak lineout to short. That means Paul Quantrill doesn’t try pitching for a double-play, which leads to him accidentally serving up a hittable fastball low and inside (Ortiz’s wheelhouse). Instead he can intentionally walk Ortiz to face the 0-for-5 Jason Varitek who had struggled against the Yankees’ bullpen all season. This game goes to the 13th inning and that inning is to be led off by Derek Jeter, arguably the most clutch hitter in baseball history. Needless to say I think this series ends tonight in a clean sweep by the Yanks.
New York advances to the World Series, and like the Red Sox do in our timeline…sweep the St. Louis Cardinals to become the 2004 World Series Champions. The Sox don’t break the curse. The Yanks get ring number 27, five years ahead of schedule. Oh, and we never get that really weird A-Rod glove slap during Game 6 of the ALCS.
2005 & Beyond
In the immediate aftermath, Alex Rodriguez is an absolute animal in 2005 just like we watched him be in the Bronx. He has an MVP season (.321 BA, 48 HR, 130 RBI) amidst all of the flack from the Boston faithful about his horrendous play in October. Ortiz doesn’t fall far behind by any means (.300 BA, 47 HR, 148 RBI), and there’s a lot of dissension among Red Sox fans as “their guy” didn’t get the MVP honors over this outsider that they brought in. With Manny being Manny in Texas, and Nomar shipped off to Chicago, Ortiz alone has assumed the mantle of Boston’s favorite son, causing something of an issue for the affection-craving A-Rod…basically it’s the same way Yankee fans felt about him and Jeter in our universe. Boston has to contend with the Rodriguez shenanigans for a very long time, probably right up through his forced retirement in 2016. They get rocked with the steroid scandal harder than anyone, after the high-profile Rodriguez goes on 60-Minutes to deny PED usage…before ultimately changing his tune drastically. They experience the Madonna scandal first hand, and most egregiously of all…the ‘Details Magazine’ photoshoot. Having never captured the magic in ’04 and slated to pay a fast declining A-Rod for nearly another full decade, the city of Boston is forced to wait a very long time to finally break the Curse of the Bambino…it finally snaps in 2013 behind chants of “Boston Strong”…at 95 years.
Without adding A-Rod the Yankees are riding high, and relatively problem-free. Sure they still get screwed by Kevin Brown punching a brick wall and never pitching again. They get a mild burn from the steroid fallout when Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and Gary Sheffield are all cited as clients of Balco; but even that isn’t so hard to endure in the absence of A-Rod being the face of PED-use in a post-Bonds MLB. The Yanks keep their winning traditions and use the money that they aren’t paying Rodriguez to go out and grab other big names and contributors. Aside from the CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira hall that they garnered in ’09 with the immediate World Series payout (now number 28); the Bombers could have been players in free agency for guys like Adrian Beltre (’05 & ’09), Torii Hunter (’07), Andruw Jones (’07), Matt Holiday (’09), and Albert Pujols (’10). Plus they likely would have been able to retain Robinson Cano as their franchise corner stone, to hold the team together in the transition from Derek Jeter and the “Core Four” to Aaron Judge and the “Savages in the Box”. With their title count sitting at 28 as of 2009 in this alternate universe…who knows how many other cracks at the World Series they could have gotten with a different looking roster. Heck, Joe Torre probably never gets fired back in 2007 and we get to see one of the greatest baseball minds of the 90’s and 00’s transition into the Home Run-Strikeout era of modern day baseball.
The Texas Rangers are in an incredible spot after jumping into the playoffs in 2004. They’re able to make the AL West one of the most hotly contented divisions in baseball for years to come, swapping divisional crowns with the Angels and ever-present Athletics on seemingly a year-to-year basis. Their lineup is set at least through the ’09 season when both Tex and Ramirez would’ve been poised to depart in free agency with their deals expiring. In that time, the lineup would’ve been built impeccably around two of baseball’s most feared hitters of that era. And with Jon Lester’s career kicking off during the 2006 campaign, their pitching misfortunes would have started to turn the corner. In the interim they could have made any number of moves to chase premier pitching talents and rounded out an otherwise ready-to-contend roster. Would they have ever been able to capture a World Series trophy, something that has eluded this franchise for the entirety of their 59 year existence? Possibly. But it’s needless to say that they would have definitely been in a lot better shape in both the short and long term than we got to witness.
That’s one heck of a switch up if we step into the multiverse.