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PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

A-Rod: A Look at Baseball's $250 Million Man

Aired July 7, 2001 - 11:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: He's the highest-paid team athlete in history, a baseball superstar who makes so much money even he is overwhelmed by it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALEX RODRIGUEZ, TEXAS RANGERS: I'm always embarrassed and ashamed of this contract.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A quarter of a billion dollars -- a fortune for anyone, but especially for a kid whose family scraped to get by.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDDY RODRIGUEZ, MIAMI BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB: He grew up with rough kids, kids didn't have anything, with kids that didn't have no lunch, no money, no shoes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now he's got it all, talent, money, even cover-boy good looks. But will Alex Rodriguez ruin baseball?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Mr. Rodriguez!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: His story now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Daryn Kagan.

He is the $252 million man, a baseball superstar with the richest contract in sports history. But is Alex Rodriguez worth it? That's the question hanging over the young shortstop as he takes the field in the All Star Game this Tuesday. And adding to the pressure, this year's All Star Game is being hosted by the Seattle Mariners. That's the team that Rodriguez left behind for his megamillion-dollar deal.

The road to superstar status and all that money hasn't been all that easy for the player, who's also known as A-Rod.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: And a high drive! The kid from Miami has hit his first salami.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN (voice-over): He's a baseball player whose biggest score came during the off-season, when he knocked down the biggest paycheck in sports history. Now Alex Rodriguez is a superstar player with a superstar salary. Even he can't believe he's getting paid so much to do what he's always dreamed of.

RODRIGUEZ: This is a game that I would pay to play.

KAGAN: Good thing he didn't tell that to the Texas Rangers before they handed him the most lucrative salary in sports history, $252 million over the next 10 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to our ball team.

RODRIGUEZ: Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: And he's only 25.

The young athlete's good looks have landed him on the cover of "GQ" and on the list of "People" magazine's most eligible bachelors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch it, watch it.

KAGAN: His huge paycheck has made A-Rod a lightning rod for critics. But Alex says the pressure he's under now is nothing compared to growing up in a family that struggled to make ends meet.

RODRIGUEZ: Pressure to me is when you have to pay the rent at the end of the month and you don't know where the next dollar's coming from. And I've been there before.

KAGAN: Alex was born in New York City in 1975 after sister Suzy (ph) and brother Joe. His father, Victor, had played amateur baseball in the Dominican Republic, and he'd made enough money from the Manhattan shoe store he owned that he moved the family back to his homeland to retire when Alex was 4.

The Rodriguez family lived well in the Dominican Republic by any standards. They moved into a four-bedroom house, they even had a live-in maid. Alex learned to ride a bike here, celebrated birthdays with relatives, and always got carsick riding the bus to school.

And it was here that he started developing the fundamentals for baseball and life. RODRIGUEZ: The three years in Dominican really grounded me, in a sense, where it gave me a foundation, I think, for the rest of my life.

KAGAN: But an economic downturn forced Alex's father to move the family to Miami to open another shoe store. When Alex was 9, his dad told the family he needed to work in New York for a while. Alex says he didn't hear from his father for years. Our attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

RICH HOFMAN, HIGH SCHOOL COACH: I think it bothered him a lot, although he never talks about it.

KAGAN: Alex doesn't like to talk about his father, but he did write about him in his book "Hit a Grand Slam." He writes, "Whatever his true reasons for leaving and not staying in touch, I can forgive him. I have to let go of that anger to move forward. The problem is, I can't forget what he did."

Alex's mother, Lourdes (ph), worked two to three jobs to support the family.

RODRIGUEZ: I can remember coming home at night and counting her tip money from being a waitress late at night to 11:30 at night, and I wouldn't go to -- come to bed until she got home. And I felt I was counting $36, $37, $38, $40 was a great night.

KAGAN: J.D. Arteaga, now a minor league pitcher with the Houston Astros, grew up with Alex in Miami.

J.D. ARTEAGA, FRIEND: I think (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that the struggles that his mom went through, you know, and the strength that she had to keep that family together and, you know, keep three jobs and just barely making it, you know, going from paycheck to paycheck.

RODRIGUEZ: There were some growing pains, obviously. You know, there was divorce involved and all that. But for the most part, I had a great childhood, and I had a lot of people to look up to. And I've been a beneficiary of some adults taking me under their wing.

KAGAN: One of the adults who took Alex in, J.D. Arteaga's father, Juan.

ARTEAGA: I got a little jealous sometimes, because he'd go buy me shoes, and he'd go, you know, he'd ask for another pair. And I'd say, "Well, who's that for?" And he said, "That's for Alex."

KAGAN: Alex was so skinny back then that the other kids called him Cheech, after the comedian Cheech Marin of "Cheech and Chong."

ARTEAGA: He was always, you know, the skinniest kid on the team, slow, you know, not a great (UNINTELLIGIBLE), probably always had a great glove and great hands and made good contact.

KAGAN: J.D.'s father brought Alex to play baseball here at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami. Jose Kinseco (ph) played here. So did fellow Ranger Rafael Palmiero. And it was there that Alex met another father figure.

EDDY RODRIGUEZ: Do you understand what I'm saying?

KAGAN: Eddy Rodriguez, no relation, but he might as well have been family. He once played center field in the minor leagues for the Chicago Cubs.

EDDY RODRIGUEZ: Alex was a, you know, was a kid that a lot of people want to help him, you know, he was a kid that a lot of -- that was likable by everybody. And I remember he probably struggled, you know, but, you know, he was always -- you know, he had the Boys Club, he had his family.

RODRIGUEZ: It gave me an avenue to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and you have a place where you can go out, do your homework, play ball. And basically there's no pressure there, there is no prejudice there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: Swung on, this is gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RODRIGUEZ: Alex's other role models were major league players. He took the number three on his jersey from former Atlanta Braves slugger Dale Murphy. He also idolized Cal Ripken, Jr., of the Baltimore Orioles. As a kid, he placed a Ripken poster above his bed. Later, during high school, Alex would sneak off to watch Ripken play in spring training nearby.

Former Rangers manager Johnny Oates, who was managing the Orioles at the time, introduced them.

JOHNNY OATES, FORMER TEXAS RANGERS MANAGER: Couple days later, we were playing over -- playing the Cardinals over in St. Pete. And I look up, and there he is behind the tarp down the left-field line watching the infield. And I said, "Don't you ever go to school?"

KAGAN: Alex looked to his other role models, his mother and Juan Arteaga, to fill the void left by his father. He still had heard nothing from him.

When the story of Alex Rodriguez continues, his star in baseball would rise, but another tragedy would add to his personal pain.

RODRIGUEZ: He just had a stroke and he passed away, so I was -- that was a tough time.

KAGAN (on camera): Hard times ahead for A-Rod. But first, a look at celebrity happenings in this week's edition of Passages.

ANNOUNCER: Talk about life imitating art! The actor who plays the troubled son of a Mafia boss on "The Sopranos" was booked on robbery and drug possession charges. Police say 16-year-old Robert Eiler (ph) and three other boys demanded and took about $40 from other teens in New York Wednesday. Eiler had a small bag of marijuana and a water pipe in his pocket, according to authorities. The actor pleaded not guilty and is free after posting $2,500 bail.

The wedding of "TLC"'s Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez and NFL receiver Andre Rison, scheduled for Thursday in Atlanta, was called off. The reason? Well, the bride couldn't be in town, according to her publicist. The spokesman says Lopez needed to stay in L.A. to finish her new music video. The on again-off again romance between the singer and the football star sparked national attention seven years ago when Lopez was arrested for burning down Rison's million-dollar mansion.

Worried that you won't be able to get your Mr. Rogers fix now that the show has stopped filming? Well, fear not. Children's television icon Fred Rogers is launching an interactive program for the PBS Web site. Rogers hopes to have a series of children's stories for the site, set to launch this summer. "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" taped its final episode last year after 33 years on television.

For more celebrity news that you'll want to talk about, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: Right center. The ball game is over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN (voice-over): Today, Alex Rodriguez is a six-foot-three, 210-pound baseball superstar with matinee idol good looks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: And Rodriguez is the hero.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: He certainly has come a long way to become the highest- paid team athlete in history.

HOFMAN: He was just a young, thin, very good-looking athlete who looked like he had a lot of potential.

KAGAN: Rich Hofman was a coach at Westminster Christian Prep School in Miami, has sent 33 players into the pros, four into the big leagues. When Alex was 15, he wanted a chance to shine on Hofman's diamond, but the teenager's mother was hard-pressed to come up with the $5,000 tuition to pay for the private school.

ARTEAGA: And as far as for the baseball program in Westminster, you couldn't beat it. So it was a, you know, sacrifice that all of our parents had to make. KAGAN: With the help of a scholarship, Alex's mother scraped together the money. Under Coach Hofman, Alex began to learn the basics of the game. His baseball skills began to improve dramatically.

HOFMAN: When everybody else went home, he went into the weight room. He started working hard and doing the extra things that great players need to do, and he went from a skinny, straggly little guy to a -- just a real dynamite-looking athlete.

KAGAN: The little kid who was nicknamed Cheech was now nicknamed Big Dog. Yet Alex almost gave up baseball. He had developed into an all-around athlete.

HOFMAN: Probably the best athlete I've ever seen.

KAGAN: He was starting quarterback of the high school football team. But his real love was basketball.

HOFMAN: Could have been an NBA point guard if he wanted to be.

RODRIGUEZ: I loved basketball growing up, but once I did my research, and I realized there weren't too many Dominican players in the NBA, I had to change gears and go to baseball. And I'm glad I did.

KAGAN: But jut as everything seemed to be falling into place for Alex, tragedy struck during his sophomore year. It happened while Alex and J.D. were playing a football game.

HOFMAN: In our first game of the year, Mr. Arteaga, it was in the second quarter, he came down out of the bleachers. He had heart problems to start with. And he said, you know, "I don't feel too well," and it was real hot. And he just collapsed right there on the running track.

ARTEAGA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) friend of the family came to the house that night, and he couldn't make it, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He lost a father too, and he just couldn't come face -- not face the family, but he was hurt.

RODRIGUEZ: He was the guy that treated me like his third child. And he just had a stroke and he passed away, so I was -- that was a tough time.

KAGAN: Alex responded by dedicating himself to baseball. During his junior year, he hit lead-off, batting 450. He helped guide his high school team to a 35-and-2 record at a national championship.

All eyes were now on him, dozens of scouts showing up to watch him play his senior year. And with the baseball draft approaching, the pressure was mounting.

EDDY RODRIGUEZ: I remember one day we -- he said, "You know what? I wish I could be a normal kid." And I said, "Why you say that?" He said, "I was 15 years old, I was the best amateur player in the world, and always people looking at me like this superstar (UNINTELLIGIBLE). You know, I didn't have a chance to play a lot of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) play with my friends." He goes, "I always been traveling in baseball. And I always want to be -- people doesn't realize that I want to be a kid, that I'm a kid."

KAGAN: A kid getting ready to enter an adult world, waiting for that call that would send a teenager to compete against men.

HOFMAN: He had to wait for a phone call. And of course we all gathered around, because we knew he was either going to be the first or the second pick, but we weren't sure which.

KAGAN: On June 3, 1993, the Seattle Mariners made Alex the number one draft pick in the nation. Amid all the celebrating, he got another phone call that night from his father. That was the first time Alex had heard from his dad since he left nine years earlier.

The Mariners signed Alex Rodriguez to a $1.3 million contract after some hardball negotiating from his agent, Scott Boras. And with that money, Rodriguez bought a $34,000 Jeep Cherokee. And then he put himself on an allowance of only $1,000 a month.

RODRIGUEZ: I thought I was by far the most overpaid kid in the world, at 17 years old, to have a million dollars. I thought that was pretty scary.

KAGAN: On July 8, 1994, Rodriguez got called up to the show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: Good-looking kid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: The first 18-year-old to play in the majors in a decade. It was a shaky start, though. That first game he went 0-for-3.

But his numbers steadily improved. Rodriguez soon won the Mariners' starting job at shortstop. "Sports Illustrated" labeled him a hot player and one of the game's next superstars. One of his idols even saw the potential.

CAL RIPKEN JR., BALTIMORE ORIOLES: Lot of times we put labels on players. We say they can't miss, this guy's going to be a great player. But it's another thing to go out there and actually do it, and he's doing it, you know, like he's been in the league five and 10 years.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Alex backhands the ball...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: In 1996, his first full major league season, "The Sporting News" named him major league player of the year. He was the American League batting champ and came just three votes shy of being selected MVP.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: And that is hit well into right center field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: In 1998, he joined the elite 40-40 club, 42 homers and 46 stolen bases.

During the off season in '96, he lived in south Miami with his mother and a German shepherd named Ripper. Rodriguez later did move into his own house, but it was only five minutes away from his mother.

EDDY RODRIGUEZ: The good thing about Alex, he's always stay with his little group, you know, he always stay with the people he grew up with. We always going to see, when you see Alex, you're going to see us (ph).

KAGAN: After last season, the four-time all star became a free agent with the right to work for any club for whatever salary he could negotiate. The Mariners wanted to keep Rodriguez. The Atlanta Braves and the New York Mets also expressed interest. But Rangers owner Tom Hicks flew Alex to Dallas in his private jet, and after a marathon negotiating session with agent Boras, the deal was done.

OATES: I was going back to my home in Arlington, and I left the hotel, and there's a mobile billboard outside the hotel already (UNINTELLIGIBLE) walking to the Rangers A-Rod.

KAGAN: But not everyone would welcome A-Rod's colossal contract. When we come back, the firestorm over Alex Rodriguez and all that money.

(on camera): We'll have more on the controversy over A-Rod's big salary in a moment. But first, another player who earned the big bucks. Here's our weekly feature, Where Are They Now?

ANNOUNCER: Back in 1979, pitching great Nolan Ryan (ph) became the first million-dollar major leaguer. So where is Nolan Ryan now? Well, when he's not pitching Advil in commercials, Ryan is at home in Alvin, Texas. He is overseeing cattle ranches, a hometown bank, or his latest endeavor, the Round Rock Express. It's a minor league baseball team named after Ryan's trademark fast ball, the Ryan Express.

PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) shortstop (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Alex Rodriguez.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN (voice-over): The Texas Rangers are paying Alex Rodriguez $252 million over the next 10 years to wear a Rangers uniform. After that megadeal was announced, cries of foul immediately erupted.

To put that in perspective, that's $2 million more than Tom Hicks paid then-owner George W. Bush and partners to buy the entire team in 1998. A-Rod's contract is worth more than half of major league's 30 franchises, according to "Forbes" magazine. It's worth even more than the two bottom teams combined.

RODRIGUEZ: I don't think anyone's worth this type of money, obviously. But, you know, that's the market that we're in today.

KAGAN: Critics question what salaries like A-Rod's are doing to baseball.

BILL MADDEN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I think they're hurting baseball in the fact that you have too many have-not teams already in baseball, and every time a contract such as this comes down, it puts pressure on everybody else just to maintain their own players.

ROGER I. ABRAMS, AUTHOR, "THE MONEY PITCH": It hardly, in my mind, means the downfall of baseball. It does mean that the market has changed, and there has to be some attention to what this actually means for the business of baseball in the future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: Fifty-five thousand-plus at Yankee Stadium...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: A future, some argue, where the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BASEBALL ANNOUNCER: They probably had 3,500.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAGAN: ... could drive some teams out of business.

BOB COSTAS, SPORTSCASTER: Baseball will continue to have problems if sometime in the near future they don't come up with a plan for comprehensive revenue-sharing and some sort of payroll restraint.

KAGAN: Just how high can these baseball salaries soar?

SCOTT BORAS, AGENT: As long as the revenues continue to grow, obviously the salaries for the performers are going to continue to grow.

RODRIGUEZ: I think it's just an indication of how great the game is doing to revenues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. Let's have a great smile.

KAGAN: On top of his baseball revenues, Alex is also raking in money in endorsements. He fronts everything from Armour Hot Dogs to Radio Shack to Armani suits.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're all here, Alex, to support you and...

KAGAN: But he's also giving some of his millions back. He holds a glitzy fund-raiser every year for the Miami Boys and Girls Club.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the basketball, I mean, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

KAGAN: He's donated baseball fields and scholarships to the club, and he also donates his time.

EDDY RODRIGUEZ: Off season, he's here every day. He doesn't mind getting a slice of pizza, talk to the kids, sign autograph for the kids. He's here every day. So that to me is more important than the money he has donated to the Boys Club.

KAGAN: Whether he likes it or not, Rodriguez's salary has intensified the glare from the public spotlight. There are more demands on his time and his money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not going to change his mind, so you're wasting your time.

RODRIGUEZ: There's going to be for me a transition here as far as both professionally and in my personal life.

KAGAN: Speaking of his personal life, will all that money sour his milk-and-cookies reputation? Rodriguez now drives an expensive new BMW and a Range Rover. From all indications, though, the only time you could call Rodriguez a swinger is when he steps up to the plate.

RAFAEL PALMIERO, TEXAS RANGERS FIRST BASEMAN: I don't know what he does when he closes the door to his house, but I know when he opens it up and he comes out, it's squeaky-clean.

KAGAN: He's still one of the most eligible bachelors around. He told "People" magazine last year he wants someone who would be a great mother. So what's his status now?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, I'm unavailable.

KAGAN: Alex Rodriguez says he has few regrets. He has wrestled with whether he should have gone to college instead of going pro. Back in high school, he even went for advice to the man who would become his manager.

OATES: He says, "Mr. Oates, do you think I should sign, or do you think I should go to college?" And trying to be funny, I said, "Alex, with the money you're going to make in this game someday, you can build yourself a college." Little did I know what kind of college he was going to be able to build himself.

RODRIGUEZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my college degree, and I haven't attained that yet. And that's a promise that I made to my mother.

KAGAN: Rodriguez is now finally coming to terms with the father he never really knew. Years after that phone call on draft day, his father contacted him again, and the two have gotten together several times since.

HOFMAN: I think since he's had an opportunity to have some contact and he's -- I think he's -- it's very good for him.

RODRIGUEZ: We're working on it. It's better, and that's all I'm going to say about that. it is better, though.

KAGAN: For now, Rodriguez's biggest burden, the question -- is he worth all that money?

HOFMAN: I think this year is going to be a difficult year for him, because he's going to be reminded every five minutes that he got too much money. And every time he doesn't get a base hit, he's not earning his income.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), A-Rod.

KAGAN: And the fans are there to remind him too. And A-Rod's response to that critic? His first home run of 2001.

(on camera): So far, all the money the Texas Rangers shelled out for A-Rod hasn't managed to buy them a winning season. In fact, the Rangers are buried in the basement of their division. Leading that division and off to one of the best starts in major league history, the Seattle Mariners, A-Rod's former team.

For more on Alex Rodriguez, check out our Web site at cnn.com/people.

Coming up next week, the troubled actor who's starring in his own courtroom drama, Robert Downey, Jr.

That's it for now. I'm Daryn Kagan. For all of us here at PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, thanks for watching.

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