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Seattle gets its chance to gloat

By JOHN ROMANO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 15, 2001


Alex Rodriguez returns to Seattle on Monday. Any minute now, Mariners fans are expected to act heartbroken.

This is not to suggest anyone wanted to see Rodriguez leave town during the winter, but Seattle has grown accustomed to losing star players. And it has grown used to winning without them.

In a span of 29 months, beginning in July 1998, the Mariners bid adieu to the best left-hander of his generation (Randy Johnson), a member of the All-Century team (Ken Griffey) and perhaps the greatest offensive shortstop in history (Rodriguez).

Rodriguez, Griffey and Johnson are playing for teams that are .500 or below. The Mariners are in first place in the AL West.

Are the Mariners better off without those three stars? Of course not. But were the Mariners better served spending their money elsewhere, instead of throwing the bank at Rodriguez and friends? Probably.

Johnson, Griffey and Rodriguez signed multi-year contracts worth more than $420-million upon leaving Seattle. No franchise could afford to make that kind of commitment to three players.

With the money saved, the Mariners signed free agents Aaron Sele, John Olerud, Jeff Nelson, Bret Boone, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ichiro Suzuki the past two years. Trades for Griffey and Johnson brought Mike Cameron, Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama aboard. It is a roster with less star power but far more depth.

Rodriguez, a tremendously likeable player, said he expects a largely negative response when he returns to Seattle with the Rangers on Monday.

The Mariners, fearful of unruly fans, issued a statement last week asking fans to be on their best behavior. It read, in part:

"We want to make it clear that when the Texas Rangers come to town next week, we believe it is important that the team and Alex Rodriguez be treated well. Yes, Alex is now an opponent. Nevertheless, the Mariners -- including ownership, management and players -- respect Alex, and appreciate his performance as a Seattle Mariner and the memories he has provided to sports fans in the Pacific Northwest."

Besides, would you rather be a .500 team with an expensive shortstop or the division leader?

EARLY SEASON SURPRISES: Mark Grudzielanek, who has never hit more than 10 home runs in a season, has five already. He credits new Dodgers batting coach Jack Clark for teaching him to look for pitches early in the count that he can drive. ... Jeff Fassero, who went seven years and four teams without a save, converted his first six save opportunities for the Cubs. Fassero became the closer when Tom Gordon was injured in the spring.

SHOWDOWN: The White Sox sent an important message to the Indians last week. With the unbalanced schedule placing more priority on head-to-head meetings, the White Sox swept Cleveland to up their record to 12-6 against the Indians the past two seasons. "People expect more out of us because of the way we played last year," Chicago's Jose Valentin said. "The question is going to be, "Can they do it again?' I think we can do it."

MINOR MATTERS: Rickey Henderson was sent to Triple-A Portland to get at-bats after signing late in spring training. Henderson was hitting .250 through 32 at-bats, and the Padres have made no noise about promoting him. ... Jose Canseco is sitting at home in Miami waiting for someone to sign him. The Blue Jays offered him a Triple-A contract.

A TWIN DELIGHT: The last time the Twins were five games over .500, Kirby Puckett, Dave Winfield and Kent Hrbek were in the lineup. That was 1994. "You never know what can happen later on," outfielder Matt Lawton said. "It's so nice to be up for a change."

FIGHTING WORDS: Mets reliever Turk Wendell exchanged words with Montreal rightfielder Vladimir Guerrero after a brushback pitch. Guerrero shouted something to Wendell and the pitcher motioned for him to come to the mound. "He's too chicken----," Wendell said. "I said, "Let's go.' He's a tough guy. He wants to play tough guy, you throw any ball near him, he wants to intimidate you, stare at you. Well, if you are that tough, come out, let's see it."

A WORLD SERIES OMEN?: After losing another game to the Yankees, Royals right-hander Brian Meadows was undaunted. "This whole team knows we can beat them," Meadows proclaimed. Well, they will have to wait until 2002 to prove it. The Yankees are through with the Royals this season and swept them in six games. Kansas City had been swept in a season series of three games or more twice in franchise history, by the 1970 Orioles and 1998 Yankees. Both teams went on to win the World Series.

THE LAST WORD: The rumor in California is that Disney is trying to unload the Angels. Anaheim's payroll is less than half of what the Fox-owned Dodgers are paying. "I guess their shows and movies are doing better," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said.

- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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