Hicks spending time cutting his losses

ON BASEBALL

May 26, 2002|By Peter Schmuck

Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks just became the latest multi-millionaire to come to his senses. Too bad it happened after he single-handedly pushed baseball's salary structure to the brink of insanity.

Don't misunderstand. Superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez deserves to be the highest-paid player in the game, but when Hicks agreed in 2000 to pay him $252 million over 10 years - coincidentally, exactly twice the gross value of the largest contract previously awarded a professional athlete - he all but guaranteed another nasty labor showdown.

Now, properly chastened, he has announced that the Rangers will henceforth pay greater attention to the bottom line than the next off-season headline.

"We're going to start playing within our means," Hicks said in a recent interview with the team's beat reporters.

So add Hicks to a long list of very rich men who have spent wildly in their early years of ownership, with little regard for the impact that their unbridled economic enthusiasm might have on the long-term prospects of their teams and the overall financial health of the industry. And add him to the list of very rich owners who have been humbled by the realization that it takes both dollars and common sense to win at this level.

It's about time, but Hicks' epiphany has come too late to keep future Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez in Arlington. Hicks has conceded that I-Rod will enter the free-agent market at the end of this season, and he doesn't seem particularly optimistic that the club will have the wherewithal to convince the popular catcher to remain in a Rangers uniform.

Everyone but Hicks could see that coming two years ago, when the Rangers balked at extending I-Rod's contract and committed all that money to A-Rod and several other high-priced players. No one, however, imagined that the Rangers would finish 43 games out of first place in 2001 and continue to play .450 baseball this year.

"I'm very disappointed," Hicks said. "We tried real hard to have a competitive team. I understand the reasons we haven't. We had great support for the last two years but we've got to get our fans convinced we're headed in the right direction."

Hicks stopped short of signaling an Orioles-style rebuilding project, insisting that the Rangers can regain their fiscal equilibrium without completely breaking up a star-studded ballclub.

"We'll find a way," Hicks said. "There's a way to break even without a massive payroll cut. We've got younger players coming up and older players with contracts about to expire. It's all part of the process."

Can't wait to see how it works.

Finally, Angels have wings

The Anaheim Angels entered the weekend with 21 victories in their previous 24 games and had cut nine games off an 11-game deficit in the American League West.

The reason: Their revamped starting rotation has been even better than advertised.

Through Wednesday, Angels starters had worked into the sixth inning in 25 straight games and worked through the sixth inning in 23 of them.

The addition of veterans Kevin Appier (2.96 ERA) and Aaron Sele (4-2) clearly has solidified a rotation that also is getting strong performances from holdovers Ramon Ortiz, Jarrod Washburn and Scott Schoeneweis.

"I think those guys are doing what we hoped they'd do, and what we expected them to do," manager Mike Scioscia said. "The hope now is that they do it over a full season.

"We have a lot of confidence that they can. Every one of those guys has been over 200 innings or, in Washburn's case, touched 200 innings [193 1/3 last season]. We're going to need that the whole year because a big part of a championship-caliber ballclub is pitching."

Big Unit chases Big Train

It shouldn't take long for Arizona Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson to pass Walter Johnson on the career strikeout list. The Big Unit needs just two strikeouts in today's start against the Los Angeles Dodgers to overtake the Big Train (3,508) and move into seventh place all-time.

The latter-day Johnson, who became only the eighth player in major-league history to record 3,500 strikeouts in his last start against the San Francisco Giants, generally downplays his accomplishments. He admitted after that game that he is enjoying the climb up the strikeout ladder.

"Obviously, that's pretty special," Johnson said. "I suppose the reason I have never given much detail to any of these accomplishments is simply because I never thought I was going to do them. It's special to be in the company I'm in, whether it was 3,500 or 2,500."

If he continues at his current pace, Johnson figures to jump all the way up to fourth place on the strikeout list (Bert Blyleven is currently fourth with 3,701) by the end of this season.

Big Hurt wants extension

White Sox slugger Frank Thomas wants a contract extension, but not for himself. Thomas called on both sides in baseball's labor dispute to set aside their differences for one year to avoid a damaging work stoppage at a very sensitive time in the nation's history.

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