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Rodriguez Once Drafted Dodger Scenario

Baseball: Mariner shortstop told Seattle not to select him No. 1 in 1993 because he wanted to play for Los Angeles.

September 23, 1996|ROSS NEWHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — He was 17, a high school senior, and beguiled by what he saw at Vero Beach that spring.

"It was a combination of things," Alex Rodriguez said in reflection. "Dodgertown. Tom Lasorda. Dodger blue. I fell in love with the whole mystique about being a Dodger.

"I mean, I didn't know anything about Seattle except that the Seahawks played there. I barely knew where it was or who the Mariners were.

"I told them not to draft me. I told them I wanted to play for the Dodgers and I wanted play in the National League so that I could get home a couple times a year."

The Mariners didn't listen. They made the shortstop from Westminster Christian High in Miami the first player selected in the 1993 June draft.

The Dodgers, up next, chose Wichita State pitcher Darren Dreifort.

A no brainer, Dodger vice president Fred Claire said.

"As significant as it was, we didn't have to make a decision," Claire said. "There was absolutely no question who the first two guys in that draft were going to be.

"It was literally a situation where neither team could miss. We knew that whoever we obtained would become a significant player."

Lasorda, a friend of Westminster coach Rich Hofman, had invited Hofman to bring Rodriguez to Dodgertown that previous spring for an informal workout and remembers being awed.

"The ball jumped off his bat," Lasorda said.

Said Hofman: "Tommy told me he was the best high school kid he had ever seen."

Yet, as much as Rodriguez wanted to be drafted by the Dodgers, Hofman added, "he was torn. There was also the prestige of being the first player selected in the draft. He basically felt he couldn't be hurt either way."

Mariner scouting director Roger Jongewaard may have the distinction of selecting the two best No. 1 draft picks of all-time:

Ken Griffey Jr., in 1987 and Rodriguez in '93. Both times he had to overcome internal opposition.

Then owner George Argyros, an Orange County resident, wanted Cal State Fullerton pitcher Mike Harkey over Griffey and warned Jongewaard, "you better be right."

Manager Lou Piniella felt that Dreifort, a near-ready college pitcher, represented a quick-fix possibility for his bullpen.

"In some ways Dreifort made more sense," Jongewaard said, "but we kept going back to see Alex and felt he was just too special not to take.

"He called the night before the draft and said he wanted to play for the Dodgers, but I said I was sorry, we'd made a decision."

Rodriguez had the option of a Miami scholarship offer, but would he ever be a No. 1 again?

Negotiations were contentious, but he ultimately received a $1-million bonus and a major-league contract, limiting the number of times he could be sent to the minors.

Agent Scott Boras filed a grievance, claiming Seattle reneged on a bonus offer of nearly twice that, but baseball's labor problems moved the grievance to a back burner, and it was ultimately trashed when Rodriguez recently signed a three-year, $10.25-million contract.

"I was disappointed at first," Rodriguez said of his selection by the Mariners. "I wasn't happy and it probably showed."

Indeed. He displayed enthusiasm during his introductory news conference only when talking about the chance to play with Griffey.

Now? Rodriguez says he couldn't think of a better place to play, that he has fallen in love with Seattle.

And while Dreifort is back lighting up speed guns out of the Dodger bullpen after a year of recovery from elbow surgery, Rodriguez, 21, produced one of the great seasons by a shortstop--or by a player at any position.

But one question: Could he really have unseated Jose Offerman?

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