Until a few days ago baseball's Alex Rodriguez was best known for his talents: power, speed, a quick glove, an accurate arm. Now he has something else to be envied for: $252 million. Not that his teammates—or even his rivals—are likely to begrudge the erstwhile Seattle Mariner shortstop the 10-year free-agent contract with the Texas Rangers that will bring him more money than any other player has earned in a lifetime. For despite Rangers owner Tom Hicks's claim that "this is the only person in baseball who would deserve this...," Rodriguez, 25, is the rising tide who, salarywise, will be lifting all boats, though maybe sinking a few in the process. Is he being overpaid? "He's worth $25 million a year just as much as Bruce Willis
is worth $25 million a picture," says baseball broadcaster Tim McCarver. "If the owners couldn't afford to pay him that amount, believe me, they wouldn't."
Not everyone buys that logic. Though, the poised, well-spoken Rodriguez is highly regarded both on and off the field—raised in the Dominican Republic and Miami, he is the son of a mother who worked two jobs to support her family after her husband left when Alex was 9—many baseball executives are appalled that a single player will be paid more than the assessed value of 18 of the 30 major-league teams. Concerned that their game seems increasingly a contest between those teams that can pay top dollar for players and the rest that cannot, at least one official raised the possibility that Rodriguez might soon be remembered not as the superb athlete he is but as the catalyst for a bitter player-management showdown triggered by the game's financial inequalities. "We clearly have a crisis situation," said the major leagues' vice president of baseball operations Sandy Alderson. "It's time for us to deal with it."