Rodriguez made $4.3 million in 2000 for the Mariners and was eligible to become a free agent after the season ended. Negotiations in which Rodriguez reportedly asked for perks such as the use of a private jet tarnished his image as a wholesome, hard-working player. Seattle could not afford to keep Rodriguez, and he used Boras to negotiate the richest contract in sports history, signing a $252 million, ten-year deal with the Texas Rangers in December 2000. It was more money than any baseball player had earned in an entire career and more than the assessed value of 18 of the 30 major-league teams. The quarter-billion-dollar contract became international news and fueled countless commentaries about how salaries for professional sports indicated priorities were misplaced in the United States. The deal also became a rallying cry for baseball executives who wanted to institute contract changes to get spending under control.
Seattle felt betrayed, and its fans expressed their unhappiness with Rodriguez's decision to forsake the team that had given him his start. When Texas played the Mariners in Seattle on April 16, 2001, fans threw phony dollar bills all over the field.
"I never dreamed I'd be making this kind of money," said Rodriguez. "I'm embarrassed to talk about it." He was not too embarrassed, however, to make lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Armani, and Radio Shack. But he also did public service announcements in a national campaign for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America; as a child, Rodriguez had spent a lot of time at Miami's club after his parents' divorce.
Ironically, without its best player, Seattle won the most games of any team in baseball in 2001, while the Rangers finished in last place. Rodriguez expressed no regrets about leaving Seattle and spoke about his admiration for previous players who broke baseball's old reserve clause which bound players to one team for life. "Not one day goes by when I don't remind myself how grateful I am for those who came before me over the last 25 years," Rodriguez explained to Verducci.
While he was skewered among fans and non-baseball commentators, among those in the game Rodriguez continued to be held in high regard. "Every big league player should aspire to be like Alex Rodriguez, and I'm not just talking about his talent," Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove told Verducci. "I'm talking about the way he goes about his business, his attention to detail and his respect for the game." And Texas manager Jerry Narron said in the same article: "He is without a doubt the best player in baseball, but that's not what impresses me the most. I only hope that someday he might be as good a player as he is a person."
With Texas, Rodriguez continued to expand his power while playing in all 162 games in each of his first two seasons as a Ranger. On May 12, 2001, he hit his 200th home run, becoming the fifth-youngest player to reach that mark. In 2001, Rodriguez set a new major league single-season record for home runs by a shortstop. He finished with 52 home runs and 135 RBI while batting .318. Rodriguez became a clubhouse leader, trying to inspire the lesser talents around him into better performances. He also deferred several million dollars of his salary to try to help Texas become a more competitive team.
In 2002, Rodriguez had another great, batting .300 with a league-leading 57 home runs and 142 RBI despite a slow start. He finished the season with 298 career home runs. At age 27, he had established himself as probably the best all-around player in baseball, winning his first Gold Glove in 2002 despite stiff competition from the league's other premiere shortstops, such as Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox, Omar Vizquel of the Cleveland Indians, and Miguel Tejada of the Oakland As. Though having clearly the finest offensive season in the league, A-Rod finished second in the Most Valuable Player voting to Tejada, because many of the baseball writers who vote on the MVP refused to give top honors to players from teams with losing records.
Rodriguez was one of many players of his era to change the image of shortstop from that of a light-hitting, slick-fielding player to an overall offensive and defensive powerhouse. Despite all his remarkable batting feats, Rodriguez insisted to Baseball Digest's Evan Grant: "The way I can most help my team win is with defense." Studious, movie-star handsome, quiet, and hard-working, Rodriguez might have been held in higher regard as a model athlete if he had not also been the symbol of the modern athlete's apparently unbridled greed. No matter the size of his contract, however, it appeared certain that Rodriguez would fulfill the greatness that had been predicted for him since he was in high school.