After the 2000 season, when he was a free agent and the baseball world was opening up to him like the dawning of a new era, the Mariners offered Alex Rodriguez their kingdom.
Ken Griffey Jr. was gone to Cincinnati. Randy Johnson had been traded to Houston and eventually was on his way to Arizona.
The Mariners were going to belong to A-Rod.
The team's CEO, Howard Lincoln, put together golf dates for Rodriguez with the movers and shakers of the Northwest. He wooed A-Rod like a desperate college basketball coach.
And, publicly at least, the love was requited.
Toward the end of his last season in Seattle, Rodriguez was telling everyone how much he loved Seattle. He was saying he wanted to stay. He said he thought he could be part of a pennant contender for years to come.
He said he wanted to be like his hero, Cal Ripken Jr., and spend his entire career with one team.
In truth, Rodriguez didn't know what he wanted when he was in Seattle. Sure, he wanted to play for a winner. He wanted to be recognized as one of the best players in the game. And he wanted to be loved.
But he told everybody exactly what he thought they wanted to hear. And his Seattle teammates watched and rolled their eyes.
Maybe Rodriguez was on his way to being the next big thing, but he never would be the next real thing.
His personality was as fake as a beauty contestant's. He always was the most disingenuous man in the room. And nobody spots a fake quicker than a teammate.
For all of his face time, for all the platitudes he's uttered, Rodriguez never has been a very good teammate. He always was aloof. Always was kind of empty.
His was a personality better suited for tennis.
In Seattle, he read everything that was written about him and reacted to much of it.
Once I suggested his best position was third base. He saw me the next day in a downtown clothing store and, without breaking stride, walked past me and said, "I ain't playing third."
In the end he was all about the money. He thought the 10-year, $252 million contract he signed with the Texas Rangers would do for him what all his baseball numbers couldn't. It would validate him.
He did the very thing Ripken never would have done. He left.
It almost seems his fate was sealed that day he signed with the Rangers and their careless owner, Tom Hicks.
A-Rod became a mercenary. This guy, who used to stand in front of his locker stall with a straight face and tell us how much he loved the game and how he would play it for free, was lying from the very start.
To their everlasting credit, the Mariners recruited Rodriguez the right way. They offered him their team, their city.
They offered him a chance to be a leader on a team that, even without Griffey and Johnson, was very good. But they didn't offer him every penny in the vault. They didn't bankrupt the franchise for him the way Hicks did.
So Rodriguez left.
And the Mariners won 116 games without him.
The Mariners were tougher without Rodriguez, whose reputation as a soft pretty-boy is more than mere perception.
Now in his sixth season away from Seattle, this ultimate mercenary, playing on the Yankees, a team full of mercenaries, still can't find his place in the clubhouse.
The guy who always wanted the limelight is on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week, but the headline, "The Lonely Yankee," isn't what Rodriguez expected when he came to New York.
This ultimate mercenary is unhappy and alone and disliked by his teammates and his fans. He has suffered a crisis of confidence that has been as public as a celebrity breakup.
He is hitting .284 with 36 home runs and 124 RBI and still he is booed. He was the league MVP last year and still he is jeered at home as if he were wearing a Red Sox cap.
He has accomplished so much — a batting title, 10 All-Star Games, two MVP awards, two Gold Gloves — and it has meant so little.
He still doesn't get the big hit in the big game. Still swoons in the postseason.
A-Rod collapses in October, the month that defines the Yankees. He is 4 for his last 32 at-bats in the postseason.
He is Mr. May, when New York is looking for the next Mr. October.
Once, Seattle fans got angry at the sight of Rodriguez. They booed his every plate appearance. They cheered wildly at his strikeouts.
But now you can almost feel sorry for him. He isn't a bad guy. He's just a lost guy, suddenly uncomfortable in the spotlight, suddenly looking so unsure.
Two postseasons ago, during a rain delay in Boston, Yankees hero Reggie Jackson looked at Rodriguez and said, "There's no reason to believe he can't be a great Yankee."
But two years later, Rodriguez looks as comfortable in the pinstripes as Will Ferrell in a Speedo.
Alex Rodriguez is in danger of going down as one of the greatest players in the game, but a player who meant nothing to anybody.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com