Pudge reminisces before induction into Rangers HOF
All-Star catcher recalls funny moments from rookie season, 13-year Texas career
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Ivan Rodriguez always knew how to dazzle a crowd during his 13 seasons with the Rangers. The 2013 Rangers Hall of Fame inductee picked up right where he left off Friday during the Rangers Hall of Fame luncheon.
Rodriguez received a standing ovation as he took the stage at the sold-out event benefiting the Texas Rangers Foundation. The 14-time All-Star charmed fans with his smile, recalling his workout as a 16-year-old with former Rangers assistant general manager Sandy Johnson and former general manager Tom Grieve.
Before he won 13 Gold Glove Awards, Rodriguez threw from home to second at 92 mph during the workout, catching the Rangers' eye and leading the club to signing him. Pudge played for five different teams, but he said Texas sticks out because of the opportunity the organization gave him to play at such a young age.
"[The Rangers] gave me the opportunity when I was 19 years old to play in the big leagues and play into 2002. Of course you have to feel something special for that team, and that's why [Texas] is a very special place to me," Rodriguez said. "Fans always support me, day in and day out, they always gave me a very warm welcome and a standing ovation every time I played. And I played hard for them, my teammates, my organization. And I also played hard for the fans, because they like to go to the field and see a good baseball game, and that's what I did for those years that I was here."
Rodriguez shared the story of his big league callup, delaying his wedding scheduled for that day so he could live out his dream. He went 1-for-4 and threw out two baserunners by "25 feet," as he recalled it, in his June 20, 1991, debut against the White Sox.
"The thought being he was a superior defensive player that would make us better if he never got a hit, but we wouldn't have brought him to the big leagues if we thought he couldn't keep his head above water as a hitter," Grieve said.
Rodriguez half-heartedly apologized to Rangers CEO Nolan Ryan for sharing the story of Ryan's near no-hitter in only the 17th game of Rodriguez's rookie year. Dave Winfield broke up the no-hit bid with a single to lead off the eighth, and Rodriguez later told media the truth of what happened on the single.
"He shook me off," Rodriguez said of the Hall of Fame pitcher. The crowd erupted in laughter.
"[Rodriguez] is like Elvis [Andrus]," Grieve said. "He had a smile that captivated the fans. You know that he had a pure joy when he played the game. He had charisma. Elvis is the same way."
The 1999 American League Most Valuable Player was always a fan favorite in Texas, even when he returned to Arlington wearing the opposing colors. Typically players must wait two years after retirement for induction to the Rangers Hall Fame, but Rodriguez was elected as the 16th member only a year after he retired.
"I think it is because I respect the decision and the organization so much, and they respect me so much, and we work together now," said Rodriguez, a special assistant to general manager Jon Daniels. "I've worked with the Texas Rangers, been in the organization. Beside that, to be part of the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in the very early stages is an honor."
Rodriguez spends his down time with family and on the golf course, but he constantly watches baseball when he's not at Rangers Ballpark.
"It's getting to a point right now that I'm OK with it," Rodriguez said of retirement. "I know that I've played enough, and the players we have in baseball right now are great players. They replaced us in our positions, and I like what I see."
Johnson proclaimed Rodriguez the greatest catcher of all time, among the plenty of high praise the seven-time Silver Slugger Award winner received as the guest of honor.
Pudge's strong arm gave him a 45.7 caught stealing percentage in 21 seasons. He had a career 28.7 defensive WAR, eighth best of all time. The 2003 National League Championship Series MVP during the Marlins' World Series run had a .296 career batting average with 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs in 2,543 career games -- the most for a catcher.
"As for me, I never talk like to talk about myself," Rodriguez said. "I leave that to you guys, but it's great. It's awesome to be a part of that group. That group is an unbelievable group and being compared to them, that tells you the hard work I did for a long time in my career."
As for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Rodriguez said his father, Juan, asked him about his possible induction. He won't be eligible for another four years, but Rodriguez said he'll leave it up to the voters on whether he belongs.
"You guys decide if I should be there or not," Rodriguez said. "For me, I'm very happy. I had a great career, but Hall of Fame and Cooperstown in four years, you decide."
Until then, he'll be honored during his pregame induction ceremony Saturday, where he'll allure Texas fans once again as a Rangers Hall of Famer.
Master Tesfatsion is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.