Pudge Rodriguez ready for ACC, baseball Hall of Fame | RecordCourier.com

Pudge Rodriguez ready for ACC, baseball Hall of Fame

by Darrell Moody
dmoody@nevadaappeal.com

Pudge Rodriguez grew up on a tiny island in Puerto Rico, the son of a construction-business employee and a teacher.

Like any youngster, he wanted to be a professional baseball player, and it was evident at an early age he was going to be something special. And, he was so good at such an early age, the Texas Rangers signed him when he was 16 years old, and three years later he had reached the majors.

Rodriguez didn't disappoint. In his 21 seasons, mostly with Texas and Detroit, Rodriguez made 14 all-star games, won 13 Gold Glove awards and one MVP award. He was a career .296 hitter, including 10 seasons of .300 or better. And, he had a career .991 fielding percentage, and was arguably one of the best to ever play the game.

Rodriguez, who's entered in the 28th annual American Century Championship at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course July 11-16, will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame later next month with Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

"The emotion is very high, obviously, it's, like, less than a month for the ceremony," Rodriguez said during a recent conference call to promote the ACC event. "And, it's great just to be there after five years after retiring from baseball and being able to be in there as a first-timer and to be able to be with two good friends of mine Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines. And it's going to be a very big week.

"And they basically just said you have to go there and be prepared the first time when you are in The Hall of Fame, when you get inducted into The Hall of Fame, of course it's going to be a lot of things going on. And you're going to be here, there, and media, and it's going to be kind of busy. But at the same time, you enjoy everything."

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And, a well deserved day. Rodriguez was one of a kind. He burst on the scene at 19, and he was blessed with a great arm. Nine times in his career he threw out more than 50 percent of runners attempting to steal. Twelve times he was ranked in the top 10 in that category.

"Well, single-handedly he took away a lot of what a team can do," said former Atlanta pitcher John Smoltz, whose teams faced Rodriguez's teams over the years. "Offensively speaks for itself. But defensively is what you talk about that time and era where running was more of a indicator than we see today. So it was basically a version of you can't do what you may want to do or taking care of business; you have to shut down the running game and change your approach on how he handled the game both offensively and defensively."

Now, his bust will be displayed in Cooperstown along with guys like Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Bill Dickey, Gabby Hartnett, Gary Carter, Mike Piazza and Carlton Fisk. There are only 15 catchers in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"My favorite catcher was Johnny Bench," Rodriguez said. "In Puerto Rico we see a lot of games from the Red Machine team back in the days, and I liked the way he played. Johnny was one of my heroes watching him. Tony Pena, I loved the way he caught. Benito Santiago. I loved the way they played the game. But Johnny Bench, to me, was the catcher that comes out and just pay attention of everything that he did when he was a player.

"You know, catchers, I like Salvador Perez. I like him. He's been very durable, playing every day. (Yadier) Molina, I obviously have to mention. Buster Posey, even though he's playing first base and catching. They're (all) good."

Rodriguez played from 1991 to 2002 with the Rangers, won a World Series with the Marlins in 2003 before spending five seasons with the Tigers. He split part of his last season between the Tigers and Yankees. Maybe his only regret wasn't being able to take the Rangers to a world championship

"We made the playoffs three times and unfortunately the first round that we start with, we played with the Yankees, and obviously the Yankees back then was a very hard team to beat," Rodriguez said. "That was the era when they pretty much win everything."

Though Pudge is mostly remembered for his time with the Rangers, he said he has fond memories of his time with the Tigers.

"Obviously signing in 2004 after (the Marlins) won the World Series in 2003," he said. "That year the team lost 116 games. Basically the reason that I signed the contract was because Dave Dombrowski stuck with me in the offseason. He said you want to come over, we want to start making a great team around you. And in two years you're going to have a very good team together.

"And that's exactly what they did. They bring myself and Justin Verlander from Triple-A, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and we became a very good winning team. But the city of Detroit is great. I think to me, the fans, they are very, very loyal to the organization, even, though, earlier in 2004 and 2005 we still are losing some games but the fans always supported, the fans are always there, coming to the ballpark. And it's a great city."