With every snap throw to Will Clark at first base, the legend of Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez grew. And grew. And grew.
Hailing from Manati, Puerto Rico, the catcher with a golden arm and record 13 Gold Gloves spent much of his 21 seasons and 2,543 games behind the plate wowing the masses in Arlington. Each time he stepped into the batter’s box after making the Sign of the Cross and with a double-tap of the plate, fans, regardless of the uniform, watched with abated breath while younger ballplayers took note. Even those of us who weren’t raised Catholic could sometimes be found in a backyard or practice field imitating the plate approach.
For many millennials, Pudge was a real-life superhero.
His throws down to second appeared faster than a speeding bullet. His doubles roped to the wall in the power alley proved he was more powerful than a locomotive. He could hit a baseball over a tall building with a single swing.
Of course, Pudge was also an American League MVP in 1999 after hitting .332 with 116 runs scored, 35 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He was selected to 14 All-Star games, holds the major league record for games caught with 2,427 and his 12,376 putouts are the most all-time by a catcher. He even won a World Series in pinstripes (no, not the Yankee kind, though he did don those later) for the then-Florida-now-Miami Marlins in 2003.
According to Baseball Reference, Pudge is one of six players in Major League Baseball history with a minimum .295 average, 2,800 hits, 550 doubles, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBIs over a career. He joins the likes of Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, George Brett, Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. Pujols is the only of the bunch without a bronze hall-of-fame bust — yet.
And, on Sunday afternoon, the greatest catcher of several generations, perhaps even all-time, will take his rightful seat among the immortals of baseball lore.
But the doubles to right-center field or gunning down would-be-base stealers at second base are not what defines the Texas staple.
Pudge played the majority of his career in Texas on a crummy ball club with just as many egos as all-stars — and he did it with a blue-collar approach. Every time he walked out of the first-base dugout to take his rightful place behind home plate in the triple-digit heat, he played the game of baseball like it was his first, last and one true love. He played with a controlled fire that was only evident when an occasional fist pump would escape after recording the third out in the bottom of the ninth inning.
He was there when Kenny Rogers tossed his perfect game in 1994 against the Anaheim Angels. He was there with Nolan Ryan beat the hell out of Robin Ventura on Aug. 4, 1993. He was there when the Rangers won their first American League West Division Championship and first playoff game.
Pudge was also there, behind the plate, when I — along with countless others — fell in love with the beauty of baseball.
Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez was made for baseball and Cooperstown was built for guys like Pudge.
Congrats, No. 7.