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Finally, Pudge Gets His Day

Most people have that one personality that they remember being able to see more than anyone else.

For me, it was the short, stocky Puerto Rican who manned the plate for the Texas Rangers for more than 12 years.

And that’s why it’s going to be an honor tonight to see Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame.

Hopefully it will soon be followed by David Murphy accepting a new jersey number so #7 can hang from the left field facade where it belongs. But that’s for later.

For now, it’s time for North Texas to show appreciation for one individual who’s greatness wasn’t truly appreciated when it was there.

Pudge was known more than anything for that Howitzer of a throwing arm that made him they guy simply no one wanted to run on. Teams that relied on base stealing – yes, there were still some that existed even in the power ball times of the 1990s – would come to Arlington and find themselves effectively shut down.

It was more than just the arm, however – it was the reflexes. He would get the ball, and within a split second, he was up and in perfect position to throw. Maybe this is just my own nostalgia goggles, but I can almost remember him regularly going crouched position to cannon fired in about half a second, whereas most catchers would take close to a full second.

And the defense was only part of the game. I doubt anyone can fully understand how hard he worked to become one of the best pure hitters of the game.

The term “contact hitter” usually describes someone willing to take borderline pitches to force an even better one. But Pudge was the type of guy who would go after this outside pitches – not because he was undisciplined, but because he could hit them.

I’ll always remember two at-bats above all else when it comes to Pudge. The first was in a June 1995 game with the winning run at third. After swinging and missing at two high fastballs from Lee Smith, you knew he was getting another in the same location, and logic dictates he should hold back. But instead, he finds a way to get the bat up high enough and knock the third fastball at the letters into center field to win the game.

The second was back around 1998 when he hit a line drive shot into right center field for a home run. That was the deepest part of the park at more than 407 feet. And going the opposite way for him.

It all amounted to a total package that was sadly taken for granted. To many in the area, none of what he did on the field mattered as long as he couldn’t somehow guide the team’s young pitchers into Cy Young candidates. It was why so many begged the Rangers to trade him in 1999 to bring in the Great God Roger Clemens. And why when they finally let him go after 2002, newspapers quickly praised the supposed leadership abilities of Einar Diaz.

But as the Rangers headed to another last-place finish in 2003 while Pudge helped carry the Florida Marlins and its young pitching staff to a championship, that claim that he couldn’t work with pitchers was thrown right back in his critics’ faces. Turns out maybe lack of talent on the mound was more to blame in Texas.

Only then did the phrase “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” truly sink in. And while the Rangers ultimately managed two pennants with Bengie Molina and Mike Napoli behind the plate, the revolving door of catchers goes on.

Sadly, Pudge may never be remembered for being the best at what he did perhaps in history. Historians want to be locked down on the past and treat certain individuals, like Johnny Bench, as untouchable in that regard. And of course, there is the likelihood that baseball’s “moral guardians” will try to lump Pudge in with everyone in the so-called “steroid era”of the 90s and keep him out of the big Hall of Fame for as long as possible.

But for now, Ivan Rodriguez will be honored among the people who will appreciate what he did. Finally.

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