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20 years ago, Pudge nearly a Yankee

Hall of Fame catcher interceded on trade to New York in 1997
MLB.com @Sullivan_Ranger

NEW YORK -- The Yankees held Old Timers' Day on Sunday and Ivan Rodriguez was not there. His time with the Yankees amounted to 33 games in 2008.

It could have been much more. Rodriguez almost became another Yankees legend with his own plaque in Monument Park next to fellow catchers Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson and Yogi Berra.

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NEW YORK -- The Yankees held Old Timers' Day on Sunday and Ivan Rodriguez was not there. His time with the Yankees amounted to 33 games in 2008.

It could have been much more. Rodriguez almost became another Yankees legend with his own plaque in Monument Park next to fellow catchers Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson and Yogi Berra.

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How close did he come in 1997?

"There was a deal in place," said former Rangers president Tom Schieffer.

If the deal had gone down, Rodriguez probably would be going into the Hall of Fame this summer as a Yankee. Instead it will be with the Rangers because Rodriguez headed off a trade with the Yankees 20 years ago.

"The Yankees are a great organization, but I wanted to stay with the Rangers," Rodriguez said. "It was an honor and a privilege to be a member of the Rangers; we had a great team and this is where I wanted to stay."

General manager Doug Melvin wasn't sure that was going to happen when he drove to work on the morning of July 31, 1997.

"I was looking at having to make a tough decision," Melvin said.

The Rangers had won their first division title the year before but had fallen out of contention in 1997. Rodriguez was eligible for free agency after the season. There were cars seen in Dallas-Fort Worth with "Sign Pudge" bumper stickers, but the Rangers had not made any progress toward doing that.

His agent, Jeff Moorad, was looking for $100 million over 10 years. The Rangers' midsummer offer of $38 million over five years was rejected.

In late July, Melvin started looking toward 1998. He traded third baseman Dean Palmer to the Royals for outfielder Tom Goodwin and pitcher Ken Hill to the Angels for Jim Leyritz, a utility guy who could catch.

"We were just trying to re-tool a little bit for next year," Melvin said.

It was also a sign the Rangers were willing to trade Rodriguez. Melvin started extensive talks with the Yankees. The Rangers had interest in left-handed pitcher Eric Milton and catcher Jorge Posada. Other names were exchanged, but those were the two players the Rangers wanted and the trade was one phone call away from being done.

"We really wanted a young catcher back," Melvin said. "I'd seen Posada in the Carolina League when he was a second baseman before they converted him to catcher. We really liked him. Milton was projected to be a No. 3 starter at the time. We were looking for pitching and we figured we could get two young players in return for an All-Star catcher."

On July 30, the Rangers finished getting swept by the Orioles and flew back to Texas. Rodriguez had a strong feeling he was gone and didn't want it to happen. Outfielder Juan Gonzalez and others urged Rodriguez to go talk to Schieffer directly.

"I just remember that I didn't want to go anywhere else," Rodriguez said. "I wanted to stay with the Rangers."

At 9 a.m. on July 31, Rodriguez walked into Schieffer's office alone.

"I just sat down, looked him in the eye and talked with him," Rodriguez said. "I said, 'I know you guys want to get a pitcher from the Yankees. I know you want to trade me. Look, I don't want to leave. I want to stay here. I don't want to go anywhere. My kids were born here. I feel good here. I want to stay here and play the rest of my career here.'"

The Rangers weren't expecting it to go down this way, but were willing to listen.

"He said he wanted to be a Texas Ranger his whole career and he wanted to see if he could work out a deal," Schieffer said. "That really meant a lot to me and I think it meant a lot to the franchise."

Schieffer and Rodriguez quickly found middle ground.

"Pudge was willing to go to $42 million," Melvin said. "Tom popped into my office and said, 'What do you think?' I said, 'Let's do it.' I agreed and Tom agreed."

Instead of announcing the trade, the Rangers held a news conference that afternoon to announce Rodriguez was staying with the Rangers.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast.

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