Pudge's impact on teams was Hall-worthy

Rodriguez helped to change fortunes of Rangers, Marlins and Tigers

January 5th, 2017

Quick study? No question.

In the decade he was in his prime, everything about Ivan Rodriguez was quick.

Quick feet. Quick hands. Quick bat. Quick to the big leagues.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

Rodriguez, who was nicknamed "Pudge" shortly after signing with the Rangers, was 19 when he reached the Major Leagues. He hit the ground running.

Rodriguez joined a franchise that had played for 30 seasons split between two cities without once advancing into the postseason. He would spend 13 seasons in Texas and lead the Rangers to three American League West titles.

This was no coincidence.

While it was the signing of Nolan Ryan and trades for Rafael Palmeiro and Julio Franco that started the ball rolling, Rodriguez was the leading man in transforming the Rangers from one of the least-successful franchises in Major League Baseball to one that now expects to be in the top tier on an annual basis.

Consider this: The Rangers averaged about 1.5 million fans in the decade before Rodriguez's arrival in 1991, and they have drawn almost 2.6 million per season since then.

Rodriguez, as much as anyone, showed the football-crazy North Texas area that it could get just as passionate about the Rangers as the Cowboys.

Pudge did it with a twinkle in his eye and an insatiable appetite for cutting down baserunners. The 14-time All-Star was a .296 career hitter, but it was his influence on an opponents' running game -- unparalleled in the modern era -- that defined the greatness that has landed him on the ballot for the Hall of Fame.

The results of the 73rd BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 6 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.

How about this? During Rodriguez's AL MVP Award-winning season in 1999, he stole only nine fewer bases (25) than opposing teams stole when he was in the game (34). And he threw out 41. That's crazy.

Rodriguez, who stood only 5-foot-9 but weighed over 200 pounds, threw out 46 percent of would-be basestealers in his career -- in the same ballpark as legends Roy Campanella, Gabby Hartnett and Yogi Berra, and far superior to the original Pudge, Carlton Fisk (34 percent).

The real testament to Rodriguez's presence behind the plate was that so few teams dared test him. He caught 836 1/3 innings in 2002 and faced only 41 stolen-base attempts -- one about every 20 1/3 innings.

Not only that, but Pudge's reputation for throwing behind runners (88 career pickoffs) was so well established after his early years that runners took tiny secondary leads when he was behind the plate.

"I call it the 'drop-anchor effect," Rangers first baseman Will Clark said during the 1997 season. "Guys get to first, drop anchor, then wait till it's safe to go to second."

One AL manager estimated that Rodriguez saved the Rangers one run per game when he caught, because runners were so skittish with him behind the plate. That's impact.

When Rodriguez left the Rangers to sign a one-year deal with the Marlins in 2003 -- at a time when there was concern his knees would no longer allow him to catch 100-plus games per season -- it was with the hope that he'd lead his new club to the World Series.

"We were dealing with a great and special opportunity to sign a special player,'' Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said about the signing, which was made in late January. "We feel like, for our team, this is a special year, and a special season, and he warrants it."

Sure enough, Rodriguez would race to the mound to embrace Josh Beckett after the ace's Game 6 shutout finished off the Marlins' upset of the Yankees in the World Series. That's impact.

The Cubs had interviewed Rodriguez before the 2003 season, but they decided to trade for Damian Miller rather than sign Pudge. Rodriguez made them regret that decision by driving in 10 runs in the seven-game National League Championship Series, when the Cubs won three of the first four games but couldn't finish the job.

This wasn't the first time a decision involving Rodriguez carried major postseason implications.

Having tried unsuccessfully to sign Rodriguez to a long-term extension, the Rangers almost traded him to the Yankees in 1997.

Rangers general manager Doug Melvin added catcher Jim Leyritz in a deal with the Angels on July 29, 1997, which seemed like a precursor to a Rodriguez deal. Melvin and Yankees GM Brian Cashman were discussing a deal that would have sent Rodriguez to New York for rookie catcher Jorge Posada, who was then a backup to Joe Girardi, before Rodriguez took matters into his own hands.

On the day of the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Rodriguez walked into the office of club president Tom Schieffer alone, apparently as his agent, Jeff Moorad, was in transit to Texas.

"I don't want to be traded,'' Rodriguez told Schieffer. "I want to stay here.''

They quickly worked out an extension, and as a result, Posada would go on to catch in six World Series for the Yankees.

Rodriguez played for four teams after the Marlins, not including a return trip to the Rangers 2009. During his five-season stay in Detroit, he helped the Tigers to reach the World Series in '06.

Rodriguez played until two months before his 40th birthday, retiring after he'd helped to mentor with the 2011 Nationals. He caught 100-plus games in 17 of his 21 seasons, hitting 311 home runs, driving in 1,332 runs and accruing 68.9 fWAR.

Rodriguez never tested positively for performance-enhancing drugs or was linked to PED use -- at least not beyond a mention in Jose Canseco's book, "Juiced.'' Yet his legacy is clouded in some places by questions about what he might have done.

So be it. That's the price all players from the Steroid Era pay for not pushing their union leaders to agree to testing earlier than they did.

One thing that can't be questioned is that Rodriguez was the first homegrown great player with the Rangers who fought to stay with the organization.

Rodriguez was finishing up his career elsewhere when Texas went to the World Series in 2010 and '11. But the franchise he left behind will never again be the same as it was before he arrived.

Sounds like a Hall of Fame legacy to me.