ARLINGTON -- Ivan Rodriguez wanted this badly. He wanted badly to be in the Hall of Fame, and he wanted to go in on the first ballot.Rodriguez knew it would be close, even though he is one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game.:: 2017 Hall of
ARLINGTON -- Ivan Rodriguez wanted this badly. He wanted badly to be in the Hall of Fame, and he wanted to go in on the first ballot.
Rodriguez knew it would be close, even though he is one of the greatest catchers in the history of the game.
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"To be honest with you, I haven't slept in three days, I'm not kidding," Rodriguez said. "A lot of good friends telling me you're going to be in, you're going to make it. But at the same time, I was receiving a lot of caution, like if it's not this year, it's next.
"I didn't want to hear that."
Rodriguez heard what he wanted to hear and what he deserved to hear. Pudge is on his way to the Hall of Fame and will be inducted on July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.
"What can I say?" Rodriguez said. "I am out of words. Growing up as a child in my hometown of Vega Baja, [P.R.], to go into the Hall of Fame … It's a great honor."
Rodriguez received 76 percent of the votes cast by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Rodriguez was chosen on 336 of 442 ballots cast, making him the second catcher to be elected in his first year of eligibility, joining Johnny Bench.
"Johnny Bench was my favorite player growing up, and I can't wait until July to see him on the same stage as me when I'm giving my speech," Rodriguez said. "It's a dream come true, probably my favorite player right there very close to me, and I would love Johnny Bench to be right next to me when I'm standing there on the stage."
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Rodriguez played with six organizations but will enter the Hall Fame as Ranger. He signed with the Rangers in 1988, made his debut with them in 1991 at the age of 19 and was with them for 12 years before leaving as a free agent.
He is the second player, behind Nolan Ryan, to enter the Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers cap on his plaque.
"Regarded as one of baseball's greatest catchers, Pudge played the game with style and charisma that endeared him not only to his hometown fans but baseball fans worldwide," said Tom Grieve, who was the general manager when the Rangers signed Rodriguez. "I feel fortunate to have had a front-row seat for most of it."
Rodriguez was elected after a 21-year career in which he was a 14-time All-Star and winner of 13 Gold Glove Awards for his defensive excellence. He was the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player Award winner and finished with a career batting average of .296, with 311 home runs.
He was in his prime with the Rangers, helping them to win three division titles, in 1996 and 1998-99, while becoming one of the most popular players in franchise history.
"He's right where he belongs, alongside the very best that have ever played the game," former teammate Mark McLemore said. "Very well deserved honor for him to go in on the first ballot."
"Pudge is more than deserving of being inducted into the Hall of Fame," outfielder Rusty Greer said. "He did everything, both on and off the field, anyone could ask for."
Rodriguez was with the Marlins in 2003 and helped them win the World Series. He was named the Most Valuable Player of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs.
He then spent 2004-08 with the Tigers, helping them reach the World Series in 2006. He also was with the Yankees, Astros, again with the Rangers (at the end of the 2009 season) and the Nationals before retiring after the 2011 season.
"I respect all the six teams that I played [for]," Rodriguez said. "I feel very honored and just very happy to be part of the Texas Rangers organization. At the same time, obviously, I have to mention all the other teams that I played with. They were all very professional with me, as well, and they're all part of it. They're a big part of it as well."
Rodriguez finished his career with some impressive offensive numbers. He is one of six Major Leaguers with a minimum of a .295 average, 2,800 hits, 550 doubles, 300 home runs and 1,300 RBIs. The others are Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, George Brett, Stan Musial and Jose Pujols.
Then there was his defense, as the 13 Gold Gloves are the most by a catcher and fourth most at any position. He had quick feet that allowed him to block balls in the dirt, he was excellent at running down foul balls and he was fearless on plays at the plate.
Above all, there was the arm. For anybody who ever watched him play, what they remember most is Rodriguez nailing would-be basestealers with his incredible throwing arm.
"Best arm I've ever seen behind the plate," former pitcher Darren Oliver said.
"When a baserunner was on, I was begging him to steal," said Bobby Witt, another pitcher who benefited from Rodriguez's defensive work.
Rodriguez led the league nine times in throwing out attempted basestealers. His career best was 60.3 percent in 2001, and he threw out 52 percent in 2011 in the final year of his career.
"It's a great question, because that was my No. 1 thing I wanted to have in my career," Rodriguez said. "I just wanted to keep my defensive part of the game every day. Being able to shut down the running, and blocking and throwing guys out and trying to kill the other team's rally, I think that's one of the things that I feel most proud of. I know offensively I had a great career, but my main game was defense, and that's why I take a lot of pride in being a defensive catcher."
Rodriguez only made it by four votes, but that puts him in good company. Among the 52 first-ballot Hall of Famers, the margin of four votes is tied for the fewest.
Rodriguez is tied with Jackie Robinson. Now he is going into the Hall of Fame, to join Robinson, Bench and all the others who are considered to be the greatest ever.
"I feel most proud to be in the Hall of Fame as a first-timer," Rodriguez said. "It's not the second time or the fourth time, to be there in one of one is an honor."
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.