Truly great catchers are so rare that when one emerges, he becomes identified with a generation. For example, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella were the 1950s. The sideburns that peeked from under Johnny Bench’s mask and those photos or videos of him chasing popups across artificial turf linked him to the 1970s. Yadier Molina’s growing collection of statistical achievements and alloyed gloves that didn’t exist when he began playing signify that he belongs to the rapidly changing 21st century.
Then there’s Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who may represent a prototype for the ages. In this era, when offense is demanded from every position, Rodriguez produced offensively as well as defensively for most of his 21 Major League seasons. He was named to 14 All-Star teams, won 13 Gold Glove Awards for defensive efficiency and received seven Silver Slugger Awards for his hitting prowess.
Here’s a look at 10 of Rodriguez’s top honors, achievements or distinctions.
1. The best of everything
If you don’t view Rodriguez as the finest all-around catcher in history, at least consider the evidence. At the time of his retirement, he held catchers’ records for games (2,427), hits (2,749), doubles (551), runs (1,316) and RBIs (1,290).
2. Ground control
With the possible exception of Bench and Molina, no catcher has halted an opponent’s running game as completely as Rodriguez. He led his league in caught-stealing percentage nine times, and eight times, he threw out more than half of the runners trying to steal against him.
3. Rough road to Cooperstown
Rumors of performance-enhancing drug use almost hampered Rodriguez’s Hall of Fame candidacy. He nevertheless won induction in the first year he was eligible, though it was a struggle. He needed 332 votes to secure the 75% plurality necessary for induction; he received 336 or 76%. Rodriguez became the only catcher besides Bench to earn first-ballot induction.
4. Another tough vote
Rodriguez was innocently caught in the crossfire of controversy when he won the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player election. Pedro Martínez actually received more first-place votes, garnering eight to Rodriguez’s seven. But two members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America who were in the voting contingent left the Red Sox ace off their ballots entirely, obviously believing that starting pitchers didn’t merit MVP consideration. Thus Rodriguez outpointed Martínez in the balloting, 252-239 and was rewarded for an outstanding offensive season (.332 batting average, 35 homers, 113 RBIs, 116 runs, 199 hits and a .914 OPS).
5. Master behind the plate
Well-pitched games seemed to follow Rodriguez around. That’s not surprising, since defense is every catcher’s top priority. He collaborated on a perfect game with Texas’ Kenny Rogers on July 28, 1994, against the California Angels and on a no-hitter with Detroit’s Justin Verlander on June 12, 2007, against Milwaukee. Then Rodriguez caught Stephen Strasburg on June 8, 2010, when the Washington right-hander struck out 14 in seven innings against Pittsburgh in his Major League debut. In 2003, he won his only ring after catching Marlins right-hander Josh Beckett's complete-game masterpiece in the Bronx, a World Series Game 6 clincher.
6. Power-speed combo? That’s right
During his aforementioned AL MVP season, Rodriguez stole 25 bases in 37 attempts, making him the lone catcher in history to achieve 20-20 totals in these categories.
7. More from big year
April 13, 1999
Rodriguez experienced a good week during one-third of a game at Seattle. During a 15-6 Rangers win, he drove in nine runs with a three-run homer in the first inning, a two-run single in the second and a grand slam in the third. That was it for Rodriguez, who flied out with two runners aboard in the fifth and singled with the bases empty in the seventh.
8. The crown fits
Rodriguez joined the Marlins as a free agent on a one-year deal, which paid off when he helped the club win the World Series. Rodriguez was The Man in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against San Francisco, delivering a two-run, first-inning homer and a two-run, game-winning 11th-inning single. And he preserved the Marlins' series-clinching win in Game 4 by tagging out J.T. Snow at home plate to preserve a 7-6 win. Rodriguez then earned NL Championship Series MVP honors by batting .321 with a record 10 RBIs as the Marlins edged the Cubs in seven games. The Marlins proceeded to stun the Yankees in six games in the World Series.
9. No tailing off
Rodriguez performed diligently in All-Star competition, batting .306 (11-for-36). Three of those games were multihit efforts, including the 1998 Midsummer Classic at Denver’s Coors Field, where Rodriguez became the only catcher to lace three hits in an All-Star Game.
10. This one’s coming back
May 17, 2009
Players who hit a milestone home run sometimes have to offer the fan who caught the ball an exorbitant amount of baseball gear in return for that special ball. Rodriguez didn’t have that problem when he bashed career homer No. 300 at Wrigley Field off Chicago right-hander Rich Harden. Customarily, spectators in the Wrigley bleachers throw back baseballs hit for home runs by visiting players. Rodriguez got his.