I write this with a heavy heart. As a sports fan you realize that every great athlete must hang up his cleats at some point. That fact does not help with the shock of your childhood heroes no longer donning your favorite teams jersey.
Before Monday nights home game against the New York Yankees (April, 23), Texas Rangers legend and one of my heroes will be walking onto the field for the last time as a Major Leaguer.
Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez will wear his Rangers jersey for the last time as he will officially announce his retirement before the game. He will retire arguably the greatest catcher in the history of the game. His name will and should be mentioned with the greats, Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, and Carlton Fisk.
In his prime there has never been a catcher that possessed the skills this man had. He could hit for power, hit for average, he had a cannon for an arm and he was not a slow lumbering catcher either.
He was the first player I ever saw hit a home run over the Green Monster at Fenway Park. With a golf shot even Jack Nicklaus would marvel at, he got just enough lift to park the ball over the wall. Since then I have seen many hit up there but in that moment I became a huge Pudge fan. It was a scene that I will never forget.
Now the Ranger with the second most hits in franchise history (Michael Young broke the record in 2010 the season after Pudge set it) will sign a contract with the Rangers so he can leave the game wear he started 21 seasons ago. His first major league game came in 1991, he would go on to anchor the Rangers offense along with childhood teammate and foe, Juan Gonzalez.
Among the memories I will have of him was going to games and seeing players still try and test his arm. When the dust cleared many players would be taking the long walk back to the dugout as Chuck Morgan cues Queen’s-Another One Bites the Dust over the PA system.
Among the accomplishments he will most be remembered for was not the rocket arm he possessed, it was rumored he could throw 96 mph off the mound, but instead the perfect game of Kenny Rogers that he caught during the 1994 season.
As a kid I always wanted to see him close out a game just to see if the rumors were true. If they tried Jose Canseco as a pitcher why not give Pudge a shot?
He won his one and only World Series with the Florida Marlins in 2003, a year after leaving the Rangers. When I heard he wanted to return to Texas one last time this past offseason, I was taken back and desperately wanted him behind the plate. It was not in the cards however with two catchers already on the roster.
He retires with such catching records as: games caught (2,427) hits (2,844) and runs (1,354). When his name is on the ballot for the first time in 2017 he should be immediately voted in. Even with the accusations of steroid use what he was able to do for so long the man should be honored by having his bust enshrined in the Hall of Fame with a Rangers hat on.
In a list of the greatest Rangers ever Pudge is certainly near the top. 10 Gold Gloves (13 total), 1999 AL MVP and he threw out an impressive 45.7% of would be base-stealers.
The Rangers have only retired three numbers, #34 Nolan Ryan, #42 Jackie Robinson, #26 the late Johnny Oates (who managed Rodriguez). Pudge should be the next Ranger to have his name and number (#7) forever adorned in left field.
Thank you, Pudge.