Pudge puts finishing touches on stellar career
Catcher announces retirement after 21 big league seasons
ARLINGTON -- Ivan Rodriguez likes to tell the story about the Spring Training intrasquad game when he hit a home run off Nolan Ryan and the Hall of Fame pitcher responded by hitting him with a pitch in his next at-bat."I remember hitting him, but I don't remember the home run," said Ryan at Rodriguez's retirement news conference on Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. "I remember I hit the home run," Rodriguez told Ryan when he took the podium. "I really do. Hitting a home run off you is not easy. Maybe it was an intrasquad game, but I remember." Rodriguez, considered one of the greatest catchers in baseball history, had a 21-year career of memorable moments on the field. Many of them were while wearing a Texas uniform, so it was quite appropriate for Rodriguez to use the Rangers' Hall of Fame Room to make his official announcement. "It's a very hard day for me," Rodriguez said. "It's the day Ivan Rodriguez officially retires as a baseball player. It has been a great, great run ... for 21 years. It has been beautiful." Rodriguez was joined by his parents; his wife, Claudia; his son, Derek; his daughters, Amanda and Ivanna; and his agent Scott Boras. Also attending were former teammates John Burkett, Ken Hill, Geno Petralli, Mark McLemore, David Hulse, Tim Crabtree, Jeff Frye, Rusty Greer, Benji Gil and Rafael Palmeiro. They and Rangers fans everywhere all know Rodriguez as "Pudge," the nickname given to him by former Rangers Minor League coach Chino Cadahia. "I want to thank the fans here in Texas and the fans all over baseball, all over the country," Rodriguez said. "I want to say thanks to all the other organizations I played for and their fans ... the Detroit Tigers, Miami Marlins, Washington Nationals, Houston, the New York Yankees and of course the Texas Rangers. It was a thrill and an honor to play here and be a part of a great organization. They gave me a chance when they signed me, when I was a little kid in Puerto Rico." The Rangers also honored Rodriguez during pregame ceremonies. Ryan, now the club president, said the Rangers are working on an agreement with Rodriguez to have him work with the organization in an undetermined capacity. Rodriguez was given a standing ovation by the crowd when he arrived by car from the left-field gate to the theme from "The Magnificent Seven." That was the music that public-address announcer Chuck Morgan played when Rodriguez wore No. 7 with the Rangers. The club presented Rodriguez with a framed Rangers jersey of his old No. 7. There are no plans at this point to retire the number, which is currently worn by outfielder David Murphy. Rodriguez was also asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, and infielder Michael Young was selected to receive the pitch. Rodriguez went to the mound and then did something different. He went behind the plate and had Young stand on second base. That was the throw that made Rodriguez famous, and he threw this one right on target as well.
Rodriguez was introduced by Ryan and Tom Grieve, who was the general manager when the Rangers signed him as a 16-year-old out of Vega Baja, P.R. That was on July 27, 1988. Less than three years later, Rodriguez was in the big leagues as the Rangers' regular catcher.Rodriguez made the jump because the team's scouting reports said he was ready to play in the Majors, even at age 19. He made his debut on June 20, 1991, and was 1-for-4 with a two-run single. He also threw out Warren Newson and Joey Cora trying to steal in the first display of the legendary throwing arm that helped him win 13 Gold Gloves, the most by a catcher in Major League history. "After watching him for five or six days, those scouting reports, if anything, underestimated how good he really was," Grieve said. Rodriguez ended up playing in more games as a catcher than anybody in history and was a 14-time All-Star. He had a career batting average of .296 with 2,844 hits, the 44th-highest total of all time. Rodriguez won the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player Award. Rodriguez was with the Rangers from 1991-2002 before leaving as a free agent. He played one year with the Marlins and was their catcher when they won the World Series in '03. He helped the Marlins reach the Fall Classic by being named the MVP of the National League Championship Series against the Cubs. Rodriguez spent the next five seasons with the Tigers, helping them get to the World Series in 2006. He was traded to the Yankees on July 30, 2008, and then signed with the Astros before the '09 season. On Aug. 18, 2009, the Rangers acquired Rodriguez for the final six weeks of the season, and that was the last time he appeared in a Texas uniform. He spent his last two seasons with the Nationals. "He was a great player, but when I think of Pudge, the thing I think of most is his smile," Grieve said. "I think of the passion he had for the game and the pure joy whenever he took the field or played the game. He was a great player, but those are the things that I remember the most." Rodriguez will be eligible for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017. At this point, he would join Ryan as only the second player inducted to go into Cooperstown as a Ranger. "I'm really proud to say I enjoyed being a teammate of his," Ryan said. "I never anticipated or expected him to have the career he had or the impact he had. It was exciting and fun to watch. He was one of the most popular players we ever had."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.