Ivan 'Pudge' Rodriguez talks Hall of Fame
So you think Pudge Rodriguez entering the Hall of Fame in July is a home run?
You’re not alone, at least among Texas Rangers fans and those who closely followed his 21-year career, including the first 12 years in Arlington.
Players must be on 75 percent of the ballots for enshrinement. The 2017 class will be announced Jan. 18. Ballots were due Dec. 31.
Before explaining how that homer could go foul at the last second, let’s face the facts.
I do not understand how voters can change their minds on Hall of Fame candidates from year to year. They either are deserving in their first year, or not. Retired ballplayers are not like fine wine, getting better with age.
Hall of Fame voter David Maril
Statistically, Rodriguez, who broke in with the Rangers in 1991, appears to be a no-brainer nominee. He ranks among the game’s top catchers offensively and defensively. For 10 consecutive seasons, he won the Gold Glove, a stretch matched by only one other catcher, Hall of Famer Johnny Bench. He had an American League record 13 in his career, the most ever by a catcher.
For even more perspective, consider this: Only three players have won more Gold Gloves than Rodriguez. Pitchers Greg Maddux (18) and Jim Kaat (16) and third baseman Brooks Robinson (16). For defensive dominance at his position, few dominated their era quite like Rodriguez, and he caught more games (2,427) than anyone in history.
Offensively, he’s atop most of the major categories among catchers, including hits (2,749), runs (1,316), RBIs (1,290) and total bases (4,314). He’s third in homers (304) and second in steals (124).
Popularity important to you? Pudge was a star. He made the All-Star team 14 times, including 10 consecutive seasons, the same stretch he won those Gold Gloves (1992-2002).
So let’s enshrine him now, right? You’re wondering what’s the catch?
Humans, somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 of them, make up the Baseball Writers Association of America, including some who don’t cover baseball on an everyday basis. A year ago, 91 of the 440 ballots cast came from “honorary” members. Many of these members are retired writers who continue to take the task seriously.
In 2015, voting privileges were capped at 10 years after membership ceased. Players are eligible five years after their retirement and stay on the ballot if not elected for 10 years provided they were listed on at least 5 percent of the previous year’s ballots.
The 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced Jan. 18.
Each voter brings his or her own criteria and, perhaps, subconscious prejudice to the ballot, of which they can choose 10 players.
Also complicating the matter is the issue of performance enhancing drugs. The PED era — of which Rodriguez and fellow nominee Jeff Bagwell played the bulk of their careers — has led some voters to arbitrarily dismiss players they deem tarnished by PED accusations, however unsubstantiated. Rodriguez denied he ever used, especially in the wake of former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco’s claim in his 2005 book Juiced that he personally injected Rodriguez and others “many times” with human growth hormone.
“Rodriguez was exceptional on many levels, including as a defensive deterrent to the run game, and for a catcher, he ran well,” said Boston radio personality Tony Massarotti. “Just too many skills there for me to attribute it all to suspected PED use. If Bagwell did not have the power, does he get in? I say no. I feel differently about Rodriguez.”
Although Rodriguez never failed a test and wasn’t named in the infamous 2007 Mitchell Report, the accusations are enough for some voters to pass on him.
“I did not vote for him because of persistent reports of PED use,” said Newsday’s Steven Marcus, who submitted only two names on his ballot, Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero. “I don’t see that changing. Commissioner Rob Manfred all but exonerated David Ortiz, which may carry some weight with me when his time comes.”
Marcus isn’t alone. Of the 164 ballots (37.7 percent of the total vote) collected as of Tuesday afternoon, 26 voters left Rodriguez off, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame vote tracker compiled by Ryan Thibodaux. Rodriguez is still holding strong at 84.1 percent but that number is likely to weaken as more ballots come in.
While you may disagree with voters such as Marcus, who have declined to vote for players embroiled in the PED mess, including two of the best players in the history of the game — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — it’s hard to fault their logic.
I did not vote for [Pudge Rodriguez] because of persistent reports of PED use.
Hall of Fame voter Steven Marcus
Other reasoning, however, will be tough to swallow for Rangers fans.
“Rodriguez was a great player who did not pass my intangibles requirement of being a player who I’d buy a ticket to take my grandchildren to see, just so they could tell their grandchildren they saw him,” said Bill Ballou, of the Worcester Telegram. “Strictly gut instinct on that one, so no numbers comparisons need be drawn up
“ I don’t take PEDs into consideration in any way, shape or form. I can’t parse the ‘cheating,’ be it PEDs, Gaylord Perry’s spitball, corked bats, amphetamines,” he said. “If baseball recognizes the home runs, hits, wins and saves as legitimate, so do I.”
Ballou said he also thinks players should only be on the ballot once.
“I will not vote for Rodriguez in the future,” he said. “After all, a career is a career and retired players’ careers won’t change from year to year, only perceptions, so once I vote, or not vote, for a player, I don’t change that decision.”
David Maril, a retired columnist and editor from Massachusetts and honorary voter, agrees with Ballou about PEDs. He voted for Rodriguez.
51 Players have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, including Ken Griffey Jr., in 2016.
“I am not a medical expert or licensed private investigator and am not professionally qualified to make Hall of Fame voting assessments on PED issues,” he said. “It is up to major league baseball executives and the Hall of Fame screening committee to determine which candidates are eligible for consideration, to make these type of decisions, as they did with Pete Rose.”
Some voters have expressed a change of heart regarding the PED era since former commissioner Bud Selig was voted in by the Veteran’s Committee earlier this month. Selig has often been accused of turning a blind eye to the burgeoning PED problem, especially with the 1998 home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivating much of the nation and reviving interest in the sport.
Some voters who have abstained from selecting Bonds and Clemens, for example, are now including them.
“That’s why I voted for Bonds and Clemens this year. To punish them when the steroid-era commish was just put into Cooperstown was a real double standard,” said Kevin Cooney, a sportswriter for the Buck County Courier Times in Pennsylvania, who did not vote for Rodriguez.
“I viewed Rodriguez in the same light as Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell and others who have never been suspended for or faced a criminal probe about their steroid involvement — I’m not going to base a vote strictly on innuendo. I know that there are some who will — hence the vote for Guerrero over [Rodriguez] this time around.”
Cooney, perhaps, will vote for Rodriguez in the future. Some voters find many first-year eligible players unworthy of first-ballot nomination. Others, like Cooney, simply run out of spots, and intend on voting for a worthy candidate the next year.
Those who saw him play on a daily basis, however, have few reservations.
Players need to be on at least 75 percent of ballots to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Ivan Rodriguez is one of the top five catchers in the history of baseball along with Johnny Bench, Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra and Josh Gibson,” said longtime Rangers beat writer T.R. Sullivan, who covered the team for the Star-Telegram before joining MLB.com. “There is no doubt he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the Rangers should retire his number.”