Texas Rangers

Despite sharing Hall spotlight, Pudge Rodriguez is star of stars this weekend

Pudge says career was great, but best ever by a catcher?

Ivan Rodriguez has the numbers and awards that say he's the best catcher in baseball history, but he won't say where he ranks (video by Jeff Wilson).
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Ivan Rodriguez has the numbers and awards that say he's the best catcher in baseball history, but he won't say where he ranks (video by Jeff Wilson).

Every statistic Ivan Rodriguez compiled over 21 seasons, at the most demanding position in the game, screams that he’s a Hall of Famer, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, as good as it gets at his position.

And that’s what he is.

His entry into baseball immortality will officially arrive Sunday, when he gives his induction speech, is handed his Hall of Fame plaque, and it is mounted in the museum’s Hall of Fame Gallery.

Rodriguez will be one of only 18 catchers in the Hall, one of only four living Hall catchers.

He’ll share a wall with Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros, Tim Raines of the Montreal Expos, Atlanta Braves architect John Schuerholz and commissioner Bud Selig. Rodriguez has been sharing the spotlight with them all weekend.

Make no mistake, though, that Pudge is the star of stars this weekend.

Or he should be.

He didn’t ride to town on 90-something percent of the ballots, as Ken Griffey Jr. (on a record 99.32 percent of ballots) did last year or as Nolan Ryan (98.79) did 18 years ago or as Derek Jeter will in two years.

The suspicions cast upon him by meathead Jose Canseco, and believed by anyone who doubts the authenticity of numbers from the Steroids Era, nearly kept Pudge from joining the Hall of Fame this year.

Of the Hall voters here this weekend who didn’t vote for Rodriguez, exactly zero of them asked him about what they suspected. Pudge, meanwhile, answered the question — another strong denial — in his session Friday with local writers.

Others non-Pudge voters not here have said they were waiting for more information, like a smoking needle or a positive test. Until then, Rodriguez’s word and numbers weren’t good enough.

Nor was the arm that controlled running games, the passion with which he played, the durability and toughness he exhibited, or the leader he became.

Former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer tells the 1997 story of when the Rangers nearly traded Ivan Rodriguez to the Yankees for three players, including Jorge Posada (video by Jeff Wilson).

He had the numbers, as the all-time leader among catchers in games (2,543), hits (2,844), runs (1,354), doubles (572) and five other categories; won the hardware (13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Slugger awards, the 1999 MVP, 2003 World Series title) and never showed up on rap sheet (not mentioned in the 2007 Mitchell Report).

Is he the best catcher ever?

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” Rodriguez said. “Can I ask that of you? I’m a humble player. I can say there are so many great ones in the game. I respect them a lot. I know my career was great. Defensively and offensively I did a great job, but, basically, I didn’t do it for myself. I did it to win games.”

Yet, all the recognition all of that deserves seems lacking. Instead of Rodriguez being celebrated as the star of stars this weekend, he’s sharing the spotlight.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. He’s here, and that is worth celebrating.

Rodriguez is the first homegrown Rangers player to reach the Hall of Fame (and no others are in the queue). Those who were in charge of the club back when Pudge was signed in 1988, from Tom Grieve to Sandy Johnson to Tom Schieffer, are in town to celebrate that.

“Pudge means everything to me,” said Johnson, who was the head of scouting when the Rangers found Rodriguez in Puerto Rico. “He was one of the first kids in the early days of the Rangers that we signed, and look what he did in baseball.”

Also at Cooperstown are Rudy Jaramillo, Rodriguez’s first manager in the minors and the hitting coach during his heyday, and Bobby Jones, who managed Pudge at High A in the Florida State League.

“He was so athletic and such a hard worker that he kept making adjustments and kept getting better as the years went on,” Jaramillo said. “That’s why he’s here.”

Sandy Johnson was the head of scouting for the Texas Rangers when the discovered Ivan Rodriguez in Puerto Rico. Johnson tells the story of the 1987 tryout (video by Jeff Wilson).

More and more Rangers fans, who watched Pudge help the Rangers make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and campaigned for the Rangers to extend his contract in 1997, arrived here Saturday.

A party for Rodriguez was to be held Saturday night, with MLB commissioner Rob Manfred delivering remarks. Rodriguez will give a speech around eight minutes in length Sunday with 50 other Hall of Fame players present behind him.

He’s entering their club five years after a career that screams Hall of Famer, first-ballot Hall of Famer, as good as it gets at his position.

Pudge is the star of stars this weekend, suspicions be damned.

That’s worth celebrating.

Baseball Hall of Fame ceremony

12:30 p.m. Sunday, Cooperstown, N.Y., MLB Network and MLB.com (streaming online)

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