For a man who played the game of baseball so boldly, emphatically gunning down foes at second base, defiantly denying home plate to whoever came down his path, Ivan Rodriguez was anything but confident on the night before the greatest phone call of his life.
"To be honest with you," Pudge confessed Wednesday night, "I haven’t slept in three days."
When the Baseball Hall of Fame calls, you cry, we were reminded Wednesday. Pitcher John Smoltz, who got the news of his election in 2015, says it is a phone call he will remember for the rest of his life.
Rodriguez had reason to be anxious, as it turned out. Appearing on the ballot for the first time, he surpassed the required 75 percent of the 442 total ballots by only four votes, joining Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines in the 2017 class.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Cooperstown, however, somewhat symbolically, has never been easy to get to. West of Albany, N.Y., tucked around the southern shore of Otsego Lake, its year-round population is listed as 1,834. The nearest interstate highway sits 18 miles away.
The real roadblock to Cooperstown, N.Y. , though, are the temperamental voters of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA), whose senior members have the duty of selecting players for the Hall of Fame.
Four votes? Only one other player was elected by as few votes in his first time on the Hall of Fame ballot. You may have heard of him – Jackie Robinson.
True, it was a different time and a different baseball writer in 1962, but good heavens. Thirty-six writers decided not to vote for Jackie Robinson.
As a footnote to that class of ’62 – Robinson and Bob Feller were inducted – there were 36 players on that ballot who failed to get enough votes that year, but who were eventually elected to the Hall of Fame.
Cooperstown, as I said, has never been easy to get to.
It doesn’t matter. I’m going to be in Cooperstown in July.
After Rodriguez got his phone call late Wednesday afternoon, and after the tears and hugs from his family and a ride to the ballpark unlike any other he had ever taken, he was ushered into the Rangers interview room beneath the stadium. The last few days had been anxious, he confessed.
But when asked to comment on the politics surrounding the Hall of Fame voting, Pudge shrugged, smiled and waved the question away.
"That’s OK," he said. "It doesn’t matter. I’m going to be in Cooperstown in July."
The Hall of Fame electorate is changing, and Rodriguez’s election will have a hand in that.
The BBWAA moved two years ago to rescind the Hall of Fame voting privileges of retired members who haven’t covered baseball in 10 years. Just six years ago, a record 581 ballots were submitted. A year later, the number was 573.
In 2011, 436 votes were required for election. But with the electorate thinned this year only 332 were necessary to be elected.
Beginning next year the BBWAA will publish every voter’s ballot one week after the players’ names are announced.
You can deduce your own theories on what’s happening. The new, seemingly younger group of BBWAA voters mostly ignored the performance-enhancing substances suspicions that had shadowed Bagwell and Pudge. Roger Clemens’ and Barry Bonds’ vote percentages jumped to 54.1 and 53.8 percent, respectively, fueling the growing belief that both will be elected one day.
Beginning next year the BBWAA will publish every voter’s ballot one week after the players’ names are announced. More than half of the voters, myself included, already annually reveal their completed ballot.
The transparency will help. If somebody harbors a media vendetta or engages in any sort of joke-vote shtick, the Twitter hounds will be released on him or her.
Like Rodriguez suggested, though, Wednesday wasn’t the day to be dwelling on the Hall’s voting issues.
He talked about his family and the sacrifices they had to make while he was off playing baseball. He gave credit to the Rangers veterans who taught him, as a 19-year-old big-league starting catcher, the right way to play the game.
"This is a dream come true for me," he said.
In the ballpark parking garage, a van was waiting to take Pudge to the airport for a whirlwind 24 hours of interviews in New York.
He raised his thumb and shook his head. Sleep would have to wait.
But the hard part of the journey ended Wednesday. Ivan Rodriguez had made it to Cooperstown.