Pudge Gets “The Call”
Normally when a reporter is singled out at a press conference it isn’t a happy moment for him. It generally means you have written or said something that angered the person at the front of the room. Think Trump with any CNN reporter. However, when I was singled out Wednesday evening, I could not have been more pleased.
As Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez entered the Rangers media room it was full of people he knew. Family, Rangers front office staff and tons of media. Rangers Owner Ray Davis was there to present Pudge with a Hall of Fame cap, a photo op to commemorate the occasion, Pudge had been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot. As he walked to the stage Pudge waved at me, then walked over to shake my hand pulled me in for a quick man hug.
In that moment, so many memories came flooding back. I was working the night of his very first game in a Rangers uniform. It was in Chicago and it was expected that he would be with the “big club” for just a couple of weeks. In his debut game he also debuted his rocket arm with 90 mile-per-hour throws to second base. He caught Joey Cora stealing in that game and his Hall of Fame career was underway.
Game two may have been more memorable for Pudge…he caught Nolan Ryan in that one. That Hall of Fame battery beat the White Sox and Pudge started to think maybe he could stay in the show.
I remember the “Sign Pudge” campaign of 1997 and how it wasn’t working. History, biology and logic suggested that signing Pudge to a long term deal would backfire because he would breakdown physically before the contract expired. The Rangers appeared ready to trade Pudge to the hated Yankees at the deadline. That morning Pudge walked into Rangers’ president Tom Shieffer’s office and, unbeknownst to his agent, worked out a five-year, 42 million dollar deal. Pudge wanted to stay in Texas, and he had told his mom just that in a phone conversation. So she told him to go sign with the Rangers. It might have been that day that Pudge became my favorite player – because he was not just a great player, but that move demonstrated he was a great guy.
Ultimately he did leave Texas via free agency, and for his sake I am glad he did. His first year away from here he won the World Series with the Marlins. The next year, when he signed with the Tiger,s my Detroit peeps asked what I thought. I still remember what I told them, “My favorite player just signed with my favorite team.” He made it to another World Series with the Tigers but lost to the Cardinals in 2006.
Those World Series teams are the highlights of his twenty-one year career. But his heart is here in Texas. He came back as soon as he retired. This is where baseball began for him. He loves the game so much that when the call came from Cooperstown Wednesday evening he cried.
Pudge Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer! At the end of July he will stand on the stage in Cooperstown and thank a whole bunch of people. And if he could he would hug every Rangers fan. He’s a hugger, hell he hugged me twice the other night. Besides, he loves the fans. He would hug them and thank them for loving him, he would thank them for supporting him, he would thank them for giving him such a great baseball home.