After 21 seasons of gracing us with the finest work behind the plate that many of us have ever seen, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez finally has well-earned time to sip lemonade on a warm summer's day with his family. But it hasn't been all hammocks and Country Time for Pudge. He's been keeping busy since announcing his retirement from baseball in April.
In addition to family time, Pudge has been watching the great things the Rangers have done in the first half of the season. Pudge has been following along as his son Dereck Rodriguez hits .390 for the Gulf Coast Twins in the Rookie League. And, oh yeah, he's taken time to see how long it takes him to shell and eat ten peanuts.
Allow me to explain...
Head & Shoulders, the official shampoo of Major League Baseball, is in Kansas City today to announce the kick-off of the "Mane Man Challenge," a virtual competition amongst a line-up of MLB All Stars - Pudge Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, and Dennis Eckersley.
Starting today, fans will have front-row access via www.ManeManChallenge.com to watch All-Star Swisher, Future Hall-of-Famer Rodriguez and Hall-of-Famer Eckersley compete in hilarious challenges - from their outrageous batting skills to their off-the-cuff verbal antics - and vote for their favorite competitor to win the Head & Shoulders Mane Man title.
Head & Shoulders wanted to get the word out to Rangers fans and let us know that Pudge needs our support! In addition to letting us know the details of how we can get Pudge selected as the Mane Man, Pudge spent some time talking with me this morning about his memories of playing for the Rangers during the Arlington Stadium days and his future plans with the Rangers.
Here's a sample of what Pudge and I talked about:
Fittz: Since we are at the All-Star break, and you were such a staple of the American League team for years, I wanted to ask: What's your personal favorite All-Star Game moment?
Pudge: Well, the one that we played at the Ballpark in Arlington in '95 was great. When you play in front of your home crowd and you get a standing ovation like I received that day, it was great. I think playing at home and being in your clubhouse with all those superstars in the same room is great. So, I gotta say the one I played at the Ballpark was the best. And the stadium was only recently opened so there was a great, beautiful atmosphere that day.
After the jump you can also read whom Pudge declared the winner in the immortal mustache battle between Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez along with Pudge's thoughts on potentially mentoring young Jorge Alfaro.
Fittz: First of all I just want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. It's a real honor.
Pudge: Okay, thank you.
Fittz: I want to start by saying it was really great to see your career culminate with a special celebration at the Ballpark earlier this season. You were able to officially retire as a Texas Ranger. What did that mean to you?
Pudge: Well, it means a lot to me. I think it was the best thing to retire as a Ranger, you know? I think the Rangers gave me the opportunity when I was 16 years old to be a professional player and at 19 years old to be a Major League baseball player and to play for 11 or 12 years of my career there in Texas. I think Texas is a great place to play. Their fans are great. The area where I grew up was excellent. And to be part of the organization for 12 years was amazing.
I spent a lot of good times and had great memories there. And now it makes me feel more happy now the way the team plays and how the organization has changed so much. When right now, you've seen they've been in the World Series in back-to-back years. Those things make me very happy because I was a part of the team before.
Fittz: Right. It's definitely been a different kind of ballgame over the last few seasons.
Actually, one of my favorite things from that ceremony press conference was you had Nolan Ryan there and you told a story about hitting a home run off of him in Spring Training. He says he doesn't remember you hitting one off of him. So, did you really hit one off of Nolan?
Pudge: Yeah. I remember that one. It was in Spring Training. I hit a ball over the right field wall. He doesn't remember that because, you know, he doesn't want to remember that. But I do. Hitting a home run off him, you know, it's not easy. But it was great. I think being able to play with him for a few years and catch him for a few years for me was an honor. To catch him and to be one of his teammates, I learned so much from him. When I played with him, we got along so well. He's a great guy. Great person. Great family guy, like the way that I am. It was great to play with him for a few years.
Fittz: I definitely have to believe you on that one. Anyone hitting a home run off of Nolan Ryan is going to remember it.
Pudge: (laughs) I do. I do remember. For me, that was a great hit.
Fittz: Now, following the press conference that day, Nolan Ryan made mention of talks between yourself and the team about you staying on in some capacity with the organization. Have there been any developments on that front?
Pudge: Oh right now, everything has been very calm. I'm taking a little bit of time off to spend with my family. Watching my kids. Watching my kid play for the Twins organization. I go there and spend a little time with him. But yeah, it's probably going to be in the next month or so. We're going to get together. I'm going to travel to Texas to sit down with Mr. Ryan and [Jon] Daniels again and see what we can do. But definitely there's a lot interest having me be a part of the organization and in many ways I look forward to it.
Fittz: As a fan, that definitely sounds exciting. Have you had a chance to see any of the Rangers' catching prospects such as Kellin Deglan or Jorge Alfaro? I know the Rangers are particularly high on Alfaro. Is mentoring guys like that something you could see yourself doing?
Pudge: Well yeah, I've been seeing a little bit through the computer. I think they all have tremendous talent. They're all very young. The talent they have, the way they're receiving the ball, the way they work with pitchers, they're great. The think the most important thing for me as a catcher is, you know, if you are a good receiver, if you're a game-calling type of catcher, you're always going to have a big chance to be in the big leagues.
So, I look forward to seeing them soon. I think before the year is over, I might go to the minor leagues to see them play in person. That way I can get more feedback from them. I'm here for that. I'm here to help them the best that I can. I think they have a lot to work on, a lot to learn. I think my philosophy, and the way I am, I love to teach what players taught me back when I was young and to share to the young prospects that are coming to the Major League level to be great players, to be honest with you. My goal is to just teach them the best that I can, and to try to be as simple a catcher as they can, and to be themselves. I look forward to it. I look forward to working with them and do the best that I can so they can be great catchers in the future.
Fittz: Excellent. Tom Grieve spoke at your press conference as well and he told some great stories about how the organization signed you and brought you along. There was a real excitement about those late ‘90s Rangers teams with yourself and Juan Gonzalez. What do you remember best about those years?
Pudge: I think what we'd remember is that we'd go to the field and play hard every single day. I think the team that we had, the lineup we had, was amazing. We were all ready to play every single day. We were all ready to go out there and do our jobs. We didn't take anything for granted. We just went out there and played and did our jobs every day. That's the way we played in those years.
That's why, as I was telling you earlier, it's always nice to see how the Rangers organization has been changed. And now you can see how we started it in those years. We worked on getting better and better and better and now you can see the Rangers are one of the best organizations in baseball. From the team to the front office, coaching staff, and now the players, now they see the improvement that we started for so many years.
Fittz: Yeah, the Rangers currently have the second best record in baseball behind the Yankees going into the All-Star break. There hasn't been too many years where it has worked out this well.
Pudge: Yeah, when you finish with over 50 wins, it's a pretty good first half.
Fittz: Yeah, definitely. I'd imagine you don't miss the blazing August days at old Arlington Stadium anymore.
Pudge: (laughs) No, to be honest with you, I do. I do miss baseball. You know, I played for a long time. I played for 21 years in the big leagues. To be honest with you, I can still play. I still can play, but at the same time, I think I've played enough. 21 years is a lot of baseball. And now it's time to do all the things in life and spend time with the family and focus on the son that I have also playing baseball. I get to support him 100% and be with the family.
Fittz: Yeah, well, to be honest, I miss old Arlington Stadium too. That was the first stadium I saw a Major League baseball game so it's still special to me.
But back to those ‘90s Rangers. About a week ago, I wrote a feature on the great facial hair and hair styles of the Rangers throughout the history of the franchise. So what I want you to do is to end our Rangers fan eternal debate: Who had the best mustache, Raffy or Juan?
Pudge: Rafael. (laughs)
Fittz: He had the best one?
Pudge: Raffy. Raffy, yeah. Very nice and long and black. (laughs)
Fittz: (laughs) See, I feel like Juan he had the mustache and mullet combo, so he really elevated...
Pudge: Well there was a lot of good ones, to be honest with you. I don't know if you remember [Jeff] Russell? You know, he had a beard, too. He had a pretty good one. But I gotta say Palmeiro had a nice one. Formed, long, black furry top lip. (laughs)
Fittz: (laughs) Well there we go. I think that ends that debate.
But speaking of hair, you're kicking off the Head & Shoulders Mane Man Challenge today. Can you tell me about the challenge and what you're competing for?
Pudge: Well the challenge is going to be against two great players, you know, a Hall-of-Famer Mr. [Dennis] Eckersley and a good friend of mine, [Nick] Swisher. So I think it's going to be fun. I've been having a great time doing this challenge. I look forward to continuing doing this and spending time with some great players. I'm in Kansas City and I look forward to going to FanFest to be with the players and be with the fans and have a great time.
Fittz: Yeah, I've had the opportunity to watch a couple of the videos of the challenges.
Pudge: Crazy, huh?
Fittz: Yeah, they had you timed signing baseballs and shelling and eating peanuts. What's the weirdest thing they've had you doing?
Pudge: The toughest part is when I had to eat all this bread at one time. I almost died. You know, I couldn't drink water and I almost died. I sucked all the bread in my throat and I almost got short of breath. (laughs) But it was great. We had a blast. I've been having fun.
Fittz: (laughs) Yeah, that totally would have been a somber way to start the Head & Shoulders Challenge.
Fittz: So, we'll have the ability to vote for you as the Mane Man, correct?
Pudge: Yeah, you have to go and vote for me. I think I did a great job so I support the fans voting for me. I basically need all of the fans that I've got in Texas. I hope they vote for me. I need ‘em!
Fittz: Yeah, I think it's safe to say you'll have the Rangers fan vote. We're definitely not going to vote for a Yankee or Athletic. So, actually, hopefully this isn't a sore subject, but I looked it up and you went 2-12 against Eckersley over your career. But you did hit a double off of him!
Pudge: That's okay. That's okay. He was one of those pitchers who was very tough to hit. But at least I didn't go O-fer. At least I got a couple of hits off him.
Fittz: Yeah, you got a couple of knocks. No shame in that. He's a Hall-of-Famer. But I think you definitely have a little payback to administer to Eck for that. So, I look forward to you taking on this challenge.
You're also going up against Swisher of the Yankees. He became a Yankee the season after you left New York in 2008.
Pudge: Yeah, I think he came there a year after. But I played with him when he was with Oakland and Chicago. You know, we played in the same division. He's a great guy. I never did get to play with him, but playing against him, he's a very friendly guy. He'd say "hello" and always smiles in the field and in the game. When you have those kinds of players in the game, it's always good for the game.
Fittz: Do you have any tactics in mind on how to beat Swisher?
Pudge: Well you know, he has a lot of followers on his Twitter. So that's why I need all the fans in Texas to vote for me. That would be great. But, you know, it's all fun. Whoever wins, it's going to be for the best for this promotion that we are doing. We're all having a blast and having fun. We're going to see who wins. If it's me, great. You know, I did pretty good. If it's not me, I think that Eckersley and Swisher also did a great job. We have a great group.
Fittz: Well we'll do our best to get you some votes.
I have one last question for you. I know the Hall of Fame gets to make the final decision, but once you're selected into the Hall, are you going to suggest they put a Rangers cap on your plaque?
Pudge: Well, you know, I think pretty much yes. You know, I played there a very long time. I played for some great organizations. I have to tell you the Detroit Tigers organization is a great organization. Also, you know, I played the All-Star game there and I had a blast. The Marlins, I played there for only one year and I got a chance to win a World Series and that's the only one that I have. To be a part of that was great.
But let's see. You know, there's still plenty of time left. There's still four or five years left. When the time gets closer, I'll decide. But they've all been great. I can say nothing better than that. But I can say, when the time comes, that it's great to be a part of the organization that I grew up in and where I played for such a long time. The Rangers are a good organization.
Fittz: I haven't been able to go to Cooperstown to see the Hall of Fame yet but someday I look forward to going and seeing your name.
Pudge: We'll see.
Fittz: So we're about a week away from it being exactly 21 years since you were called up to the majors in July of 1991. I was writing earlier this season about how my first summer following the Rangers was that '91 season, so in many ways your tenure as a Ranger is what made me become a Rangers fan.
Pudge: Oh, good. I appreciate that.
Fittz: Thank you for your time and best of luck to you in Mane Man Challenge.
Pudge: Alright, thank you.
If you're so inclined, you can visit the Head & Shoulders Mane Man Challenge page and vote for Pudge.