The Texas Rangers are having a ceremony before tonight’s game to honor Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez, who was inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame last month, and to retire his #7 jersey.
I still remember when Pudge was first called up in 1991, a 19 year old straight out of AA who we only knew from reports of his preternatural throwing arm and precocious development. And I remember watching him in his first game in the majors, against the Chicago White Sox — two Sox players, Joey Cora and Warren Newson, opted to challenge the teenager’s arm in that game, and both were gunned down. Watching him behind the plate, especially in those early years, was a special experience -- you WANTED teams to run against him, so you could see show off that transcendent arm.
Pudge won his first Gold Glove in 1992, the first of what would be 10 in a row, before the streak was finally broken in 2002 by Bengie Molina. 2002 was also the final year in Pudge’s first stint as a Ranger, as then-g.m. John Hart opted to make no effort to bring Pudge back, instead trading Travis Hafner in a deal to bring a replacement, Einar Diaz, to Texas, and refusing to even offer Pudge arbitration (meaning the Rangers’ didn’t even get draft pick compensation when he left).
Pudge won a ring in Florida, spent four-and-a-half years in Detroit, a partial season with the Yankees, and then was with the Astros before Texas, needing catching depth as a surprise contender in 2009, made a deal in August to bring him back home for a month and a half before he finished out his career with the Washington Nationals.
I supported the decision in 2002 to not bring Pudge back, though I expect my feelings would be different now. I’ve gotten sentimental in my old age, more attached to players and less inclined to see them as simply chess pieces to be moved about. And it feels wrong that Pudge didn’t spend his whole career with Texas, although if he had stayed, he wouldn’t have won that ring.
So with Pudge’s number being retired today, I will ask y’all...what do you remember about Pudge Rodriguez, Texas Ranger?