Any discussion of about the greatest catchers of all-time has to start with Johnny Bench. He was the gold standard although nobody really knows how great was Josh Gibson, the legendary Negro League catcher.
There are those that say Roy Campanella is No. 1 on the list and others who will put Yogi Berra there. One internet list had Ivan Rodriguez up there at the top and he is at least top six in just about every random ranking, and now his career is over. He will announce his retirement in Arlington on Monday and then be honored before the game by the Rangers, the team he played for from 1991-2002.
After that he left the Rangers, signing with the Marlins and winning a World Series in 2003 with a young pitching staff that might have defied the oft-stated opinion that Rodriguez was not very good at calling games. So too his work with the 2006 Tigers.
Maybe that was not his best asset with the Rangers but John Burkett and Rick Helling were among those who stated flatly they didn’t care one bit. They knew what they wanted to throw and there was no other catcher they wanted to throw to than Rodriguez. They knew his many other assets, especially his unbelievable ability to throw out base runners.
Still remember the 1997 World Series when the Marlins had Charles Johnson behind the plate and the Indians had Sandy Alomar, and everybody was making a big deal about which one was the best in the game.
So they asked Kenny Lofton, who was the premier basestealer and he said in a press conference before everybody, “Pudge Rodriguez is the best catcher in the game.”
He was beyond 2002 but the Rangers let him go for nothing, not even offering him arbitration as a free agent because they had Alex Rodriguez, Chan Ho Park, Rafael Palmeiro, Juan Gonzalez and other hefty payroll obligations.
But what if? Well, they keep Rodriguez and don’t trade Travis Hafner to the Indians for Einar Diaz. Instead Hafner maybe is the Rangers designated hitter to start the 2003 season and Mark Teixeira begins the season in the Minor Leagues instead of being rushed to the big leagues.
So Teixeira doesn’t arrive until 2004 and can’t become a free agent until 2009 so maybe the Rangers don’t trade him in 2007 to the Braves for Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Beau Jones in a transaction that changed the franchise forever. So maybe Pudge was a part of what has all happened the past two years.
All we really know is that Rodriguez had 12 tremendous seasons with the Rangers, winning ten Gold Gloves and going to ten All-Star Games, and helping them win three division titles in a town that had never experienced post-season play before.
They didn’t get past the Yankees, who were in the middle of one of the greatest dynasties in baseball history, but few people actually remember how close the Rangers came to knocking them off in 1996 and derailing the Joe Torre era before it left the station. Anybody wonder, knowing how mercurial George Steinbrenner was as an owner, if Torre would have survived one season as manager if the Yankees had lost to the Rangers in 1996. Remember they also got bounced by the Indians in 1997.
So now the wait begins for Rodriguez. He has five years to wait and then the voters will decide if one of the five best catchers in baseball history belongs in the Hall of Fame.
He has one guaranteed vote but nothing is really guaranteed from the past 15 years when books were written, reports were filed and people freely wondered aloud. Some were spared, some have been trashed beyond recognition and some languish in the gray area.
Rodriguez should go into the Hall of Fame. He will go into the Hall as a Ranger, their first player in Cooperstown whose best years were spent in Arlington. Nolan Ryan went in as a Ranger even though there’s no doubt that he is there because of what happened while with the Angels. It can be stated that his five years with Texas – two no-hitters, 5,000 strikeouts and 300 wins – certainly pushed him into the “no doubt” range.
Rodriguez originally was a Ranger and will be immortalized as a Ranger. He was one of the five best catchers in the game, the best of his era and the best at least since Johnny Bench.