Thursday, June 18, 2009

Pudge

In Tuesday's opener of the interleague series between the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez sat behind the plate to catch his 2,226th game, tying another Pudge, Carlton Fisk, for the all-time record for a catcher. And the 2,226th career game caught behind the plate was certainly no cakewalk for the guy who has caught for the Rangers, Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, and now Astros. However, the Pudge baseball fans have grown accustomed to over the past seventeen seasons is a guy who will take a beating behind the plate, yet continue to field his position with a degree of grace and talent that makes catching a major league pitcher seem easy.

Last night, in a match up with his old team the Rangers, the odds of which are baffling, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez toppled the other Pudge and became the record holder with 2,227 career games caught.

Pudge Rodriguez may have averaged 37 or so doubles per season (amounting to 531 as of today), 20+ home runs per season and even 85+ RBIs, but what I believe will get Pudge Rodriguez into Cooperstown (home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame) is what he has done behind the plate. Not only has he caught 2,227 games, he has 13 gold gloves to represent his defense behind the plate, the most gold gloves for a catcher ever. This is a guy that baseball folks in the know describe as the greatest defensive catcher in the entire history of baseball. And the fans who recognize that Pudge is a force and a phenomenal player have elected Pudge to play in the All-Star game a total of fourteen times.

On top of everything that's already been said here, Pudge has 7 silver slugger awards under his belt as well as a World Series ring and the coveted MVP trophy, awarded to him by the American League in 1999.

Seeing Pudge return to Texas, against the team he broke into the majors with and had some of his most productive years with, to beat Pudge Fisk's record was an amazing thing. The highlights last night, though not particularly remarkable in the Astros defeat, reminded me why I grew up idolizing Pudge Rodriguez. What Pudge has proven time and again is that he is a serious player who loves the game and has no intent to abandon it. There were moments during the World Baseball Classic when Pudge, without a contract for the 2009 season, appeared to be on top of his game and potentially in a position to go out while still at the top, but those appearances only served to remind the rest of the baseball world that Pudge has much to bring to a team. The Houston Astros knew what they were doing in signing Pudge and whatever years his legs and knees have left in them will be worth whatever the price for the Astros or any other team.

With guys like Pudge Rodriguez in the game, it is easier to swallow the ongoing chaos that ensues every time another player is mentioned in the steroid saga. I just continue to hope that on that secret list of 103 players who tested positive in 2003 for performance enhancing drugs, Pudge's name is nowhere to be found. The Texas Rangers franchise is certainly plagued by a history of steroid-users (Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and now Sosa), but you have to hope and believe that the good guys like Pudge Rodriguez simply walked away.

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