A little Pudge appreciation

When I was driving home last night shortly after the trade came down, I was listening to WDFN. I was more than a little taken aback by the number of callers saying good-riddance to Ivan Rodriguez. While there may be something to that in terms of evaluating the trade, there also seemed to be a glaring lack of recognition for what Tigers fans had the last 4.5 years. They had the pleasure to watch one of the best in the history of the game day in day out and he was wearing the English D.

For the last half decade Tigers fans have had a sure thing first ballot hall of famer playing for their team. This is a good thing. It’s a rare thing. It’s something that needs to be appreciated.

Not everything was pretty with Pudge. He had his superstar foibles. The absolute refusal to take a walk in 2005 and 2007 was maddening. His pouting and petulance likely played a role in dividing the clubhouse in Alan Trammell’s last year and shouldn’t be excused or forgotten. But greatness doesn’t come around that often, and it is even rarer that it comes to teams who threaten the all time loss record.

I know that Pudge came where the money was, so I don’t know how much credit he deserves for coming here. But he did come here and that is pretty special regardless of the circumstances. He also probably gets more credit than he deserves for leadership and handling of a pitching staff. After all, he didn’t even warm-up the starter in the bullpen before games leaving that to the bullpen catcher.

We didn’t see Pudge at his peak, but we did see him when he was still pretty good. He had a phenomenal 2004 season including the month of June when he hit .500. There was the big walk-off homer against the Indians in 2006. There was the extra-inning walk off hit against the Red Sox in 2007. And there were all the baserunners cut down and even more that didn’t try. We saw a guy with over 2000 games caught who can still hit nearly .300 and run the bases like a 28 year old second baseman.

I make a point to keep a mental checklist of all the great players I’ve seen in person. I know the times that I saw Roger Clemens start (steroids or not he’s phenomenal). I remember the time I saw Barry Bonds in person, and the games where Ken Griffey Jr. came to Comerica. And I appreciate every time the Yankees come to town because Alex Rodriguez is a remarkably rare talent. Pudge Rodriguez is in that class. There were problems for sure.  However, he’s the best catcher by far in my lifetime* and I got to see him play for MY team wearing the home whites. And that’s pretty special.

*Okay, Johnny Bench played in my lifetime but he was at the end of his career when I was old enough to discover baseball.

61 thoughts on “A little Pudge appreciation”

  1. Amen.

    No doubt Pudge’s presence helped deliver us from rock-bottom and he gave us some great (and not so great) memories along the way.

    Great post.

  2. Amen! It was good to have Pudge for the time that we did. Although he did try to pick balls more as he got older rather than blocking. He will be missed!!!

  3. Thanks for the last 5 years, Pudge.

    Although I won’t be missing any of the shoulder-height fastball strikeouts.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. Even though Pudge was getting up there in age, he still had a passion for the game and he was someone the Tigers could rally behind. He was definetely a big part of their turnaround the last few years. I wish it was Shefield that was traded, he belongs in New York.

  5. Hear. Hear.

    One of the two or three greatest defensive catchers of all-time.

    He gave the franchise a new face and new life.

  6. Pudge was one of my favorite non-Tiger players when he was back in Texas. I always followed the Texas box scores closely because of him. I was happier than hell when the Tigers signed him.

    I think Pudge was 1st class during his stay here in Detroit. I love his positive attitude and his ambition to play catcher for so long. I wish him well in NY, but I don’t wish NY well.

    I’m really happy that Inge is getting the opportunity to catch everyday again. His catching is what got him into the majors.

  7. Awesome post. He put Tiger baseball back on the map. Mitch Albom’s column today was great too.

  8. I also have fond memories of Pudge playing firstbase and in one memorable instance, secondbase.

    Thanks to Bilfer for rightly calling out Pudge for quiting on Trammell. Not forgotten or forgiven in my book.

    He wasn’t perfect, but the man wanted to play. And he wanted to play for Detroit, which back then wasn’t an easy thing to find for good/great players…

    He was the exact opposite of Juan Gonzalez.

    Thanks, Pudge

  9. Well done, Bilfer. I echo your sentiments. While he showed up “for the money,” as you state…he also played hard every day and with passion, which is often lacking in many players who show up “for the money.”

    He’s also the reason Missus Rings is a baseball fan. As I was trying to get her into the game, she fell in love with Pudge during the ’03 playoffs…and was thrilled when he joined the Tigers.

  10. He did a lot for this team, and by extension, for our city. Ivan Rodriguez represented us as an All-Star, and he represented us well. Thank you for your service in Detroit, Pudge. I think you’re a great one.

    Frustration is a natural emotion for a proud athlete, and not surprising to see when he’s surrounded by sub-par talent and a lack of effort, and I think that led Pudge to check out on Tram. It’s not acceptable in a professional, but it is human, and I wish he’d fought through it.

    But I also remember that .500 June, and appreciate the shape he kept himself in over these years. I think his presence and leadership have been net positives for us. I will miss the guy.

    But I can’t argue with the logic of moving him, and I can’t say I wish him well in New York — because I still think the Tigers may have a shot at this thing… Well, OK, maybe if everyone else in pinstripes tanks, I can root for Pudge.

  11. I think you are underrating how good Piazza was if you think Pudge was the best catcher “by far” in your lifetime. He might be better than Piazza, but the gap isn’t huge by any stretch.

    With that said, Pudge came at as low a point as a team can be at and he’s leaving a Tigers team that has improved dramtically since he’s gotten he. He isn’t totally responsible for that obviously, but he definately deserves fan recognition for it.

  12. He may of came here because of the money, but he still signed on the dotted line, and at that moment in time in the history of the Tigers that was a rare thing. I will always appreciate the fact that he came to the Tigers, that he wanted to play everyday, and that he kept his promise that we would make the playoffs.

  13. I was stunned by the trade only because it was the Yankees and Farnsworth. Pudge did come for the money but he came and started the ball rolling. He made a huge impact to Detroit and that should be celebrated. Thanks Pudge.

  14. ^ He’s got some hops.

    I really am grateful we had him for nearly 5 years as well… where did all that time go? Don’t think you can argue that we would be where we are today if he hadn’t made that first step and come to Detroit.

  15. Is it my imagination, or did Pudge turn it up a notch in the last two months to make himself look more attractive to other suitors?

  16. “did Pudge turn it up a notch in the last two months to make himself look more attractive to other suitors?”

    Maybe he did it to make himself more attractive to the Tigers. He certainly became more attractive to me.

  17. Couldn’t agree more, Billfer. Pudge was single-handedly responsible for bringing meaningful baseball back to Detroit and for that alone we will be forever thankful.

    Perhaps the single best Tigers game I ever attended was that magical evening on August 5, 2006, at the height of the Tigers incredible run, when he hit the 2-out walk-off homer against Carmona “deep into the night”. I had 20 family members with me that night, including my then 6-year old son who I think learned his love of baseball with that one swing.

    Pudge was his player, as he was for many in this town both young and old, and the news yesterday brought tears.

    Bless you Pudge!

  18. I myself find it very unattractive when some very talented players go into a higher gear when future dinero may be involved.

  19. “Maybe he did it to make himself more attractive to the Tigers. He certainly became more attractive to me”


  20. What, you didn’t know, Dave? But it was never like that, so get your mind out of the gutter. We just had a special friendship. One based entirely on a BA rapidly approaching .300.

  21. What kind of a tribute was that? You state the good things he does followed by something bad he may have done. Why can’t you state the obvious? He’s the best catcher of all-time (feel free to pull out your little baseball numbers textbooks and research it), he came here when nobody else wanted to, and he encouraged class players to not only come to Detroit but to seek extensions.

    Pudge is in his own class. He deserves a lengthy ovation and a goddamn video when he comes with NYY on Sept. 1.

  22. Very well done billfer. I was not the biggest Pudge fan but I know he was extremely popular in Detroit so he deserves a tribute. I wish the Tigers had him in his prime.

  23. I loved Pudge before he came to the Tigers, I was excited when he signed with us, and he didn’t disappoint me during the time he was here. I wasn’t expecting the 1990’s Pudge. That wouldn’t be realistic.

    As Billfer pointed out he had some great moments, and he had some down times too…. but I think the thing that makes me like him so much is he always hustles and gives 100%. I never see him dog it on the field, and he is a 36 year old catcher. You see sub-30 yr old players dogging it all the time.

  24. I’ve done my fair share of complaining about Pudge in the past but that video playing in conjunction with your post, Billfer was awesome. The best was that I just had finished reading what was below the video right when the highlight of that homer against Cleveland and got chills and a big smile on my face. This is probably my favorite post of the year. Well done.

  25. I’m watching Pudge’s first game with the Yankees right now. It’s profoundly depressing.

  26. Pettite is terrible. Six runs in three innings. Pudge has had two bases stolen against him so far.

  27. I respect Pudge.
    I even respect Coldplay.
    But the combination is a little too the Lifetime Network.
    I’m going to go have a Luna bar. After my spin class.

  28. I’ve read all of the explanations and the logistics and the predictions. I eventually will deal with it. Right now I just feel sick. My daughter just met Pudge a few weeks ago at a restaurant, he was so great to her. I knew he wouldn’t be here forever but this is a big change to deal with!!

  29. I’m still a little confused about who is going to be our catcher in 2009. I half expected another deal… which didn’t happen.

    I have no problem with Inge filling the role for he next 60 days, but no way he’s our everyday catcher 2009, right?

  30. I’m still a little confused about who is going to be our catcher in 2009. I half expected another deal… which didn’t happen.

    I have no problem with Inge filling the role for he next 60 days, but no way he’s our everyday catcher 2009, right?

    AL catchers are hitting 268/324/399 this year. Inge is hitting 227/324/448. He’s posted OBPs of 330, 312, 313 the past 3 years and has had slugging percentages 419, 463, and 376 as well. Basically it looks to me like he hits like a catcher, and the defense is sound. And you’re paying him anyways. And it doesn’t cost you dollars or prospects.

    I don’t think it’s a bad plan, plus it gives you 2 more years to figure out of James Skelton, Dusty Ryan, or yet to be drafted catcher can help you out.

  31. Still here. Was just looking at the fridge and I’ve been a Tiger fan so long I’ve got one of those photo magnets with Brandon in catcher’s gear! Now accurate again!!

  32. T Smith: “I have no problem with Inge filling the role for he next 60 days, but no way he’s our everyday catcher 2009, right?”

    Of course he is. And Carlos will be our Left Fielder, Thames will be the Everyday Left Fielder, Inge will play 3rd as much as possible, and you gotta find a way to get Raburn in the lineup more often. So obviously that leaves Inge as the starting catcher, and either Sardinha or Sheffield as the backup.

  33. cib: I’ve got one of those photo magnets with Brandon in catcher’s gear!

    I had one, but Inge confiscated it during spring training. You’re lucky he didn’t find out about yours.

  34. Billfer: “I don’t think it’s a bad plan, plus it gives you 2 more years to figure out of James Skelton, Dusty Ryan, or yet to be drafted catcher can help you out.”

    This makes a lot of sense to me.

    (I’d have to give a big edge to Ryan; Dusty Ryan is a catcher-sounding name, but Skelton?…)

  35. I don’t think it’s a bad plan, plus it gives you 2 more years to figure out of James Skelton, Dusty Ryan, or yet to be drafted catcher can help you out.

    I was afraid you were going to say that. I just don’t like it. I will give Inge credit for improving his OPS this year — and if he can maintain that line in 2009 I would agree it would be adequate production (for that position) and it would be an okay plan — but it just seems that whenever Inge has a slight blip in offensive production everybody is too quick to jump on the wagon, wanting to believe that somehow, someway Inge has turned a corner and what we’ve seen in the past few months is what we’re gonna get.

    And then everybody backs up this almost delusional-kind of fandom by pointing to his career-year numbers. It’s like, “…see! see! Inge is good! He’s a 27-year HR guy…” But that’s akin to expecting Magglio to hit .368 every year with 139 RBI and Matt Joyce to hit a home run every 9 AB…

    I’m just not confident Inge can sustain what is now just a passable OPS when he continually hoovers just above Mendoza and whiffs at an alarming rate. Which begs the question: if Inge is good enough to be the Tigers starting catcher in 2009, why don’t any other teams want him? The organization has been presumably trying to trade him since spring training — a lot of teams have needs Inge could fill, including teams that need a catcher — and yet no other team is biting. Grant it, there may be other reasons underlying why the Tigers couldn’t deal Inge — but I think the primary reason is most teams (contenders anyway) view Inge as a bench player.

    Other questions: is Inge good enough to succeed Posada in NY? They very likely will need a catcher next year — is Inge good enough to play in Boston, LA, or where ever? He was a perfect fit for the Dodgers, who needed a 3rd baseman — yet they didn’t bite. Why is Inge automatically good enough to be the Tigers catcher in 2009?

    I think the next 60 days should be a “trial period” before the organization automatically gives Inge the job in 2009.

  36. The only thing missing from the emotional video was a Pudge triple with him jumping up wild eyed and screaming towards the dugout!

    Thanks Pudge.

  37. T Smith:

    I’m going to assume you haven’t seen Jason Varitek’s numbers this year. Jeff Mathis in LAA has numbers comparable to Inge. Carlos Ruiz in Philadelphia is worse in almost every way.

    The top teams in MLB are very consistently trotting offensive chopped liver out there at the Catcher position. Anyone who isn’t doing so happened to have a great prospect at that position who came out of their system (Soto, Martin, Navarro (who the Dodgers traded to the Marlins for Guillermo Mota, IIRC)). There’s not much else the Tigers can do, and Pudge probably wasn’t going to be back next year.

    Again, if the Tigers fall short this year, it won’t be because of lack of offensive production from the Catcher spot.

  38. Joel in Seattle:

    Those are all valid points — although I don’t think it’s a strong argument comparing Inge to Varitek — the obvious difference being Varitek is a career .788 OPS guy with a career .264/.347/.444 line. So Varitek is obviously having an off year this year — maybe he’s done — who knows? but Inge’s one “career” year looks more like Varitek’s entire career. It will be interesting to see if Boston resigns Varitek. I doubt it so long as Boras is pulling the strings.

    Carlos Ruiz is still too young to tell whether this is just an off year or not (in 2006 and in 2007 his production was considerably better) and frankly, I don’t quite understand how Jeff Mathis still has a job in LA. He and Napoli share the job — and between the two of them, they do kind of put up adequate production for the position. Napoli has pretty decent power which compensates somewhat for Mathis and for Napoli’s horrible average. I can only assume it’s a position the Angels are trying to address in the future, either within their own system or elsewhere.

    In any case, Inge is very likely past his prime, so there is no real reason to think Inge will be substantially better in 2009 than he has been this year. I agree with you if the Tigers fall short this year it won’t be because of lack of offensive production from the catcher spot — but I’m not so sure the same will hold true if the Tigers fall short in 2009.

    I’m sure Inge is going to be our catcher next year, so I hope I’m wrong. But I somehow get the feeling his already dismal offensive skills are heading in one direction … which could be a problem for the 2009 team.

    I wouldn’t be opposed to trying to sign Pudge or a guy like Gregg Zaun for a one year deal in 2009 (although Pudge probably won’t agree to a one year deal — and I’m sure some team will offer him a longer contract).

    I have no idea who the team could get for one year given the free agents available — maybe guys not too much of an upgrade over Inge — but all I’m sayin’ is why assume the position is locked up by August 1, 2008? I think the organization should keep all options on the table.

  39. I’m not a big fan of making the annnouncement that Inge is the catcher next year already, but he’s not as bad as you make him out to be. Over the last 4.5 years, counting every plate appearance since 2004 – even his crappy 2007, the guy has a 255/323/428 line. So he doesn’t have to replicate his career year to be a suitable catcher. He just has to keep on keepin on.

    Oh, and the team hasn’t been trying to actively trade him since spring training. They did in the spring when he didn’t want to catch. Once Vance Wilson was out for the season and Inge came around on catching I think those talks shelved.

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