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.