When the Texas Rangers won the American League West Division Championship in 1996 for the first time in the history of the franchise, the team’s remarkable young catcher led the way.
In the regular season, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez played in all but nine of the 162 games – a personal record he would not repeat during the entirety of his 21-year career.
He batted .300 for the year in a record 685 plate appearances, was the starting catcher in the All-Star Game, garnered his fifth Gold Glove award, and earned his third Silver Slugger trophy.
Already a major-league city, Arlington gained national attention when the Rangers took on the storied New York Yankees that year, and most would say it wouldn’t have happened without the guy wearing the number seven on his uniform.
A wager with New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in his second year in office, would result in his talking about how he won from Arlington’s mayor the cowboy boots he was wearing in an appearance on David Letterman’s Late Night Show.
When team owner George Steinbrenner led the Yankees to The Ballpark in Arlington for the series, it was my privilege to be sitting next to him for the games.
With the New York television cameras focused on us, the announcers speculated that our conversation was likely to be about how Arlington had built a new ballpark.
They were right. Steinbrenner, praising our achievement, told me they were looking to build a new Yankee Stadium and wanted to know more about Arlington’s success in getting ours done.
And now, Pudge will again turn national attention to us when he is inducted on July 30 as part of the Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown, N.Y. About 50,000 baseball fans will gather there in the sunshine at the home of the National Pastime.
Describing the latest inductee, the HOF superlatives include, “The numbers are staggering for Ivan Rodriguez, including the 14 All-Star Game selections and 13 Gold Glove Awards – both tops for any catcher in history.
“But the best indicator of Rodriguez’s excellence may be his 2,427 games behind the plate. No one has caught more games at the big-league level, and few can say they did it as well.”
Pudge signed a free agent contract with the Rangers when he was 16 years old. Three years later he was considered one of the best catching prospects in the game and regarded as possibly having the best arm of any catcher in baseball before he even got to the big leagues.
Defensively, he was as advertised, erasing almost half of the runners who tried to steal on him.
By the end of his career, the Society of American Baseball Research would conclude that no one else had ever matched his skill at doing that.
So, when Pudge, wearing the cap of the Texas Rangers that have called Arlington home for 45 years, steps to the microphone on the Hall of Fame induction stage this summer, all eyes across the country and around the world watching on television will be focused on our hometown hero.
Arlington’s pride will swell large that day, a privilege afforded our great city basking in the reflected glory of one of baseball’s greatest players.