January 18, 2017. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez receives 336 Hall of Fame votes in his first year of eligibility, becoming the 19th catcher to enter Cooperstown, and the first to be elected on his first ballot since Johnny Bench in 1989.
Pudge was a homegrown Texas Ranger. He came up through the Texas system, debuted at age 19, led us to three playoff berths, appeared in 14 All-Star Games, won 7 Silver Sluggers, 13 Gold Gloves, 1 American League MVP, I NL Championship Series MVP, and 1 World Series ring (unfortunately, not with Texas). He hit 311 home runs, 572 doubles, had 2,844 hits, had an impressive triple slash line of .296/.334/.464 for his career, and threw out 661 runners on the base paths for a career caught-stealing percentage of 46%.
But the number that I most remember is 7.
As a young Catholic boy, 7 meant several things to me. It was a holy number – 7 Sacraments, 7 Corporal Works of Mercy, 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, on the 7th day God rested… you get the idea.
And then there was the number on the back of Pudge’s jersey.
The number 7 was on the back of the jersey I wore to games at Arlington Stadium, and then to games at the Ballpark in Arlington. The number 7 was on the pennant hanging in my bedroom, a pennant that I bought with birthday cash from the grandparents while at a Rangers game. The number 7 was the number that I asked for when I started playing organized sports. I didn’t always get it, but I always asked for it.
Nolan Ryan was at the tail end of his career by the time I was old enough to actually appreciate baseball, but Pudge was just entering his prime. As a grew to love the National Pastime more and more each year, Pudge was right there with me, throwing out runners, stealing his own bases, and hitting homers. As a little kid, he was my favorite “just because”, but as I grew older I began to appreciate just how good he actually was. He was the perfect Texas Ranger, and although he didn’t spend his entire career with the team, he returned after retirement to work on the media side of the team.
Pudge is also the first Ranger in Cooperstown to which I have a real connection. He won’t be the last, but he is the first, and everyone remembers their first.
Here’s to you, Pudge.