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Monday, June 20, 2022

Ivan Rodriguez expressed confidence before ML debut; Eventually saw 21 seasons, became among game's all-time best

Still 19 years old and without a big league game to his name, young Ivan Rodriguez expressed confidence in his abilities to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in spring 1991.

Even so, he knew he might have to start that year back in the minors, he told The Star-Telegram then.

"That's all right. A half-season or (by) September, maybe I'll be in the major leagues. But once I'm there," Rodriguez told The Star-Telegram, "I'm not going back. My first year, I want to be rookie of the year. That's my thinking. In three years, All-Star catcher. Then people will be saying Ivan Rodriguez is the best catcher in baseball."

As brash as Rodriguez might have sounded at the time, he ended up being correct on pretty much everything. In retrospect, he was even a bit conservative.

He would make his major league debut that June - and play well enough to get into the rookie of the year discussion (he came in fourth), if not win it. 

Three years from then, he did make the All-Star team. But, actually, he made it the very next year, 1992 - and 13 more times after that.

Along the way, he picked up an MVP award, a World Series title with the Marlins in 2003 and a host of other awards. By the time his two-decade-plus career ended in 2011, the catcher who would earn the name "Pudge" became not only one of his era's best catchers, but one of the all-time greats, winning election to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 2017.

Rodriguez' career began in 1989, signed by the Rangers as a free agent the previous year out of his native Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez started  with the Rangers at single-A Gastonia. He hit .238 in 112 games, with seven home runs. He moved to high-A Port Charlotte for 1990, then AA Tulsa to start 1991. He went .274 in 50 games at Tulsa, then got his call up to Texas.

Rodriguez saw 88 games for the Rangers the rest of the way in 1991. He hit .264, with three home runs. He then returned in 1992, where he hit .260 in 123 games in his first All-Star campaign.

In July 1994, the catcher caught Kenny Rogers' perfect game. In the seventh inning of the game, The Associated Press noted, Rogers went 3-2 on all three batters.

"That just made us concentrate more," Rodriguez told The AP of their effort.

From 1992 to 2001, Rodriguez made the All-Star team each year. He hit 20 or more home runs in five seasons in that stretch, and 35 in his MVP year of 1996. He also hit .300 or more in seven of those campaigns.

He moved to the Marlins in 2003, where he hit .297, with 16 home runs and he hit .313 over that post-season, with three home runs

Teammates described to The Kansas City Star that October how Rodriguez improved the team across the board, from making his pitchers better to doing what catchers need to do, hold on to the ball even when getting run over.

"That's the reason why he's the best catcher in the game," teammate Juan Pierre told The Star, noting a early playoff win where Rodriguez had knocked the ball loose from a catcher to score a key run, then held the ball himself to prevent one. "If the throw gets there in time, he's going to make the play."

Rodriguez moved to the Tigers for 2004, making the All-Star team four more times in his four full seasons with the team. He also helped the club to the 2006 World Series

He then played with the Yankees, Astros, Rangers again and his two final seasons with the Nationals. 

Rodriguez saw more than 2,500 big league games, ended with a career .296 average, 311 home runs and 127 stolen bases. 

In 2017, he made the Hall of Fame in his first try, earning 76 percent of the vote.

"Do what makes you happy," Rodriguez said during his induction speech, according to The Tampa Bay Times. "The kids out there playing baseball, you should be happy, you should have passion. Enjoy the game, respect the game and most importantly, love this great game of ours. Dream big and know that those dreams do sometimes come true because, well, look at me."

1990 Minor League Tally 
Players/Coaches Featured:3,946
Made the Majors:1,317-33.4%-X
Never Made Majors:2,629-66.6%
5+ Seasons in the Majors:538-X
10+ Seasons in the Minors:328

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