On July 27 1988 a 17 year old Ivan Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico was signed as an international free agent by the Texas Rangers. In 1989 he played his first professional baseball game with the Gastonia Rangers, then the Class A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. There he caught such major league pitchers as Darren Oliver and Tug McGraw.
In 1990 he received a promotion to the Charlotte Rangers where he improved over his stint in Gastonia and became teammates with other soon to be Ranger Jose Guzman and Jeff Russell. Also of note in Charlotte Pudge began to take the majority of games as starting catcher, from 96 in Gastonia to 104 in Charlotte.
In 1991 the elevator continued with a promotion to AA Tulsa. He spent 50 games in Tulsa before getting the call to the majors on June 20, 1991. He would only ever see the minors again on rehab starts.
During the 13 seasons in which he was a mainstay in Arlington he hit an astounding .304/.341/.488. Pudge had 1747 hits as a Ranger, broken down into 352 doubles and 28 triples. Also he belted 217 homeruns and drove in 842 RBI.
1991 and 2002 mark the only two seasons in which he played the majority of the year with the Rangers that he wasn’t an All-star or a Gold Glove winner. During every year from 1994-1999 Pudge was also the Silver Slugger award winner. Perhaps his most sterling accomplishment was being named the MVP 1998 beating out Pedro Martinez.
Yet as impressive as his numbers are and the sheer volume of awards are, Pudge was not just that to most Ranger fans. There has been no fiercer battery in Texas Rangers history than were Nolan Ryan and Ivan Rodriguez. They will live together in the history of the Rangers for a certain event that occurred in the top of the 3rd with one out on August 4, 1993 against the Chicago White Sox.
Pudge was also there with Ryan as the Express came to an end in Seattle. When his time is up, it would be a great thing to have him enter the Hall of Fame as a Ranger, to be enshrined with Ryan in this manner.
Rodriguez was also behind home plate for the final game in the life of Arlington Stadium, and for good measure when they brought the plate to The Ballpark Pudge was behind it for the first game of the new park.
After being released by the Rangers in 2002, and replaced by Einar Diaz, he began his circuit of teams but never had the same success as he had with Texas. While he was gone from the Rangers and remarkably even while playing for other American League teams you could see his number 7 jersey in RBiA on anyday.
Ivan Rodriguez is certainly not a perfect human being, he made mistakes in his past, but he never lied to the Ranger faithful and he played his heart out for us. On Monday Pudge will come home and call it a career, and his path to post career greatness will begin.