Iván Rodríguez previews his new Hall of Fame family
Sitting on a director’s chair, surround by the bronze images of the greatest names in the National Pastime’s illustrious history, Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez called the familiar faces his new family.
“I think it’s great just to be part of the family because I think all the Hall of Famers, now, we are a family,” said Rodríguez, talking to the assembled media in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum’s Plaque Gallery on Feb. 28, 2017.
Rodríguez, in his first year on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s Hall of Fame ballot this year, received 76.0 percent – four more votes than necessary for election. Rodríguez is just the second catcher in history elected on the first ballot, joining his boyhood idol, Johnny Bench.
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As for his Hall of Fame induction speech, which he will be delivering at the July 30 Induction Ceremony in Cooperstown, Rodríguez says he’s working on it.
“I’m trying to get it ready four months before so I can study it, so I can do it right. And I want to make sure I don’t forget anyone. It’s going to be fun. I can’t wait,” Rodríguez said. “It’s not going to be long, I’ll tell you that. It’s going to be short. But that short is going straight to what I want to say, right to the point. And to all the appreciation throughout my career to the six organizations I played for.”
In Rodríguez’s 21 impressive seasons, spent mainly with the Texas Rangers, the durable catcher was selected to 14 All-Star Games and won a record 13 Gold Glove Awards for defensive excellence behind the plate. A seven-time Silver Slugger Award winner, he holds the major league record for games caught and putouts by a catcher, and ranked first in the AL in catching potential base stealers nine times. He was a lifetime .296 hitter with 311 homers and nearly 2,900 hits, and he won the 1999 AL MVP.
Rodríguez told the media on this day he chalked up his defensive prowess to, in part, discipline.
“I think I just prepared myself. There was a lot of work, a lot of discipline. Just working. Keeping myself in great shape and do the things I have to do in the offseason,” Rodríguez said. “I’m talking about blocking thousands of balls, making thousands of throws to second base, trying to throw the ball to the right side of the base. All that, I think, is the reason I had such a great defensive career. And that is what I always tell the kids: Make sure your discipline is there. You can have ability, but if you don’t have discipline, if you don’t work on things you have to do, it’s going to be hard for you to do it in your career.”
Though Rodríguez admits he focused on his defense early in his career, offensively his game evolved over the seasons.
“My offense came on a little bit later, just working hard and spending time in the batting cages working with the hitting coach,” he explained. “One of the coaches who helped me a lot in my career was Rudy Jaramillo. He grabbed me since day one in Spring Training when I was 16 years old and started working with me.”
The Museum’s collections room allowed Rodríguez the opportunity to swing a Ted Williams bat (“It’s very heavy.”) and check out one of baseball’s earliest catcher’s masks.
When Rodríguez first walked into the Plaque Gallery after his tour was over, he whispered to himself, “Here’s my new home.” Then he was shown the plaques of Bench, Clemente and Ryan.
“You see Johnny Bench’s plaque there? It’s great. Clemente. Nolan. But I think the whole Museum is great, it’s awesome,” said Rodríguez when asked for is favorite artifact he saw on this day’s tour. “Everything looks beautiful and the stories are right there that you can read. And we went down below and the things I saw there were amazing. Just so much history they have here.
“This has been a special day, for sure, just to be able to see all the uniforms and all the teams and all the Hall of Fame plaques here,” added Rodríguez, in what he said was his fifth trip to Cooperstown. “And then to come here and see where my plaque is going to be in July, and then do the signing in the space where it’s going to be, it’s a dream.”
BBWAA electees Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Rodríguez – along with Today’s Game Era electees John Schuerholz and Bud Selig – will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 30, at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown.
Bill Francis is a Library Associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum