Iván Rodríguez previews his new Hall of Fame family

Written by: Bill Francis

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.

Iván Rodríguez poses with Joe Gunson's original catchers' mitt during his Orientation Tour of the Hall of Fame. Gunson, was one of the earliest adopters of the catcher’s mitt. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Six weeks after earning election, Rodríguez was in Cooperstown, along with his wife Patricia, and received a tour of the Cooperstown baseball institution from Hall of Fame Curator of History and Research John Odell as part of an Orientation Visit all new electees are offered in order to prepare them for their Induction Weekend.

After his tour of the Hall of Fame, which included a behind-the-scenes look at the Museum’s collection space, Rodríguez was asked during a press conference how his life has changed since he joined the sport’s exclusive fraternity.

“Busy,” the 45-year-old native of Puerto Rico said with a laugh. “But good busy. I’m enjoying every minute of it. This is great just to be in the Hall of Fame, just to be elected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s an honor. And I can’t wait until July 30 when I see all the Hall of Famers behind me when I’m speaking. It’s going to be very exciting.”

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.

Iván Rodríguez examines Johnny Bench's bat, used during the 1980 season, during his Orientation Tour of the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

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.”

Iván Rodríguez, pictured above, takes a tour of the Museum during his Feb. 28 visit in preparation for his induction into the Hall of Fame. (Milo Stewart Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

During his tour of the Museum, Rodríguez often mentioned special moments from his career when they coincided with a specific exhibit or artifact, whether it be seeing a baseball Detroit’s Justin Verlander threw in his 2007 no-hitter when Pudge was catching; his own Astros jersey from 2009 when he passed Carlton Fisk for most career games caught; his chest protector from 1998; or the bat he used to hit his 35th home run in 1999.

There were also iconic players Rodríguez commented on such as Jackie Robinson (“He did a lot for us.”), Roberto Clemente (“He opened the door for all of us.”) and Nolan Ryan (“I was nervous when I first started catching him, but we worked pretty good together.”).

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

Class of 2017 overwhelmed by honor

The BBWAA's Class of 2017 speaks out for the first time after receiving news of their election to the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Iván Rodríguez join John Schuerholz and Bud Selig as the Class of 2017.

Class of 2017 overwhelmed by honor

The BBWAA's Class of 2017 speaks out for the first time after receiving news of their election to the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame Class of 2017

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Iván Rodríguez join John Schuerholz and Bud Selig as the Class of 2017.