|Pudge Reaching the End of the Line|
Written by Daniel Paulling (Contact & Archive) on June 10, 2008
We have seen Mike Piazza, Javier Lopez, and Charles Johnson all recede into the shadows lately. They wanted to play more, but no team out there wanted to give them a shot. And now the Detroit Tigers are preparing to send another catcher, Ivan Rodriguez, to baseball’s graveyard.
Earlier this week, in an announcement posted on the team’s official website, Jim Leyland said that Brandon Inge would start alternating days behind the plate with Rodriguez. Leyland is cognizant of how Rodriguez, a very competitive player, likely feels about the situation.
“I'm sure this doesn't make Pudge happy,” Leyland said to the Associated Press. “He's a gamer. But you have to do what's right. Maybe less is best. Maybe he can bounce back fresh and get it rolling. He's in as good of shape as anybody we've got, but when you catch that many games, you get worn down.”
It was only spring training when Inge said he didn’t want to catch. And it was only spring training when Rodriguez resembled his younger self, the player who was destined to replace Johnny Bench as the greatest catcher of all time. During this spring, Rodriguez hit eight home runs with a .373/.403/.847 batting line.
We all knew this was an aberration, a fluke. Rodriguez was 36 years and a catcher with extended mileage on his knees. These types of players do not find the fountain of youth. They gracefully exit from the game, soliciting articles that recant the glory days from beat writers who covered them.
But anything is possible in the springtime. Teams have fresh hopes of contention, players who slumped last season have a clean slate, and youngsters have a chance at going north with the big league team. If there would be any time for an aging catcher to rebound, it would be then. Maybe this is what Rodriguez needed to put those last few lackluster seasons behind him. He would be given plenty of RBI chances in a lineup that, on paper, was one of the best ever.
But none of that ever came about. As good of a storyline as Rodriguez’s return to the top of the game would have been, it never materialized. He is now hitting .245/.286/.349 with only one home run. The Tigers offense has been relatively quiet, despite their ballyhooed offseason additions.
His on-base percentage has not been over .332 in the last three years, while his slugging percentage has not risen above .444 over the same time span. With those statistics in mind, along with Rodriguez’s advanced age, perhaps it isn’t too early to think about his Hall of Fame candidacy.
Leyland calls Rodriguez a “first-ballot Hall of Famer.” After all, Rodriguez has made 14 All Star teams, won 13 Gold Gloves behind the plate, and accrued more than 2,540 hits.
It should be only a short time until Rodriguez is giving his Hall of Fame speech in Cooperstown a few summers from now.