ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Ivan Rodriguez said he barely slept for three days waiting to find out whether he would get enough votes for election to baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Once Pudge was secure as just the second catcher behind Johnny Bench to get in on the first ballot, the 14-time AL All-Star said he wasn’t bothered by the slim margin. And Rodriguez shrugged off one of the reasons it was so close — allegations from former Texas teammate Jose Canseco in a 2005 book that he injected Rodriguez and other Rangers with steroids.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rodriguez said Wednesday night in a news conference at the ballpark he called home for 13 of his 21 seasons. “I’m going to be in Cooperstown in July. That’s all that matters. I’m very happy with that.”
Based on numbers, it could have been a landslide.
Rodriguez led catchers in games (2,543), hits (2,844) and extra-base hits (934). He is the only major leaguer to win 13 Gold Gloves and have a career average of at least .295. A teenager when he debuted with the Rangers in 1991, the 45-year-old supplanted Pedro Martinez as the youngest Hall of Famer.
“I’m very happy and honored to say that I’m going to be right next to my favorite catcher growing up, my hero, Johnny Bench,” Rodriguez told an audience that included several members of his family. “And would love in July if I could sit right next to him before I step in front of the microphone.”
Rodriguez won his only World Series with Florida in 2003 and played for six teams, including five seasons with Detroit. The 1999 AL MVP left no doubt which cap will be on his plaque — the decision is up to the Hall, but in his case there is little debate. It will be the second with a Texas “T” after Nolan Ryan’s in 1999.
“I’m starting right from the beginning, since 16 years old, when I didn’t know how to speak the language, I don’t know how to say ‘yes’, or any of that,” said Rodriguez, the fourth native of Puerto Rico in the Hall after Roberto Clemente (1973), Orlando Cepeda (1999) and Roberto Alomar (2011). “Having trouble ordering food and communicating and all that to be a big leaguer in ’91 and play with players, that helped me grow up fast.”
Rodriguez, now a special assistant to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, got the call at home and shared some emotional moments with his family. His nearly 30-minute news conference was filled mostly with the megawatt smile that helped make him a fan favorite.
While his offensive numbers were strong — including a .332 average and career-high 35 homers in his MVP season — Rodriguez’s arm stood out when he came up.
Rodriguez led the AL in caught stealing percentage nine times and at 42 percent had the best rate for any catcher with at least 480 games since the stat was first tracked in 1974.
“Being able to shut down the running and blocking and throwing guys out and trying to kill the other team’s rally, I think that’s one of the things that I feel most proud of,” he said. “I know offensively I had a great career, but my main game was defense and that’s why I take a lot of pride in being a defensive catcher.”
The Rangers made their first three trips to the playoffs with Rodriguez behind the plate in 1996, ’98 and ’99. But they lost nine straight games to the Yankees after winning the first.
His title with the Marlins came in his first year after leaving the Rangers, but he returned for part of the 2009 season.
Rodriguez remembers mandatory English class as a 17-year-old minor leaguer and that he was supposed to be a temporary replacement for the injured Geno Petralli when he got called up from Double-A Tulsa for his big league debut. He never went back down.
“I feel most proud to be in the Hall of Fame as a first-timer,” said Rodriguez, the 52nd player elected on his initial appearance. “It’s not the second time or the fourth time. To be there in one of one is an honor.”
No matter how close the vote was.