BY: Richard W. Humphrey
The baseball Hall of Fame announced their 2017 player selections Wednesday evening. Former Commissioner Bud Selig and former front office executive John Scheurholz were already in this year’s class of inductees. They will be joined by three players, which includes most notably for Ranger fans, catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. Former Astros’ first baseman Jeff Bagwell and outfielder Tim Raines, who spent the best part of his career with the Montreal Expos will also be inducted in July.
There were 442 ballots cast by BBWAA members, and Rodriguez was named on 336 ballots, just four more than the 332 (75%) that are required. He becomes just the second catcher to earn the honor in his first year of eligibility, with Johnny Bench being the other. Bench tweeted “Congratulations to my brother in gold, Ivan Rodriguez, on his election.” Bench won the Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence 10 times in his career.
The amazing thing is that the vote was close at all. Rodriguez played 21 seasons, and won the Gold Glove Award 13 times. He made the All-Star team 14 times. The first 12 years of his career were with the Rangers – 1991-2002. He was the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1999, and was one of the backbone players of the Ranger teams in the late 90′s that won the West Division in three out of four years for the Rangers’ first post-season appearances ever.
In 2003, Rodriguez played for the Florida Marlins. They won the 2003 World Series, and he was named the MVP of the National League Championship series. He followed with five years in a Detroit Tigers’ uniform and played in the 2006 World Series. He finished his career with the Astros, Yankees, a second short stint with the Rangers and Washington Nationals. 2011 was the final season of his 21 year career. He hit 311 home runs and his career batting average was .296.
He was known for his deadly throwing arm. It was perhaps the best of all time. What gets overlooked about his throwing ability is his quick feet. He was able to get into a solid throwing position quickly which facilitated a lightning quick release to go with the arm strength.
Rodriguez becomes the fourth Puerto Rican born player to be elected to the Hall of Fame. The others are Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, and Roberto Alomar.
Joe Torre, a catcher himself, called Rodriguez “the greatest catcher I ever saw.” With the Gold Glove Awards, All-Star appearances, and offensive prowess; there should have been no doubt that he would be elected this year. It should have been a “no-brainer”. Had he not earned the honor this year, there would have been voters that had some “splaining” to do. He was accused of being a steroid user by Jose Canseco, and that was the only reason that voters could have withheld their vote. However, the biggest vote getter this year was Jeff Bagwell, who clearly was a steroid user. The 90% of the voters that voted for Bagwell should not have let possible performance enhancing drug use be a reason not to vote for Rodriguez.
A year ago, Mike Piazza was named to the Hall of Fame. Piazza was not in Rodriguez’s class as a catcher and was definitely linked to steroids. Inexplicably, 27 voters that voted for Piazza last year did not vote for Rodriguez this year.
In the end though, 336 ballots did name Rodriguez, and that was good enough to get him elected. He clearly would have been elected some day had he missed this year, but missing out on the honor of being a first ballot Hall of Famer would have been an injustice. He may well be the best catcher in the history of baseball.