While Pudge’s smile and genuine enthusiasm captured crowds, his talent was definitely something that should be held in the highest regards. Just because I
was 5 and didn’t fully appreciate it then, doesn’t mean I don’t fully appreciate it now. I do remember the homeruns, and I do remember the throws from home to second that always seemed to beat the runner easily. The Rangers haven’t had a catcher, or arguably any position player, quite like him since.
The Texas Rangers have had 25 catchers since the 2003 season, which was the first season after Pudge Rodriguez’s last with them. One of the 25 does include the man himself when he came back in 2009. Only two played more than 200 games as a catcher in a Rangers uniform—Rod Barajas and Gerald Laird. Mike Napoli is the only catcher to have a season to even compare to one of Pudge’s as a Ranger.
In 2011, Napoli recorded an OPS of 1.046, which narrowly passes Pudge’s best in 2000 at 1.042. Napoli also gained fan loyalty and is still loved by many fans of the Rangers, in similar regards as Rodriguez, though I’m sure it’s not quite the same.
What absolutely sets Pudge apart from any of the catchers the Rangers have had since him is the defense. A Rangers catcher hasn’t been able to throw as hard or as accurate since. AJ Pierzynski is constantly berated for not being able to get the runner out. He’s only done so a handful of times. And he also doesn’t smile nearly enough for fans to fall in love with him. (For what it’s worth, Pierzynski is a good baseball player, and I do like him.) Watching Rodriguez throw a runner out at second was a thing of beauty. Rangers fans would like to see it again.
I was 24 years old the day he signed a contract to retire a Ranger. I remember that because I was in the ballpark, crying once again. On Saturday July 20th, exactly 22 years and one month after Pudge’s MLB debut, I was a 25 ½ year old kid again watching him thank the fans for supporting not only him, but the sport of baseball as he was inducted into the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame. I was able to celebrate a great career with the people who introduced me to him, my mom and dad. He said I love you to the fans, and tears built up in his eyes as he remembered his career and all the people who have supported him. We love you, too, Pudge.