Yankees hold Pudge in highest esteem

ARLINGTON, Texas — There’s no doubt about how Ranger fans fell about now retired catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. That affinity for the 10-time Gold Glove backstop was more than apparent before Monday’s series opener with the New York Yankees.

But some say the true mark of a player’s impact has on the game is in what his peers say about him. And like the fans, Pudge definitely left a lasting impression on not only those he was teammates with during his 21 seasons in the majors, but also on those he played against.

And for a number of current members of the Yankees, including skipper Joe Girardi, seeing one of the greatest catchers to ever don the chest protector call it quits had them waxing philosophical about how great Rodriguez truly was.

“Tremendous player, one of the greatest catchers of all time. It was enjoyable to have a chance to play against him, for a short time to manage him,” Girardi said before Monday’s game in Arlington. “It’s remarkable what he did on the offensive side, seeing that he played here in the heat that he had to deal with on a consistent basis — 2,800-plus hits as a catcher is amazing.”

Not only is the current New York manager a former catcher himself, but he also has the somewhat different perspective of having managed him in 2008, one year before he returned for a second stint as a Ranger. And when asked to specifically name what he remembers most about Rodriguez’s short time in the South Bronx, he didn’t hesitate.

“Just how he went about his business [is what I remember the most]. He was very professional. He worked very hard and he was prepared. He did what you want from a starting catcher,” Girardi said.

The Yankee skipper also admits that in all his years in and around the great game he has never seen another catcher quite like the man known as Pudge. “Obviously he had great athletic ability back there. I think he could have played other positions,” Girardi said. “He was extremely athletic, like Russell [Martin] in a sense, just put up good numbers year after year.”

However, it isn’t just the man guiding the Bronx Bombers who offered kind words about what kind of player Rodriguez was in his over two decades in the show, some of the heavy hitters on the Yankees, including several players who are locks to join him in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown in the near future, also weighed in.

When many think of the recent history of Yankee baseball, they think of Derek Jeter and Pudge was definitely someone No. 2 continues to hold in the highest regard.

“He had a great career. He could really change games from the catching position because he’d shut down running games. We didn’t even try to run on him,” Jeter said. “But he could do it all. He could hit, catch, played every day. He’s going to go down as one of the greatest catchers of all time.”

Of course, the perennial All-Star shortstop savored his short time as Rodriguez’s teammate in 2008, but he also remembers some pretty epic battles with Pudge.

“We had some battles there when he was in Texas. When he was with the Marlins, we played them in the World Series [in 2003],” Jeter said. “He was a teammate for a little while, so there’s a lot of stories. He’s one of those guys I think when you retire, you sit back and say you had the privilege to play with him.”

Like Jeter and Rodriguez, Yankee closer Mariano Rivera is also a lock to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame once he decides to hang up the spikes. And like his teammates, the New York reliever has nothing but great things to say about his career.

“Pudge was one of the elite catchers in his time. What he did was be the best at that position. He was able to do it for so many years and do it well,” Rivera said. “We had him as a teammate. It was late [in his career]. Pudge did his thing and his presence on the field was notable. His will and desire to do the right thing, that’s what you admire. He’s special.”

Former Ranger and current Yankee outfielder Andruw Jones was never teammates with Rodriguez in New York, but he and Pudge did share the Ranger clubhouse for the tail end of the 2009 season, a time the native of Curacao remembers fondly.

“I played with him when he came back to Texas, a great guy. I knew Pudge from way before, playing against him and as a personal friend. He was always a great worker and he’s a future Hall of Fame catcher,” Jones said. “I wish him well. I know he wanted to reach that goal of 3,000 hits, but sometimes things just don’t go the way you want them to go. But I wish him well and wish him the best. He’s just a great person.”

Current New York catcher Russell Martin was with the Dodgers in 2008, when Rodriguez was a Yankee. And even though he didn’t grow up aspiring to spend the bulk of his time behind the plate, he remembers Rodriguez as being someone who made the position of catcher quite appealing to him as a youngster in his native Canada.

“The best way I can explain it, he was just someone that was fun to watch for me. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of catchers growing up as a shortstop and a center fielder. But he was a catcher that was fun to watch and I don’t remember another one that I thought that was,” Martin said. “So that says a lot right there.”

And since Rodriguez was someone he grew up watching, one aspect of Monday’s pregame ceremonies the New York backstop was particularly looking to was seeing the highlight video the Rangers played before first pitch.

“That’s always cool. Hopefully they’ll show some videos of him, what he was able to do back in the day. He’s a guy that had a rifle from behind the plate and he made stuff happen on offense as well. He was an exciting offensive player and it’ll be fun to see the fans and how they react to him. That’s going to be pretty cool,” Martin said.

But there was one final Yankee to weigh in on Rodriguez and how he impacted the game. Eric Chavez might only be in his second season with the Bombers, but during his 13 seasons in Oakland, he got more than a little acquainted with the talented catcher.

“Yeah, he was definitely a game changer, that’s for sure. Probably him and [Mike] Piazza were the two best offensive players at the catcher position. Pudge just controlled the running game, completely shut it down, saved a lot of runs,” Chavez said. “We’d always talk about he liked the pick off, so we wouldn’t get good secondary leads. He did a lot more behind the plate than a lot of catchers could do.”

However, when he was asked if he’d ever been gunned down trying to steal or picked off by Rodriguez, he smiled before offering a quick explanation.

“No [he never picked me off], because we made it a point not to do it. We weren’t a running team in Oakland anyway but we made sure that we were careful on the bases,” Chavez said. “We just knew we weren’t going to run that night.”