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Detroit Tigers: Pudge Proving Doubters Wrong
by: Dustin Smiley
Ivan Rodriguez endured an onslaught of criticism this offseason when he opted to play for the Detroit Tigers rather than returning to the Florida Marlins or seeking a smaller contract with another contender.
Sports writers and reporters everywhere accused Rodriguez of selling out for the big money with no consideration of success on the field or the impact playing on a losing team would have on his legacy. Even his former manager, Jack McKeon, commented that the 32 year old catcher could be torpedoing his chance to pursue entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame by joining the lowly Tigers. As of now, it appears Rodriguez knew exactly what he was getting into.
A .370 batting average and Detroit's turnaround from last season's punchline to respectability have earned Pudge a selection as the American League starting catcher, his 11th appearance in the All-Star Game. After being tagged with a reputation for nursing nagging injuries and worrying more about base stealers than batters at the plate during the end of his tenure in Texas, Rodriguez is now recognized as a team leader and a pitcher's catcher. He contributed some key veteran leadership and a potent bat last year to a young Marlins team on their way to a World Championship. While that isn't a likely outcome for this year's Tigers, their new backstop has them headed in the right direction.
As for Ivan Rodriguez's prospects for the Hall of Fame, they can't be hurt by leading his league in batting average. He's already earned an AL MVP in 1999, won a World Series, and was long recognized as the best defensive catcher in the majors. With a career batting average over .300 and over 240 home runs, three more productive seasons should put Pudge at 300 and earn him some serious consideration for enshrinement.
When examining the difference between the 2003 champion Marlins and this year's middle-of-the-pack team in Florida, the loss of Ivan Rodriguez is painfully apparent. The drastic improvement of the Detroit Tigers can also be attributed in a large part to the addition of the same player. The value of a Hall of Fame career cannot be better measured than by the effect a player's arrival to and departure from has on the teams he plays for.