images by Samara Pearlstein
He isn’t really ours. Pudge Rodriguez, when he hits the Hall of Fame, will almost certainly be wearing a Rangers cap. He got his World Series ring with Florida. Detroit is just ‘that place Pudge played for a while after doing most of the things for which he will ultimately be known.’
But, you know, it’s more than that. After 2003, the Tigers were as low as they could possibly be. They were bad enough in ’03 to make one yearn for Euro-soccer-style relegation, so that some other team, staffed by surely less incompetent players, could have a crack at this whole MLB thing. Screw the results; the Tigers’ reputation couldn’t get any worse, which had set up a nasty cycle, leaving them in a situation where the team desperately needed quality free agents to boost themselves into emergency respectability, but would never be able to attract those free agents due to their horrible Baseball Death Sentence rep. Being in Detroit did not exactly help.
Then Pudge signed.
It was hardly an act of altruism– this was a 4-year, $40 million contract for a catcher in his 30s, the age at which most catchers’ knees start to liquefy. Pudge is not most catchers in this respect, but no one had any way of knowing that yet. Detroit had to offer something significant, both because of the aforementioned reputation and because of the Scott Bora$ factor. Nobody was doing anybody else any favors.
Yet… yet… Pudge signed. He didn’t have to come to Detroit. Yes, it was a big contract for an old dude, but he probably could have gotten that, or similar, elsewhere. He’s one of the best catchers ever, and was certainly one of the best, if not THE best catcher in MLB at the time. Why sign with Detroit when you stand a chance of getting an offer from somewhere warmer, somewhere more likely to get you another ring, somewhere less fraught with immediate baseball agony of the highest degree?
Because Scott Boras is convinced this is the best offer you will get, and tells you it’s in your best interests (and his) to sign.
Or whatever– the exact reason doesn’t matter. The important bit is the fact that Pudge DID sign. He was the big-name, strong-rep, blockbuster free agent that the Tigers had been angling after, the one who would help lift them up out of the swirling mire of terribleness with his bat and his glove and his veteran leaderability and his ten thousand teeth bared in a high-wattage smile.
And he did!
Say what you will about the end of his Tigers tenure– and much of it was said, right here on this very blog– but Pudge was instrumental in bringing the Tigers back from the brink. The Tigers lost 119 games in 2003. In 2006, they were in the World Series. This was not entirely down to Pudge, of course, but he was a huge part of it, on the field and off.
You all know what I mean; you know how it went. When WHO’S YOUR TIGER? was still A Thing, many of you will have had Pudge as your answer.
So Pudge will be known as a Ranger. He’ll be remembered for what he did in Florida. There were plenty of bad times here, and there was a lot of soiled kitty litter that went down towards the end. But we shouldn’t– and we won’t– forget him in Detroit.