Dan's Dugout: Pudge Paves Path for Puerto Rican Players • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Pudge Paves Path for Puerto Rican Players

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NEW YORK — Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez is living proof that good things come in small packages.

This week, he became the first Puerto Rican to win election to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot and the fourth overall, joining Roberto Clemente, Roberto Alomar, and Orlando Cepeda.

Only seven previous Latinos were elected to the baseball shrine in Cooperstown.

Pudge Rodriguez is the first Puerto Rican to enter the Hall of Fame in his first try Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Pudge Rodriguez is the first Puerto Rican to enter the Hall of Fame in his first try
Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

A 5’9″ catcher who made 14 All-Star teams in a 21-year career that spanned five organizations, Rodriguez caught a record 2,427 games and won 13 Gold Gloves, more than any other backstop. He never wilted in the Texas heat, thriving during his long tenure with the Rangers.

“It’s hard to play 21 years, both physically and mentally,” he said Thursday at a Manhattan Meet & Greet for new Hall of Famers, “but I’m glad I don’t have to worry about Tim Raines on the bases anymore. It was hard to throw him out.”

The rifle-armed Rodriguez led his league in caught-stealing percentage nine times, six of them in succession from 1996-2001. Among position players, only Brooks Robinson (16) had more Gold Gloves.

Bearing the nickname of incumbent Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk, Rodriguez was one of three former players picked in the annual balloting of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). He was joined on the podium at the St. Regis Hotel by the others, Raines and Jeff Bagwell.

“We never played together but baseball players are family,” said Rodriguez, who spent most of his career with Texas. “We have a great team in Cooperstown and it’s a privilege to be there.”

The Class of '17 includes, from left, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Pudge Rodriguez Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

The Class of ’17 includes, from left, Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Pudge Rodriguez
Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Unlike Rodriguez, Bagwell and Raines had to play a waiting game with Hall of Fame electors. “The writers finally got it right,” said Raines, chosen in his 10th and final year of eligibility. “Once we retire, there’s nothing we can do anymore. It took me 10 years but my stats didn’t change from 15 years ago.”

The only man with 100 triples, 150 homers, and 600 stolen bases, Raines is also the only player to post four campaigns of 50 extra-base hits and 70 steals. He’s not only the only man to top 70 steals six years in a row but also the owner of am 84.7 per cent success rate that tops incumbent Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.

In 1983, the fleet switch-hitter produced the only season in the modern era that included at least 90 stolen bases and 50 extra-base hits.

“Speed got me to the big leagues,” he conceded Thursday. “I learned later how to do other things, like how to get on base. It wasn’t easy: we’re the only professional sport that plays seven days a week. And we travel a lot. Playing 162 games plus spring training is a tough grind. You have to be prepared for it.”

Often called The Rock because of his compact but solid frame, Raines was leaning toward a pro football career when Joe Morgan, another player small in stature, won consecutive MVP awards. Raines, then a second baseman, was convinced he could follow in Morgan’s footsteps.

Fleet leadoff man Tim Raines won election in his final try Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Fleet leadoff man Tim Raines won election in his final try
Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

“I wasn’t good at second base,” he said, “but also felt playing the outfield would be less stressful. I could focus more on my offense.”

In 23 seasons, Raines played for teams in both leagues, won two World Series rings, and even played in the same game as his son (duplicating an earlier feat by the Ken Griffeys). He’ll enter Cooperstown as an Expo, joining Gary Carter and Andre Dawson as representatives of a Montreal team that morphed into the Washington Nationals.

Vladimir Guerrero, a more recent member of that team, just missed joining him, drawing 71.7 per cent of the three-quarters vote required for enshrinement. Trevor Hoffman, who saved more games than any National League closer, came even closer, with 74 per cent.

Bagwell was the year’s top vote-getter, with 86.2 per cent, slightly more than the 86 per cent Raines received. Rodriguez finished with 76 per cent.

Jeff Bagwell averaged 32 home runs a year Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

Jeff Bagwell averaged 32 home runs a year
Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

The 6’4″ Bagwell also towers over the other members of the Class of 2017. “This is the greatest Hall of Fame class because I’m the tallest one in it,” said the long-time Houston first baseman, who averaged 32 home runs per year. “Guys like Pudge and me appreciated the opportunities others gave us by getting on base. But I’m still mad at him – he picked me off first base during an exhibition game when I wasn’t paying attention.”

His election, in his seventh try, gives Hall of Fame membership to the ringleaders of the Killer B’s (second baseman Craig Biggio was elected two years ago). Known for a batting stance with a huge crouch, Bagwell spent only a year-and-a-half in the minors before reaching Houston after a trade from the Red Sox. One of 11 men with at least 440 homers and 200 stolen bases, he had eight seasons of 30 homers, 100 runs scored, and 100 RBI.

The guardians of the Cooperstown ballot box swore no hacking was involved.

“The Russians had nothing to do with this election,” said Jack O’Connell, secretary-treasurer of the voting Baseball Writers Association of America. “You’re in as legitimately as you can be. The only Vladimir mentioned in the room was Guerrero.”

Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson added that only 1 per cent of players reach Cooperstown, with 220 former athletes out of 19,000 who have played the game. Adding managers, executives, pioneers, umpires, and Negro Leaguers to the roster brings total Hall membership to 317.

All three new electees were controversial, with Rodriguez and Bagwell suspected of

The Hall of Fame Class of 2017, left to right, are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

The Hall of Fame Class of 2017, left to right, are Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez
Photo Credit: George Napolitano/Latino Sports

using performance-enhancing drugs and Raines a cocaine user early in his career. Although Raines candidly admitted he made a rookie mistake, Rodriguez dodged a direct question about the charge, made by former teammate Jose Canseco in his tell-all book Juiced.

The ballot had 34 names, including 19 first-timers and 15 holdovers. In addition to the players mentioned above, those with at least 50 per cent included Edgar Martinez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mike Mussina.

Competition gets tough over the next few years, when headliners will include Chipper Jones (2018), Mariano Rivera (2019), and Derek Jeter (2020).

The newly-elected Hall of Fame players will join former general manager John Schuerholz and former commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig for their July 30 induction.

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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