Nobody has caught more games than Ivan Rodriguez

Updated: June 17, 2009, 10:10 PM ET
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ivan Rodriguez was 19 when the Texas Rangers promoted the fresh-faced catcher with a cannon for an arm to the major leagues midway through the 1991 season.

He already had an AL MVP award, 10 Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star appearances when the Rangers let him go 12 seasons later. But there were more Gold Gloves and All-Star games to come, plus a World Series title with Florida in 2003, the year after he left Texas.

Now he's caught more games than anybody else -- and fittingly, he set the record in Texas.

Rodriguez, now with the Houston Astros, caught his 2,227th game Wednesday night against the Rangers, a night after matching Carlton Fisk -- a Hall of Fame catcher also nicknamed "Pudge".

"To be able to play so many games behind the plate, it's unbelievable," Rodriguez said. "It's been a long time. But I'm still feeling the same way (as) when I was 19. I love this game. I love what I do."

That is a lot of squatting, hot summer games behind the mask and foul tips off the body.

"It's an incredible accomplishment," said Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who caught 1,395 games for the Dodgers from 1980-92. "The erosion rate of catchers has really accelerated because of the demands of the position. Those catchers who have caught a long time and maintained their skills is extraordinary."

When Pudge was introduced before his first at-bat Wednesday, he got a standing ovation, like he did Tuesday after homering for the Astros' only run. He stepped out of the batter's box to acknowledge the Rangers fans.

A throwing error by Rodriguez in the bottom of the first led to a run. He committed another in the fifth, only the sixth time in his career with two errors. The last two-error game was in 2004, nine years after the previous one.

Rodriguez was promoted from Double-A to make his debut with the Rangers on June 20, 1991, at the Chicago White Sox when Fisk was the opposing catcher. One of Rodriguez's teammates was Nolan Ryan, though the Hall of Famer who pitched a record 27 seasons wasn't on the mound that day.

"I had no expectations of him being the caliber of player he turned out to be. ... It didn't take long to see how quick a feet he had and how good an arm he had," said Ryan, now the Rangers president. "He was younger at that time than my oldest son Reid. It was pretty bizarre when you start thinking about it."

Fisk, who played for Boston (1969-80) and the White Sox (1981-93), made his final appearance behind the plate on June 22, 1993, against Texas. The younger Pudge made his 263rd career appearance that night.

Rodriguez caught 1,426 games in Texas, second in club history to Jim Sundberg's 1,495, and was part of the Rangers' three AL West championship teams in 1996, 1998 and 1999. He was the AL MVP in 1999, when he hit .332 with career highs of 35 home runs and 113 RBIs.

Rodriguez stayed until the Rangers refused to offer salary arbitration after the 2002 season. He won the championship in Florida before spending the past five seasons in Detroit and then signing a $1.5 million, one-year deal with the Astros during spring training.

Pudge now has 13 Gold Gloves, and Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson (16) is the only position player with more. Rodriguez has been an All-Star four more times since leaving Texas.

"It was amazing when I came to Detroit, to see the program, how hard he works," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He's obviously going to the Hall of Fame where he belongs."

Every season since leaving the Rangers, Rodriguez has played as an opposing player in Texas. This is the Astros' only series at Rangers Ballpark this season, and the timing was perfect.

"It couldn't have worked out any better. I think the baseball gods are looking down on us with a big smile," said Astros outfielder Hunter Pence, an Arlington native who grew up watching Rodriguez play. "It's a little strange seeing him in an Astros jersey here in this stadium. He's a big part of what the Rangers are."

The Rangers recognized Rodriguez's accomplishments with a video tribute that started by showing Fisk, Bob Boone and Gary Carter, the only catchers other than Rodriguez to catch more than 2,000 games. Then it showed Rodriguez as a youngster with Ryan, throwing out at a runner and his introduction during the 1995 All-Star game at Rangers Ballpark.

"Nolan and Pudge are the two guys here, and rightfully so. I'm really glad he's getting the opportunity to break that record here," Texas infielder Michael Young said. "It never gets old. (The fans) love him here."

Reflecting before Wednesday's game, Rodriguez said he never set any goals of wanting to play a certain number of games or break any records.

"I just wanted to play hard and stay healthy and play as many years as I can. Here we are," he said. "As long as I'm thinking and feeling the way I am right now, I'm going to keep playing."

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AP Sports Writers Janie McCauley in San Francisco and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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