The 14-time All-Star catcher who started his career with the Rangers at age 19 was acquired in a trade Tuesday with the Houston Astros for minor league pitcher Matt Nevarez and two players to be named.
"It's been a long time," said Rodriguez, who was with the Rangers from 1991-2002. "I'm glad that I'm back."
The 37-year-old Rodriguez signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract with the Astros in March and went on to hit .251 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs in 93 games. But the Astros have faded in the NL playoff chase, while the Rangers went into Tuesday night's game against Minnesota with a one-game lead in the AL wild-card race.
The trade surprised Rodriguez and the Astros.
"You trade away your starting catcher, it could send mixed messages," Houston infielder Geoff Blum said. "This time of year is when you're looking to make additions, if you feel your team is close enough. We didn't do that. We chose to make a subtraction."
Rodriguez is one of the most popular players in Rangers history, winning 10 of his 13 Gold Gloves with them. He helped lead the franchise's only three playoff teams in 1996, 1998 and 1999, when he won the AL MVP award.
Rodriguez caught 1,426 games in Texas, second in club history to Jim Sundberg's 1,495. He hit .305 with 215 home runs and 829 RBIs with the Rangers.
He left when the club refused to offer salary arbitration after the 2002 season. He signed with Florida and immediately won a World Series, then went to another World Series in five seasons with Detroit.
But Tuesday night Rodriguez was back in a dark blue uniform with "Texas" across the front, getting a big ovation when he brought the lineup card to home plate before the game. He was available off the bench.
"It's huge for our fan base," infielder Michael Young said. "He might be the best player in the history of our organization and probably the most popular. This is just a great move on all fronts."
Rangers outfielder David Murphy said he will give up his No. 7, the number Rodriguez wore throughout his time with the Rangers and much of his career. Murphy said he'll switch to No. 14.
Known to fans by his childhood nickname "Pudge," Rodriguez got several standing ovations in Arlington in June when he set the major league record for games caught with 2,227.
Rangers manager Ron Washington said Rodriguez would back up Taylor Teagarden, who became the starting catcher when Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the disabled list last week. Rodriguez agreed to waive his no-trade clause after telling the Rangers he could accept a backup role.
"He was the Johnny Bench of his era," Washington said. "And I still think he has the ability to do some great things. He's not that old."
The prognosis on Saltalamacchia led to the Rangers to consider bringing Rodriguez back. General manager Jon Daniels said Saltalamacchia has symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome, which affects nerves near the shoulder and neck and can cause numbness in the arms.
Rangers infielder Hank Blalock had surgery to remove a rib because of the condition two years ago, but Daniels said Saltalamacchia has a milder form that can be treated with rest and rehabilitation. The team plans to have him back in September.
Teagarden grew up in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton when Rodriguez was in his prime with the Rangers.
"Watching him play when I was a kid, you idolized him," Teagarden said. "I have a chance to learn some things about how he handles himself on the field."
Houston manager Cecil Cooper said he'll use Chris Coste and Humberto Quintero as catchers the rest of the season. The players seemed to view the move as a signal that the Astros were looking beyond this season. They started Tuesday 10 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central.
"At some point in the season, you get too far behind and you have to start looking forward to next year," said pitching ace Roy Oswalt. "If you don't, you can just throw yourself into another rut at the beginning of next year, trying to find pieces here and there, late in the season."
To make room for Rodriguez, the Rangers designated catcher Kevin Richardson for assignment. They have 10 days to trade, release or outright him to the minor leagues.
Nevarez, a 22-year-old right-hander, has nine saves and a 2.83 ERA in 34 relief appearances for Class A Hickory. He's allowed just 22 hits with 50 strikeouts in 35 innings.
The Rangers also placed infielder Esteban German on the disabled list with a right groin strain, retroactive to Friday. The team recalled right-handed reliever Guillermo Moscoso from Triple-A Oklahoma to fill his spot on the active roster.
Moscoso was 5-3 with a 2.17 ERA in 10 games with Oklahoma. He has made five relief appearances for the Rangers, allowing four earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.