On Wednesday, Pudge Rodriguez was inducted into the Hall of Fame. With a laundry list of career accomplishments, including 14 All-Star appearances, 13 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, an MVP, and an NLCS MVP; some believed saving the Tigers may be among his greatest accomplishments. In the words of Anthony Fenech, he helped “resuscitate a great baseball city.”
And resuscitate he did. When Rodriguez signed with the Tigers in 2004, he was coming off a World Series Championship with the Florida Marlins, while the Tigers were licking their wounds from a record-setting 119 loss season. In an interview with Jason Beck, Rodriguez recalled some initial thoughts about signing with the team, “They said, ‘Why are you going to Detroit? They lost 119 games the year before, and you won the World Series,'” Rodriguez said in 2014. “I always told the media and my family, ‘That’s the reason I want to go.’ Somebody had to start it.”
It was that “somebody had to start it” attitude that led the Tigers from worst to first in three short years.
"For me, it was an amazing five years of my career." – @Pudge_Rodriguez
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) January 19, 2017
Though he will wear a Texas Rangers cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, Pudge still remembers his days in Motown fondly. He says that “the fans, the stadium, the uniform that I wore–I feel very honored to wear that English D for five years.” And while Pudge reflects on his time in Detroit very fondly, it’s more appropriate that we as fans say thank you to him.
Baseball is a team game, there is no denying that fact. And while rosters are comprised of 25 players that could each impact the game at some point, there is no doubt one player impacted the entire city. Baseball in Detroit was not something we talked about in the early 2000s, because–well frankly–we had nothing to talk about. But in the winter of 2014, one signing changed all of that.
Pudge brought a certain energy, a fiery zeal for our city’s game that was fresh and new. And once he signed others followed suit. In his first year, the team still had a losing record (72-90) but had improved 29 games. Then the Tigers signed Magglio Ordonez, a year later brought Jim Leyland into the mix, and the pieces were starting to come together.
One of Pudge’s teammates, Craig Monroe recalled what the signing meant for the Tigers.
From Anthony Fenech:
“From a player’s mindset, it’s that the Tigers thought we were for real. Once we got a player of that caliber, a Hall of Fame-caliber player, I think it just changed the mentality of the players.” Monroe said.
By 2006 the Tigers had improved from their 119 loss season to a 95-67, coming up second in the division, but ultimately making it to the World Series. The corner had been turned. Thanks in part to No. 7 Pudge Rodriguez.
So, Pudge, while we appreciate your kind words about our fans, uniform, stadium, and city, let me say to you, “thank you.” Thank you for choosing us. Thank you for bringing passion and fire to a club that was down in the dumps. And though you’ll go into the Hall of Fame, after a magnificent career, a Texas Ranger, you’ll always be a Tiger.