February 5, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 70  

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SPORTS

Pudge’s true colours: money green

On the DL
David Lee

Sports Editor

At some point in every man’s life, there comes a time when he has to decide if he’s going to sell out or not. For Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, that time has come and gone, and he has chosen the former.

Last Monday, the Detroit Tigers signed Rodriguez to a four-year, US$40 million dollar deal. The 10-time All-Star catcher had been looking for the same deal from the Florida Marlins, though talks had broken off as of Dec. 7. With a return to the sunshine state ruled out, Pudge had to choose between the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles or Tigers. He chose the Tigers.

The Tigers have not had a winning season since 1993. They lost 119 games last season, setting an American League record for mediocrity and fell one loss short of equalling the 1962 Mets for the all-time single season loss record. Signing with Detroit begs an obvious question: why would Rodriguez go from a World Series champion to a last place wasteland? It seems the only satisfactory answer is money.

Everyone knows that pro sports is big business. It only makes sense for players to try to get the most they can. For Rodriguez, the financial motive is perhaps even more clear-cut. Pudge has battled back troubles for years and there was even talk a few years ago of moving to second base to limit the toll on his body. The move had precedent in the form of Craig Biggio, who left the tools of ignorance behind to join Jeff Bagwell on the right side of the Houston infield. By moving to second, it was reasoned, Pudge’s career would be longer and his bat would remain potent.

The move never happened. Pudge kept on catching and, after the 2002 season, Florida took a one-year flyer on him and gave him US$10 million. He ended up taking the team to the World Series, single-handedly beating the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series. The Marlins got their money worth and more.

A few years ago, Fred McGriff was criticized for initially refusing a trade from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to the Cubs. The Crime Dog wanted to stay in Tampa Bay because his family was there. Nevertheless, baseball writers were quick to jump on McGriff; they wrote that no matter what his stats were at careers’ end, he was undeserving of a place in the Hall of Fame. A truly deserving member, it was argued, would never turn down an opportunity to go from last place to first.

Rodriguez has done the polar opposite. He’s consciously chosen to play for a bottom-feeding team instead of returning to a contender. It logically follows that choosing to play for a perennial loser when comparable money was offered elsewhere should subject Pudge to the same treatment as McGriff. Yet there has been no outcry against Rodriguez; it seems the financial motives behind his choice make him immune to such criticism.

Pudge’s signing is the most obvious case of picking wages over winnings. Detroit has also managed to lure second-tier stars such as Fernando Vina and Rondell White to their club. If the Tigers stop there, though, it’s unlikely they’ll seriously compete for the AL Central title. Instead, they may have purchased just enough talent to avoid the division’s basement, which has been home to the Tigers for seemingly an eternity.

And though Pudge may now wear the blue, white and orange of the Tigers, he’s shown what his true colours are.

 

 

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