Pudge’s true colours:
On the DL
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
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
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.