I’ve been a baseball fan long enough now to have watched the full career trajectories of some pretty great players. Most of these players started out or reached their primes in the mid to late 90’s, the time when I was just becoming a full fledged, dyed in wool, never gonna give you up baseball fan. My Dad used to talk about how Willie Mays played a year too long and how the last year of his career was just a tormenting look at an incredible player who could no longer display Major League talent.
I’ve started to see that myself. The most striking example was Ken Griffey Jr. The swing just wasn’t as free and sweet. He gimped like an old man. He looked old. He couldn’t hit worth sheeot.
If it wasn’t for those hugs and tickles I’m not sure he would have been a contributing member of the team.
Every so often something happens in a game I watch now, or my mind takes a thought path, that brings me back to something that happened in those halcyon days of my youth. I love these flashes and memories because they brush away the current grime and let me reminisce fondly on the polished players I watched when I was young.
In Game 5 of this year’s World Series Yadier Molina made a snap throw to first base. My Dad looked over to me and asked, “Remember when Pudge Rodriguez used to make those snap throws?”
In general, those have always made me nervous because it seems like so few catchers can throw them accurately enough to be worth the risk. For some reason when I think of snap throws I see the ball squirting past a crouching Mariner first baseman and down the right field line into foul territory.
But in that second I could see Pudge making that throw blink-and-you-miss-it quickly with sniper deadly accuracy. Just, *whoomp* and a runner leaning the wrong way is left trotting slowly back to the dugout, hanging his head in shame.
It was just never smart to run, much less lean, on Pudge.
I remember enjoying playing Texas in the mid to late 90s. Back in those days, the Mariners were always contending for the division title and most years Texas was the most dangerous rival. The games were fraught with consequences for the division lead, a type of game I can barely remember playing now. But I also loved watching Pudge. I supposed I didn’t enjoy the destruction he wreaked on the Mariners’ running game (such that it was in those days), but I appreciated his skill. Even to a novice baseball fan, it was overwhelmingly clear that his work behind the plate was extraordinary.
Pudge really is one of the greatest defensive catchers in the history of baseball. Especially that arm. He’d throw down to third, he’d throw down to first. And stealing? There’s baseball wisdom (or, you know, Fox commentators) that says you steal bases on pitchers, not catchers. Either the pitchers he caught were just that good, or Pudge made up for it.
The thing I always forget about him, because I love good defensive catching so much, is that in addition to being amazing behind the plate, he was no slouch at the plate. Catchers have a tendency to be good at either defense of offense. It’s so rare to see one who is so incredibly talented at both.
Pudge, I hate to see the end of your career and how the years of catching have worn you down. But you are the epitome of everything a catcher should strive to be.