Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez has been a fixture in Major League Baseball since 1991. During that time, no catcher has been as offensively and defensively dominant as Rodriguez.
Despite his statistics, awards and championships, Rodriguez's name is not often mentioned in the conversation of the greatest players of his time.
While the Griffey's, Bonds's and other Rodriguez's often come out on top, Pudge is overlooked. Baseball's greatest catcher in the last 20 years should be on that list.
Born on Nov. 30, 1971, Rodriguez is part of a long line of great baseball players that hail from Puerto Rico. This list includes Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda and notable contemporaries Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran.
Rodriguez debuted in 1991 with the Texas Rangers. At the time, he was 19 years old and the youngest catcher ever to play Major League Baseball. Despite playing only 88 games, he finished fourth in the Rookie of the Year race (Chuck Knoblauch took home the award). What followed was more than a decade of dominance at the catcher position.
Between 1992 and 2008, Pudge won 13 Gold Gloves (10 in a row from 1992 to 2001). He won 7 Silver Slugger Awards and was the 1999 American League MVP.
In that same time period, he was an All-Star 14 times (13 as a starter). Those 14 All-Star appearances tie him with Johnny Bench for second most amongst catchers (1 behind the great Yogi Berra).
In 2003, Rodriguez left Texas and signed with the Florida Marlins. It would be his only season in the National League. At 31, he was the oldest everyday player on a young and talented team.
Offensively, he hit nearly .300, scored 90 runs and stole 10 bases, to go along with 16 home runs and 85 RBI. But his greatest contribution was to the pitching staff, which featured four promising pitchers in need of a leader.
With an average age of 23, Josh Beckett, AJ Burnett, Dontrelle Willis and Brad Penny combined to win 37 games while striking out 453 batters in 522 innings.
Willis won the Rookie of the Year Award. After beating Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants in the National League Division Series, the Marlins won games 6 and 7 in Wrigley Field, knocking off the Cubs in the NLCS.
The 2003 World Series pitted the improbable Marlins against the New York Yankees. In game 6, with a 3-2 series lead, 23 year old Josh Beckett twirled a complete game, shut-out in Yankee Stadium to wrap up the series for Florida.
Lost in Miguel Cabrera's coming-out party and Beckett's MVP, was Pudge's performance. He caught all six games (Mark Redmond got just one at-bat as Rodriguez's back-up) of the World Series and it was his veteran presence that led his young team to the title.
Historically, Rodriguez's numbers rank him amongst the best catchers of all time. Defensively, he's thrown out 47 percent of potential base-stealers while posting a .991 fielding percentage.
Only three catchers have thrown out a better percentage of base-stealers than Rodriguez, led by Roy Campanella at rate of 57 percent (based on a minimum of 200 attempts).
His 13 Gold Gloves are three more than Johnny Bench and first amongst all catchers. Only Brooks Robinson (16) has more Gold Gloves as a position player than Rodriguez.
Offensively, Rodriguez's career numbers are on the same level as five of the best offensive catchers of all time.
Ivan Rodriguez: 1253 Runs, 2605 Hits, 295 Home Runs, 1217 RBI, .301 Average
Johnny Bench: 1091 Runs, 2048 Hits, 384 Home Runs, 1376 RBI, .267 Average
Carlton Fisk: 1276 Runs, 2356 Hits, 376 Home Runs, 1330 RBI, .269 Average
Yogi Berra: 1175 Runs, 2150 Hits, 358 Home Runs, 1430 RBI, .285 Average
Gary Carter: 1025 Runs, 2092 Hits, 324 Home Runs, 1225 RBI, .262 Average
Mike Piazza: 1048 Runs, 2127 Hits, 427 Home Runs, 1335 RBI, .308 Average
Bench, Fisk, Berra and Carter are all in the Hall of Fame. Piazza retired after the 2007 season is sure to join them.
But what of Rodriguez? Like many of our generation's greatest players, his name has been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
In Jose Canseco's book Juiced, he claims to have inject Rodriguez along with teammates Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez with a number of steroids during their time together in Texas.
While Rodriguez denies Canseco's claim and has never tested positive, it remains to be seen how implicated involvement in the Steroid Era will impact Hall of Fame voters.
In the meantime, Rodriguez looks to continue his brilliant career. After a strong showing for Team Puerto Rico during the World Baseball Classic, the Houston Astros have given the 37-year-old backstop another shot at the National League.
Rodriguez has said he would like to play after this season. He should easily reach 1300 runs, 2700 hits, 300 home runs and 1300 RBI.
Throughout his career, Ivan Rodriguez has done it all. Offensively and defensively, his numbers are outstanding. He has awards and a World Series ring to go with those statistics. His name belongs in the conversation with the best players of our generation.