"Pudge was his name—catching was his game."
Imagine trying to explain to your baseball-obsessed child that a guy named Pudge Rodriguez was the best damn defensive catcher the world has ever seen.
Your credibility would automatically shrink in size by an order of magnitude. Your kid might even laugh in your face.
And why shouldn't he?
After all—what would you have thought if your pops told you that Chunky Mays was the best center fielder he ever saw?
Or that Stout Brooks Robinson could do things at third that weren't humanly possible?
Or that Hefty Clemente had a gun out in right with more kick than a Smith and Wesson?
When we think of defensive phenoms, we expect them to be limber, flexible, and athletic.
We think of Ozzie Smith and his 150-pound frame, or Andruw Jones and his lighting speed, or Vladimir Guerrero and his muscular build.
What doesn't immediately come to mind is a short chubby guy named Pudge.
Say what you will about Charles Johnson and Mike Matheny—Pudge is the best defensive catcher of our lifetime...and maybe of an entire generation of ballplayers.
Rodriguez has a glove more reliable than that of the great Bob Boone, and a throwing arm stronger than that of the legendary Johnny Bench. At his peak—and as recently as last season—he threw out more than 50 percent of runners who attempted to steal on him.
Pudge's biggest asset is his footwork—that's what has made his arm so deadly over the years. There has never been someone to quicker get himself in position to throw a runner out.
When that pitch arrives, Pudge is ready to rock—even if a runner doesn't move an inch. Should a runner stray too far off the bag, Pudge will gun one to an infielder without hesitation. His arm is not only strong—it's accurate too.
Pudge ain't bad on offense either. In 1998, he became the first big league catcher in history to steal 20 bases and hit 20 dingers in the same year.
He has a .303 lifetime batting average and an MVP award to his name. All things considered, he is unquestionably one of the greatest all-around backstops—if not THE greatest—to ever play the game.
There's a very simple lesson that children can learn from Pudge Rodriguez: Don't judge a book by it's cover.
Or, said another way: Appearances don't always dictate reality.
Just because you're physically disadvantaged (or perceived as such) doesn't mean you can't become the best at what you do. And likewise, just because you're physically advantaged doesn't mean you will become a special somebody in the long run.
Kids need to take this lesson to heart—as physical attributes play way too large a role in determining popularity in modern adolescent society.
You know how it goes—the ugly girl in school can quote Shakespeare without anyone taking notice, while the pretty girl quotes Reading Rainbow and everyone worships her. The athletic fourth-grader is revered by his peers for his skills in a game of two-hand touch, while the nerd with glasses can hardly play a game of kickball without getting knocked over and laughed at.
But things can change—and faster than most kids realize.
That nerd with glasses might drop out of school at age 16 and become the world's next great technology pioneer. The pretty girl may go from being "the shit" in elementary school to being "shit on" and beat around by her pimp. The athletic fourth-grader may start shooting juice in his teens to step up his game, and end up in juvy after taking his anger out on his little sister in a fit of 'roid rage.
Appearances do not dictate reality. And a catcher from Manhati, Puerto Rico, is a shining proof.
I hereby pledge to tell my children about Ivan Rodriguez's pudgy frame and remarkable skills on the baseball field.