MLB Insider: Pudge says Tigers tenure made him HOFer

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

There’s a very good chance Pudge Rodriguez would’ve been a Hall-of-Famer even if his career ended before he arrived in Detroit.

From his rookie year, in 1991, through 2003, when he won a World Series with the Marlins, Rodriguez racked up an MVP Award, 10 Gold Gloves, an .832 OPS and a WAR of nearly 55.

Catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, left, spent four-plus seasons with the Tigers, paving the way for future big-ticket free agents to come to Detroit.

Rodriguez was considered one of the greatest catchers of all-time, and had perhaps the best arm ever behind the plate.

Still, Rodriguez said earlier this month, after throwing out the first pitch at Tigers Opening Day, that his four-plus-year stint in Detroit helped a lot in earning him that special phone call.

“I mean, five years here,” Rodriguez said. “But I think, put that to the side. I was very, very happy and proud to say I was here for five years, playing here in Detroit, here in the Motor City, and be able to wear this English D with a lot of pride on my chest.

“I was very happy about that.”

Rodriguez, 45, is a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, and will be inducted in July with Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines.

Of course, Rodriguez’s plaque will feature a Texas Rangers cap. That’s the team he started with, and built most of his legacy with.

Still, though, he doesn’t undervalue his time with the Tigers — he signed in early 2004, the first marquee free agent Mike Ilitch convinced to hop on board, and played in Detroit until he was traded to the Yankees in 2008.

He will be the first writer-elected Hall-of-Famer who’s played for the Tigers since Al Kaline was inducted in 1980.

“I always loved to come to Detroit, always, always,” Rodriguez said. “This is a home for me. I played with six great organizations that I respect tremendously, all six.

“Detroit, what we did, what we accomplished since I was here in ’04 ... the improvement ... we started some of what you see today, the way the team’s playing, the way the team is always in the pennant race, always, every year.

“Just me saying that I was the first one to come in after the team lost 119 games, I feel very happy for that.”

Rodriguez’s No. 7 will be retired by the Rangers in August; there’s no word yet if the Tigers will eventually retire it. It seems a stretch, given his short time here. But, again, he was the first star to take a leap, starting the dominoes that eventually led to two World Series appearances by the Tigers, in 2006 and 2012.

At the very least, Rodriguez’s name should eventually adorn the brick wall beyond the fence in right-center at Comerica Park. That’s where the Tigers honor their Hall-of-Famers who might not quite merit a number retirement.

But any decision there, that’s well down the road. First on Rodriguez’s mind is the July induction ceremony.

Speaking of which ... how’s the speech coming along?

“It’s done, it’s already done,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “I’ve got four months to memorize it.”

Haves, have-nots

We’re a couple weeks into the 2017 baseball season, so it’s time for the annual “Who’s for real?” and “Who’s a fluke?” analysis.

To start, the for-reals:

■ Orioles: The AL East is a beast, so the Orioles still aren’t the favorite to be standing at the end. But it’s an impressive start, and the pieces are there for a long run — so long as closer Zach Britton’s forearm injury isn’t a long-term problem.

■ Yankees: They’re probably a year or two away from competing for another World Series — perhaps, when they sign Bryce Harper — but the youth movement is riveting, such as Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Gary Sanchez (on DL), and the bullpen is no joke.

■ Tigers: Too many pundits forgot about the Tigers, because they didn’t have their typically sexy offseason of blockbuster moves. But the rotation is very good, and the lineup is deep. It’s all about figuring out that bullpen. As always, that’s the hangup.

Now, the flukes:

■ Reds: They’re not a first-place team. Or even a second- or third-place team. And that’s about to become quite evident quite soon, especially with Brandon Finnegan going on the shelf. That’s four Reds starting pitchers who already are on the disabled list.

■ Blue Jays: What an awful start for a team I picked to win the AL East. The lineup still is very good, and the rotation, led by the likes of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, is not as bad as it seems. Don’t be surprised if they’re in it by the All-Star break.

■ Rockies: They’re leading the NL West, but that can’t possibly last, not with that starting pitching. It’s bad, potentially very bad (what else is new?) and figures again to make a total, utter waste out of a lineup that’s one of the most fascinating in the game.

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Bartolo Colon has lasted longer in the majors than the team’s former ballpark, Turner Field.

Built to last

When players start outliving stadiums, that’s just weird.

But that’s exactly what Bartolo Colon did.

Colon made his major-league debut April 4, 1997, the same day Turner Field played host to its first Braves regular-season game. Colon, now 43, was on the mound for the Braves on Sunday, the final game of the first series at brand-new SunTrust Park.

That was the 44th major-league park in which Colon has pitched, including one start in the Tokyo Dome. (In case you’re wondering, and I know you were, he has a hit in 14 ballparks.)

Speaking of stadium oddities, Comerica Park all of a sudden has become the longest-standing professional arena for a Detroit sports team, with the recent closeouts of The Palace and Joe Louis Arena. Comerica Park opened in 2000, Ford Field in 2002, and Little Caesars Arena opens this fall.

Three up ...

1. Dave Dombrowski, and not what he’s done for the Red Sox — but what he did for the Tigers in July 2015. Days before he got canned, he acquired Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd and JaCoby Jones.

2. Greg Holland. Once the dominant closer for the Royals, he missed all of last season after Tommy John surgery. Now with the Rockies, he’s made seven appearances and recorded seven saves, with a 0.00 ERA.

3. White Sox. Not only are they off to a 6-5 start, but they’re having some fun along the way — recently starting three Garcias in the outfield in a single game. One of them, ex-Tiger Avisail Garcia, is off to a sizzling start.

Ryan Goins and the Blue Jays are off to a 2-10 start this season.

... And three down

1. Blue Jays. Holy heck (Canadian swear word), what’s going on with these guys? They’ve got 10 losses through the first 12 games, spurring ESPN’s Buster Olney to already mention the “F” word: firesale.

2. Tigers bullpen. This is an obvious one, of course. But my beef is more about the guy not in the bullpen than with the guys who are. Joe Jimenez has no business pitching in Toledo. That demotion was disturbing.

3. The NL Central. If you looked at the standings Sunday, they seemed in reverse order — with the Reds on top, followed by the Brewers, Pirates, Cubs and Cardinals. The Cubs will get it together; the Cardinals, not so sure.

Diamond digits

■ 3: Different lockers in as many years for Tigers reliever Alex Wilson. This year, his locker neighbor is Justin Verlander.

■ 11: Times on base, in 14 plate appearances, for Tigers backup catcher Alex Avila, who hit a pair of home runs in the weekend series victory over the Indians.

■ 1.038: OPS, through 13 games, for Mets outfielder — and former Tiger — Yoenis Cespedes, who leads the majors with six home runs.

■ 4/17/60: In one of the biggest trades in Tigers history, Detroit acquires the reigning home-run king, Rocky Colavito, from the Indians for the reigning batting champion, Harvey Kuenn.

He said it

“I’m just fine. Nothin’ a nice cold beer can’t fix.”

Alex Wilson, Tigers reliever, via Twitter on Sunday, after taking a line drive off his face in a 4-1 win over the Indians.