Ivan Rodriguez is poised to tie Carlton Fisk's all-time games-caught mark tonight and, knees willing, break it tomorrow. Best of all, it's going to happen in Arlington, where his remarkable career got started. That was a long time ago -- his debut came a couple of weeks after I graduated high school, and I'm an old man now -- and Rodriguez's long career has the Houston Chronicle's Jose De Jesus Ortiz, and others, recalling the career of one of the greatest catchers the game has ever seen:
As manager of the Kansas City Royals from 1995-97, [Bob] Boone actually predicted Rodriguez would break Fisk's record.
"I'm proud of the fact I played the game right a long time," Bob Boone said. "You happen to get a record, that's kind of neat, but it really doesn't affect my daily life. I can remember looking at Pudge when I was managing Kansas City and thinking he would break the record.
"There's an art form to not getting hurt. There's a lot of athleticism to not being hurt. We'd just look at each other, and I'd think he was going to get the record. I just kind of smiled about it. I think he's a great player. I've been a fan of his a long time. The combination of offense and defense he's brought to the game has been amazing."
Is Boone genuinely admirable, or is his use of the phrase "played the game right," code for steroids in this case as it is in most other cases in which it's employed? I suppose there's no escaping that subject with Rodriguez since Jose Canseco claims in his book to have educated him (along with Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez) about steroids when they were teammates in Texas. He also claims to have acquired steroids on behalf of Rodriguez and to have personally injected him. Given Canseco's track record on these things, there's something more than an Ibanezeseque case to be made against Pudge on this count.
But you know what? I don't care. I'm not sure how everyone else approaches this issue, but I've taken to making rough guesses about how a PED-implicated player might have performed without the drugs, and then determining whether he still seems like a Hall of Famer afterwards. No, I'm not doing stats here nor do I claim to even be doing anything approaching science. It's just a mental exercise that I think represents about the best anyone can do for the pre-testing era players. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens pass my little test. Mark McGwire is a closer case. Rafael Palmiero fails it. There really aren't as many close cases as folks like to think.
Pudge is one of them. But with Pudge, I see a guy who was an amazing defensive catcher before Canseco ever made it to Texas, and has remained one even after the institution of testing and his subsequent reduction in physique. If Canseco is telling the truth about Rodriguez, we can probably expect that his power numbers would have been down, and we can likewise expect that he may have missed a few more games to injury or fatigue than he did over his long career.
Maybe your mileage varies on this -- indeed, maybe you'd have a bar on the door to the Hall of Fame for anyone implicated in the PED mess -- but takng his career as a whole, I still see a Hall of Famer when I look at Ivan Rodriguez, and I will be cheering him tonight and tomorrow as he makes history.