ARLINGTON, Texas — A plaque in Cooperstown and now the No. 7 retired by the Texas Rangers for Pudge.
Two weeks after Ivan Rodriguez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Rangers retired the jersey number the perennial All-Star catcher wore in Texas.
“That was a great moment for me,” Rodriguez said after the pregame ceremony Saturday night. “In Cooperstown, but today here was a little different. … Here in front of my home crowd, and the ovation that they gave me from right field all the way to home plate was amazing.”
Rangers players crowded along the rail in their dugout to watch the ceremony, much like they had on July 30 to watch teammate Adrian Beltre get his 3,000th career hit, a double that came only moments after Rodriguez completed his Hall of Fame induction speech in Cooperstown.
Rodriguez almost immediately acknowledged Beltre, telling the 38-year-old third baseman that if he had gotten that hit about 20 minutes earlier, it would have been mentioned at the Hall of Fame. But Pudge pointed at his plaque from Cooperstown that was on the field and told Beltre, “This is waiting for you soon. You’ll be there soon.”
The ceremony came before the Rangers’ 8-3 win over the Houston Astros. Both teams wore replica uniforms from 1999, the season Pudge was the AL MVP after he hit .332 with career highs of 35 homers and 113 RBIs.
Before Rodriguez entered the field from the team’s bullpen in right-center field wearing a red Rangers polo, other players who wore No. 7 for the Rangers took part in the “march of 7s” from the left field corner. That group included Lenny Randle, Billy Sample and Eric Young, with the last in line being current outfielder Delino DeShields, who now wears No. 3 but wore No. 7 as a rookie two seasons ago.
Pudge joined MLB strikeout king Nolan Ryan, who was 44 when he pitched to the teenager catching his second career game, as the only Rangers players to have their numbers retired. They are also the only players wearing the Texas “T” on their plaques in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“I did the best that I can to put a show for you guys,” Rodriguez told the large crowd gathered for the ceremony that started more than an hour before the game.
The Rangers in 2005 retired the number of the late Johnny Oates, the manager who led them to their first three AL West titles over a four-year span in the late 1990s. MLB retired the No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson in 1997. All four numbers are displayed on a facade in left field.
“Having that number there next to Nolan, Johnny and Jackie forever is great to see that now every time I come to the ballpark,” Rodriguez said.
Ryan wasn’t in attendance but was among several people whose congratulatory messages were shown on the video board. Among the others were Johnny Bench, the only other catcher elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, fellow 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Jeff Bagwell and former President George W. Bush, one of the team owners when Pudge made his big league debut as a 19-year-old for the Rangers in 1991.
Although Pudge played for six teams over his 21 seasons while being a 14-time All-Star and winning 13 Gold Gloves, he has always considered Texas his baseball home . He played 1,507 of his 2,543 career games while wearing No. 7 for the Rangers.
After leaving the Rangers in free agency after the 2002 season, he was part of a World Series championship with the Florida Marlins in 2003 and played in another World Series during his five seasons in Detroit (2004-08). He ended the 2008 season with the Yankees and started 2009 with the Astros, who traded him to Texas on Aug. 18 that year. He finished his career with the Washington Nationals in 2010-11.
“I grew up here,” Rodriguez said. “I know that I played for five other organizations. … I respect them the same, but when you’re talking about the Rangers’ organization, it’s a little different.”