From Ryan to Rivera to Strasburg, Cooperstown's newest catcher guided talented hurlers
By Andrew Simon
Ivan Rodriguez got the call to Cooperstown on Wednesday, when the Baseball Writers' Association of America officially made him only the second catcher in history to earn induction to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
"Pudge" received 76 percent of the vote in large part because of his prowess behind the plate, where he caught nearly 2,500 games, led his league in caught-stealing percentage nine times and won 13 Gold Glove Awards. Between the ages of 19 and 39, Rodriguez donned the mask for six organizations, and from the very beginning until the very end, he teamed up with many talented pitchers.
Here is a look at just some of the most memorable and accomplished batterymates Rodriguez had through the years, starting at the beginning:
Kevin Brown: 1991-94 Rangers
On June 20, 1991, at Chicago's Comiskey Park, a 19-year-old Rodriguez made his debut against a White Sox club that featured Carlton Fisk, Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura and a young Sammy Sosa. The Rangers' pitcher was Brown, who was in his third full season but a year away from the first of his six All-Star selections. On that day, Rodriguez caught Brown's quality start and picked up his first MLB hit and RBI. Brown went on to post a 3.28 ERA over nearly 500 career games, with Rodriguez catching more of them (95) than anyone else.
Nolan Ryan: 1991-93 Rangers
A 44-year-old Ryan, who already had set the all-time strikeout record, started Rodriguez's second career game. Two years later, in another matchup against the White Sox on Aug. 4, 1993, Rodriguez was catching Ryan again when he bore witness to an infamous play. When Ventura charged the mound after getting hit by a pitch, Rodriguez trailed behind. By the time he reached Ventura, the young third baseman was in a headlock.
Goose Gossage: 1991 Rangers
Gossage saved 310 games in his Hall of Fame career, and just one of those came in a Texas uniform. Sure enough, Rodriguez was behind the plate as the 40-year-old did the job against the Red Sox on July 23.
Kenny Rogers: 1991-95, 2000-02 Rangers; '06-'08 Tigers
The left-hander pitched in Rodriguez's second career game, relieving Ryan. More than 17 years later, the two were batterymates for the final time, on July 28, 2008, a couple of days before the Tigers traded Pudge to the Yankees. All told, Rogers appeared in 270 games with Rodriguez -- 165 more than with any other catcher -- throwing more than 1,200 innings to him. That doesn't include Rogers' brilliant run for Detroit in the 2006 postseason, when he tossed 23 scoreless innings.
R.A. Dickey: 2001 Rangers
Way before Dickey enjoyed his first sustained Major League success as a knuckleballer with the Mets, a run that included a Cy Young Award, he got his first cup of coffee in a four-game stint with Texas. Rodriguez coaxed a clean debut inning from him on April 22 against the A's, and 16 years later, Dickey remains in the Majors.
Josh Beckett: 2003 Marlins
A 23-year-old Beckett posted a 3.04 ERA in Rodriguez's only season in Miami. Across 42 2/3 innings that postseason, the righty put up a 2.11 ERA, struck out 47 batters and tossed two shutouts. One was against the Cubs in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series, and the other came against the Yankees in the decisive Game 6 of the World Series, as Beckett outdueled veteran Andy Pettitte.
Dontrelle Willis: 2003 Marlins; '08 Tigers
The D-Train couldn't sustain his early success, but his first four seasons with the Marlins were excellent, beginning with his NL Rookie of the Year campaign in '03. The 21-year-old lefty went 14-6 with a 3.30 ERA over 27 starts for the World Series champions, including a one-hit shutout Pudge caught against the Mets in what was just the eighth career outing by Willis.
Justin Verlander: 2006-08 Tigers
Rodriguez didn't catch either of Verlander's first two games in '05, but he was behind the plate for most of the right-hander's innings in '06. Verlander captured AL Rookie of the Year honors that season, going 17-9 with a 3.63 ERA and launching a career that so far has seen six All-Star selections, and more than 350 starts and 2,000 strikeouts.
Andrew Miller: 2006-07 Tigers
Ten years before Miller was a postseason sensation with the Indians, he was the sixth overall pick by Detroit in the 2006 Draft. Less than a month after signing, the lanky lefty out of North Carolina was in the big leagues, making his debut at Yankee Stadium. With Rodriguez catching, Miller threw a scoreless eighth inning, retiring Derek Jeter to end it.
Pettitte: 2008 Yankees
Rodriguez played just 33 games for New York, and in that time caught Pettitte (256 career wins) just once. The two were adversaries much more often over the years, facing each other in 63 plate appearances, with Rodriguez batting .333/.365/.433.
Mariano Rivera: 2008 Yankees
Eight of Rivera's record 652 saves came with Rodriguez catching. In true Rivera form, the righty held opponents to a .399 OPS over 12 innings working with Pudge.
Roy Oswalt: 2009 Astros
Rodriguez signed with Houston before the '09 season and then was traded back to the Rangers in August. In between, he caught Oswalt 24 times. While '09 was far from Oswalt's best season, the righty posted a 3.07 ERA from '01-07 and finished in the top five in the Cy Young Award race five times in that span.
Jordan Zimmermann: 2010-11 Nationals
On Aug. 26, 2010, Rodriguez was there when a 24-year-old Zimmermann returned from Tommy John surgery. In the righty's next outing, he struck out nine over six one-hit innings in Miami, setting the stage for a solid '11 season and a productive run in the Washington rotation.
Stephen Strasburg: 2010-11 Nationals
Strasburg and Rodriguez each had a hand in a milestone for the other. First, on June 8, 2010, Strasburg made one of the most hyped pitching debuts in history. Rodriguez had a front-row seat as the 21-year-old phenom struck out 14 Pirates without issuing a walk over seven innings at Nationals Park. The next year, Strasburg returned from his own Tommy John surgery, just in time to bid Rodriguez farewell. The righty's fifth game back was the last of Rodriguez's Hall of Fame career, and Strasburg struck out 10 over six dominant innings against the Marlins, while Rodriguez picked up his 2,844th and final hit.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.