In hallowed Hall, Pudge will join select group

Rodriguez points to durability as one reason he'll be just 16th catcher enshrined

In hallowed Hall, Pudge will join select group

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- What was it? Fifteen, 20 years ago? The Rangers were training in Port Charlotte, Fla., and they had played a game that afternoon. Now, it was six in the evening and all of the Rangers' players had gone home.

Except … Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. He and his personal trainer were spotted jogging out behind the complex amid the banyan trees and alligator ponds. His day was not over.

"If you want to be the best, that's what you have to do," Rodriguez said.

Now Pudge is 45, and he still looks like he could catch nine innings. But that's not what he's going to do on a cool Friday morning in upstate New York. He is playing 18 holes at the Hall of Fame Golf Tournament.

On Sunday, Rodriguez will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Once Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Rodriguez are inducted, there will be 225 players enshrined.

Only 16 of them were catchers.

"It means a lot; we should get more recognition than we do," Rodriguez said. "It's not an easy job, playing over 100-plus games behind the plate. Not only that, we have to come to the ballpark early, study the game. … It's a hard job, and I was able to do that for 21 years."

For all of Rodriguez's accomplishments -- the Gold Glove Awards, the All-Star Game selections -- most impressive may be how strong and durable he was for more than two decades behind the plate.

Rodriguez on making the Hall

Rodriguez had his share of injuries, and he still has the herniated disk that sidelined him for two months in 2002. But he is the all-time leader in games caught, and his 2,543 games played are 32nd among the 225 Hall of Famers.

"Physically, I am great," Rodriguez said. "Thank God I am good. I think it's all the work I put in during my career. I have great people with me. Trainers that began with me since I was 21 years old who started that program that I am still doing today. I know if I stop, it's not going to be fun. That's why I keep working out and do the things that I do to keep myself in shape."

Rodriguez played for the Rangers from 1991-2002, but Texas let him go because the club thought he was done physically as a catcher. The Marlins gave Rodriguez a one-year deal, and he helped them win a World Series in 2003. The Tigers then signed him to a five-year deal.

"When I signed with Detroit, the doctor said to [general manager Dave] Dombrowski that he was not going to clear that contract because of the back," Rodriguez said. "My back wasn't right to play five years.

"Dave Dombrowski came to me and [agent Scott] Boras and said, 'Let's keep the five-year contract, but let's do this. Let's say two years, and the next three years will be an extension.' I said to Boras, 'Don't worry about it. If he wants that, fine. I can promise him I am going to play five. I'm going to play more.' After the doctor said that, I played [eight] more years. The doctor was wrong."

HOF weekend in Cooperstown

There is the suspicion that Rodriguez had help. He was connected to performance-enhancing drugs, mainly because of the allegations in Jose Canseco's autobiography.

Rodriguez is not afraid of the question.

"Never took it," Rodriguez said. "Never. I always say, my discipline is very important. Since Day 1. When you are strong physically and mentally and go out and play hard. That's what I say and I still say it, my conditioning was always there, every time."

Rodriguez was asked if he ever had a concussion.

"What? What?" Rodriguez said.

He was joking.

"Not really," Rodriguez said. "I probably can say I'm lucky because I got hit a lot, especially when we played in that era, everybody coming to try and destroy the catcher. I was very smart making those plays. I worked on decoying to make sure the runner knows that the ball is not coming. I did that my whole career.

"A lot of times on plays at the plate, they slid through me, because I never let them know the ball was coming. I just moved at the last second and tagged them like an infielder."

Rodriguez said he has never had the back surgery recommended 15 years ago.

Rodriguez homers for AL

"They wanted me to do it, but I said no," Rodriguez said. "I told them, 'Give me a program to do with exercises and I'll do that, I'm fine.' I'm still doing it. Basically, that's what I did, I worked my legs and worked my back, and today I'm hitting the ball 300 yards in golf."

Rodriguez was playing with Hall of Famers on Friday in Cooperstown. On Sunday, he will join them in the Hall of Fame.

MLB Network's exclusive live coverage of the 2017 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony -- simulcast live on MLB.com -- begins with MLB Tonight Sunday at noon ET, followed by the ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Prior to Sunday's live coverage, you can watch a live stream of the Hall of Fame Awards ceremony on MLB.com on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET. It will feature Rachel Robinson (Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award), Claire Smith (J.G. Taylor Spink Award for writers) and the posthumous honoring of Bill King (Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasters). The presentation will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of the film "A League of Their Own." MLB Network will also televise the 2017 Hall of Fame Awards Presentation at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday in advance of the induction.

T.R. Sullivan has covered the Rangers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2006. Follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.