“My last year in ’89, I was hearing about a guy we had in the minor leagues that was really good and was going to be a really good one,” Jim Sundberg recalled in an interview to ESPN Radio in Dallas.
The "guy" Sundberg was referring to was a 19 year old catcher in the Rangers minor league system named Ivan Rodriguez.
A kid the baseball gods reached down to from the heavens and struck in the right arm with a lightning bolt that would completely shut down opposing running games for a generation.
Many will spend the next few days debating whether Pudge was the best catcher in the history of baseball and it's an argument he deserves to be a part of, but one thing will never be debated, not for a single moment, and that is whether Pudge's next stop will be Cooperstown.
Not only is Pudge Rodriguez a no doubt first ballot Hall of Famer, but despite playing so many seasons with other teams, he'll be wearing a Rangers hat when he goes in.
Pudge made that clear when he let the Rangers know he wanted to come home to announce his retirement in what is sure to be a very emotional day for Pudge, the Rangers organization and the fan base who adored Pudge at the same level as The Triplets who played for the Dallas Cowboys.
All of us at letstalkrangers.com have encouraged fans to comment on our tributes today by sharing your favorite Pudge moment, so it only seems fair that I share mine.
It's a little hazy since I was only eight years old when Pudge debuted for the Rangers, but I'll never forget that first punch-out.
Runner at 1st takes off on the rookie behind the plate, Pudge with lightning quick footwork seemed to catch the ball and reach throwing position simultaneously.
Then that cannon of an arm was introduced to the Rangers fan base for the first time as Pudge fired a dart right on the bag at second nailing the runner trying to steal by a four feet.
The stadium was in shock, the runner trying to steal couldn't believe it and a 19 year old rookie catcher behind the plate simply picked up his mask, showed the outs with his fingers and took his place behind the plate and in the hearts of a fan base desperate for something special.
Pudge was indeed that something special.
“They put a radar gun on him when he was 16 years old throwing to second base, and it was like 92 miles per hour,” former Rangers General Manager Tom Grieve told ESPN Radio in Dallas.
It wasn't just that arm behind the plate that made Pudge so special though, he could also hit well enough to more than hold his own in the middle of that trademark powerhouse offense that defined the Rangers in the late 90's.
Pudge retires a .296 career hitter, never had a season with 100 strikeouts and threw out an astounding 45.68% of potential base stealers.
Those of course are his stats, but the true legacy of Pudge will be the heart he played with both while the Rangers were losing and when the organization finally broke through with its first division championship in 1996.
The higher the stakes, the harder Pudge played, but no matter what the situation was he always had fun playing the game and seemed to really enjoy picking off runners at first or third.
There have been more catchers trying to pickoff runners at those corner bases in recent years but none have done so with that killer instinct that made Pudge so successful.
Then again no one will ever be like him because there is only one Pudge Rodriguez and it was truly an honor to watch by far the greatest catcher in the history of baseball behind the plate for the Rangers for as long as I was privileged to have him on my team.
Like what I did there, I took the argument out of the equation because there is no argument to be made here, Pudge Rodriguez is the greatest catcher to ever sit behind the plate.
Now he passes the torch on to another generation of catchers but make no mistake about it, Pudge is not going away for long; he still has one more speech to make in five years when he enters the Hall of Fame.
Next stop: Cooperstown.