Put Me In Coach
They Call Me Pudge: My Life Playing the Game I Love
by Ivan Rodriguez with Jeff Sullivan
Chicago: Triumph Books, 2017.
239 pp. $17.03 cloth.
Robert P. Moreira
What can you expect from Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez’s autobiography? Two forewords, of course—one by Nolan Ryan, the all-time Major League Baseball strikeout king; the other by Jim Leyland, two-time World Series manager and champion. You’ll get plenty of uplifting aphorisms as well, such as, “talent alone isn’t the ticket. It’s hard work and dedication to [the] craft.” You’ll get your fill of Rodriguez’s career statistics, too: 20,000 innings caught throughout his MLB career, more than any other catcher in baseball history; thirteen Gold Gloves; 2,427 games caught; the American League Most Valuable Player in 1999; seven Silver Slugger Awards; and, the crème de la crème: a World Series ring in 2003 with the Florida Marlins. Finally, if reading about all of Rodriguez’s accomplishments is not enough, you can use the appendices at the end of the book to corroborate all statistical claims.
That is all standard for a baseball autobiography, of course. What I enjoyed most from the book were Rodriguez’s opinions, as well as reading about his on- and off-field relationships throughout his long career. Early in the book, Rodriguez addresses whether he used performance enhancing drugs. Rodriguez adamantly denies any use of steroids, and he demonizes former teammate Jose Canseco for “[throwing] everyone and everything he could find under the bus.” After a while, however, Rodriguez’s commentary on this topic becomes both annoying (as a baseball fan) and perplexing (as a reader), especially when he later states:
I don’t begrudge any player from that era who did take whatever they did. It was a tough time with different rules, and no one really knew what was going on. It happened, and everyone seems to have moved forward, which is best for the game.
Apart from sounding apologetic about steroid use in MLB, Rodriguez later praises Canseco’s former “Bash Brother,” Mark McGwire—“[He] should be in Cooperstown”—even after McGwire admitted to steroid use when he broke the home run record in 1998.
Past the steroid drama, though, They Call Me Pudge does indeed grant insight into the art of catching from arguably the best MLB catcher of all time. The book celebrates a successful twenty-one-year career that included a propitious start through the Texas Rangers’ minor league system; catching Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan; throwing out the all-time stolen base leader, Rickey Henderson during a game; catching Kenny Rogers’s perfect game in 1994; catching Justin Verlander’s no-hit game in 2007; catching and watching Randy Johnson’s famous pitch sail past John Kruk during the 1993 MLB All-Star Game; and being a member of the Texas Rangers when the team decides to break the bank and sign Alex Rodriguez to a ten year, $252 million contract.
The best chapter in the book is Chapter Nine, which recounts Rodriguez’s experiences with the Florida Marlins in 2003. It’s fascinating reading how Rodriguez felt chided by his Marlins’ teammates, especially pitcher Josh Beckett, whom he respected for his amazing talent. Despite their differences, and with a little luck at Wrigley Field thanks to Steve Bartman, Rodriguez and the rest of the team came out victorious and won the 2003 World Series.
Structurally, the book’s brief, anecdotal vignettes, which are sprinkled throughout, are a nice, unpredictable addition to They Call Me Pudge. These texts corroborate (and sometimes, even praise) the main text by Rodriguez and his co-writer, Jeff Sullivan, highlighting commentary by Rodriguez’s former coaches, teammates, trainers, and even family members. Additionally, the variety of color photographs throughout the book do a great job of showcasing Rodriguez’s trademark smile, from rookie to Hall of Fame inductee.
Overall, They Call Me Pudge is no grand literary accomplishment, but the book remains true to Rodriguez’s following statement: “I never wanted to be anything but a baseball player”. And what a ballplayer Pudge was! As a baseball fan who got the opportunity to see Rodriguez play, it makes perfect sense to me that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2017. And if you never got the chance to see Rodriguez play, don’t worry. His son, Dereck Rodriguez, was just recently called up by the San Francisco Giants. He pitched three and a half innings and hit a double in his MLB debut on May 30, and his future—just like his father’s once did—looks extremely bright.
Robert P. Moreira teaches creative writing at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and serves as the Managing Editor of riverSedge: A Journal of Art and Literature. He is the editor of ¡Arriba Baseball!: A Collection of Latin@ Baseball Fiction (VAO Publishing, 2013) and author of Scores (Broken River, 2015), winner of the 2016 NACCS Tejas Fiction Award. For more information, visit www.robertpaulmoreira.com.