ARLINGTON, Texas -- Surrounded by family members, former teammates, friends and a host of media, Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez retired from Major League Baseball on Monday at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
He did it just outside the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame, where he'll certainly be a member in the future. Rodriguez, 40, wanted to do it in Arlington, where he spent his first 12 seasons as a professional and has always been a fan favorite.
The Rangers honored Rodriguez in a ceremony prior to Monday's game on ESPN with the New York Yankees. Rodriguez, wearing a blue Rangers golf shirt and red Texas cap, came in from left field in a convertible and was given a standing ovation as he waved to fans.
The current Rangers and coaches lined up and watched the ceremony from the dugout as did many Yankee players, along with manager Joe Girardi.
Tom Grieve, the general manager who signed Rodriguez as a teenager in 1988, presented Rodriguez with a framed white No. 7 Rangers jersey with his name on it. Rangers CEO and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, who played with Rodriguez for a few years, spoke a few words and gave him a crystal memento to commemorate his years with Texas. The Rangers also prepared a video montage of Rodriguez's greatest moments as a Ranger.
Rodriguez made some brief remarks, thanking the Rangers, his family and the fans for his time in Texas.
And rather than throw out the ceremonial first pitch from the mound, Rodriguez went behind the plate and threw the ball to second base, where former teammate Michael Young caught it to big cheers from the sellout crowd.
"It's a very hard day for me," said Rodriguez, wearing a red tie and blue coat. "It's been a great, great, run. Twenty one years has been beautiful. To see teammates of mine, thank you guys for coming. I want to thank the fans here from Texas and fans from all over baseball. Thanks to the all the organizations I've played with."
Ryan said there hadn't been any discussions yet about retiring Rodriguez's number, but the club has talked to Rodriguez about a future role with the organization. They haven't nailed down any details, but it could involve working with the organization's catchers.
"He wants to take two or three months away from the game and regroup and think about what he would like to do and give us an opportunity to figure out where we could best utilize him," Ryan said.
"When I think of Pudge, what I think about most is the smile," said Grieve, as Rodriguez flashed one while listening. "I think about the passion that he had for the game. I think about the pure joy that was evident every time he took the field."
Ryan told a story about how Rodriguez claimed he hit an intrasquad homer off Ryan one time in spring training and the next time up, Ryan hit him in the leg.
"I remember hitting him. I don't remember the home run," Ryan deadpanned.
Moments later, after Rodriguez thanked everyone, he assured Ryan the home run occurred.
"I remember I hit a home run, I really do," Rodriguez said, looking at Ryan. "Once. To hit a home run off you is not easy. I remember, even if it was intrasquad game, I remember."
Rodriguez made his debut with the Rangers at 19 years old in 1990 and it didn't take him long to become one of the top catchers in the game while in Texas, going to 10 consecutive All-Star Games, winning 10 straight Gold Gloves and capturing the American League MVP Award in 1999.
Rodriguez hit .332 with 35 homers and 113 RBIs to go along with 25 stolen bases during that MVP campaign.
He becomes the third longtime catcher to retire since the end of the 2011 season, joining Jorge Posada and Jason Varitek. By retiring now, Hall of Fame voters will get their first chance to cast a ballot for Rodriguez in 2017.
Rodriguez helped the Rangers win the AL West in 1996, 1998 and 1999, becoming a mainstay behind the plate and a fan favorite as he not only hurt opponents with his bat, but his arm. He threw out nearly 42 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him in his career.
Rangers manager Ron Washington remembers sitting in advance meetings in Oakland where the club cautioned baserunners about Rodriguez's strong arm and his penchant for picking off runners if they strayed too far off the bag.
"He was the best I've ever seen," Washington said last week. "He had the quickest release and accuracy I've even seen. He was the scariest guy to have back there when you were at first base. He could beat up with the bat big-time. He was a special catcher."
Rodriguez was still productive after he left Texas and signed with the Florida Marlins as a free agent in 2003, winning a world championship there. He moved on to Detroit, where he made four All-Star appearances and won three more Gold Gloves, breaking Johnny Bench's record for a catcher. Rodriguez was on the 2006 Detroit team that won the AL.
He finishes his career with a .296 batting average, 311 home runs and 1,332 RBIs in 2,543 games played. He's the all-time major league leader with 2,427 games caught, he hit .300 or better in 10 different seasons and had five years of 20 or more home runs.
Rodriguez also played part of the 2008 season with the Yankees, the Rangers' opponent the next three nights in Arlington. He didn't have a job offer in spring training in 2009, but after hitting the ball well in Puerto Rico as he stayed in shape, the Houston Astros offered him a deal in March. He played most of that season in Houston before the Rangers acquired him when catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was injured. Rodriguez played in 28 games for Texas in the final few months of 2009.
He finished his career with the Washington Nationals, playing two seasons there. He hit just .218 last season with two homers and 19 RBIs in 124 at-bats.
There are some fans who wonder if Rodriguez was involved in the steroid culture of baseball after former teammate Jose Canseco alleged that he injected Rodriguez with steroids. In 2009, Rodriguez was asked if he was on the list of players who allegedly tested positive for steroids in 2003 and said: "Only God knows."
Rodriguez didn't answer any questions at the news conference, fearing he might get too emotional. There were times when his voice broke up as he thanked his family and friends.
"I'm walking out of the white lines, but I'll always be in baseball," Rodriguez said. "You guys will see me around."