Making the Baseball Hall of Fame is no easy feat, especially for a player in their first year of consideration.
Longtime Texas Rangers catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez is on the ballot for the first time in 2017, and although Rodriguez is widely regarded as one of the best catchers of all time, he may not make it into Cooperstown during his first attempt.
But Rodriguez has one vocal supporter, even though that person doesn’t have a vote: U.S. Rep. Roger Williams.
“He’s perhaps the greatest catcher ever to play the game, and we’re going to see that with the Hall of Fame balloting,” Williams, of Texas, said of Rodriguez.
Williams knows baseball. The former Texas Christian University star and coach played in the Atlanta Braves system after college, and currently co-chairs the Congressional Baseball Caucus. The 67-year-old played three seasons in the Braves farm system, batting .273 as an outfielder and third baseman, according to Baseball Reference.
The Republican congressman, who watched New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra and power-hitting Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench redefine the position during his formative years, says Rodriguez stacks up to those greats, a five-tool player at a position known for defense.
“Seeing Pudge Rodriguez come up with the Rangers at age 19 and seeing how mature he was and what a great arm he had, what a great hitter he was – he could hit for power, he could hit average, he could even run,” Williams said. “You knew at an early age, 19 or 20 years old, the first two to three years with the Rangers, you were looking at someone special. Perhaps the greatest catcher to ever play the game, and we’re going to see that with the Hall of Fame balloting.”
Rodriguez stacks up with the best catchers of all time according to the stats. The Puerto Rico native and 1999 American League most valuable player is the all-time leader in games caught and ranks third in wins above replacement among all catchers, trailing only Bench and Montreal Expos legend Gary Carter. Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves due to his defensive prowess during a 21-year career, 13 of which were spent with the Rangers.
“Pudge is the marquee player, there’s no question about it,” Williams said of the 2017 Hall of Fame class. “You compare his stats to Berra, Bench and (Bill) Dickey, it shows you he should be a first-ballot nomination.”
But earning nomination on the first ballot comes from the Baseball Writers Association of America, a group where some writers are determined to make entry into baseball’s hall a tough feat. Only 51 players in baseball history have been inducted in their first year.
Even Berra, one of the most well-known and beloved players of all time, had to wait a year to be enshrined.
“To be a first ballot recipient is hard, but he’s capable of being a first-ballot guy,” Williams said of Rodriguez.
According to Ryan Thibodaux, who keeps a running tally of baseball Hall of Fame voters who have made their ballots public, Rodriguez has 79.8 percent of the vote among 191 writers. A player must receive 75 percent of all ballots cast to be enshrined.
About 435 writers will ultimately vote, and writers who don’t disclose their ballots publicly typically vote for fewer players, meaning Rodriguez is on the edge of election.
Rodriguez was never suspended or fined for using performance-enhancing drugs, but former Rangers outfielder Jose Canseco alleged he injected Rodriguez with steroids while they were teammates. Rodriguez denied the accusations.
Longtime Houston Astro Jeff Bagwell is widely expected to gain election to the Hall of Fame on his seventh try and former superstars Barry Bonds and Texas native Roger Clemens have been gaining votes, although their election is uncertain.
Bonds and Clemens have divided opinion among baseball fans due to accusations of steroid use. Neither player was ever suspended for a positive test.
Williams said Bonds and Clemens are “not Hall of Fame material right now.”
But the Republican congressman did back another former Ranger for the Hall of Fame: outfielder Vladimir Guerrero, who played for the Rangers in 2010.
“Vlad Guerrero, is a great player, I think he’s certainly Hall of Fame,” Williams said.
While baseball writers wrestle with the prospect of letting in suspected steroid users, Congress tackled the issue in widely-publicized hearings in 2005. Former Ranger Rafael Palmeiro famously waved his finger to Congress saying he never did steroids, but was suspended for steroid use later that year.
“There are issues that Congress probably needs to be involved in, but when you talk about steroids, and how Congress took the steroids issue up several years ago, I immediately said that was wrong,” said Williams, who was not in Congress at the time.
“I think baseball needs to police its game,” he said. “At the time and today there’s so much more pressing in America that Congress needs to put their effort towards than worrying about steroids in baseball. So I was disappointed when all that happened. It was funny that lot of people who were demanding hearings were also asking for their autographs at the same time.”
Results for the 2017 Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced on Jan. 18.