This is how much Ivan Rodriguez meant to the Detroit Tigers:
It was the end of the 2003 season. The once-proud Tigers were losers of 119 games, one shy of the Mets' modern record set in 1962. Rodriguez was in the glow of winning a World Series championship with the upstart Florida Marlins, but that beast was fed. Hungry for the next challenge, he agreed to a four-year deal to help a team that had nowhere to go but up.
The Tigers went up -- way up. Rodriguez's grit and gusto immediately changed the attitude of malaise that had stifled baseball in the Motor City. He made four All-Star appearances and won three Gold Gloves, and Detroit went from embarrassment to AL pennant winners in three years. Fast-forwarding two years, the Tigers, labeled as favorites in the AL Central, were arguably the league's biggest disappointment. On June 6, they were 24-36. In their next 46 games, Pudge batted .377 to spark a 30-16 surge.
But there was an issue. Rodriguez had an option with the Tigers for 2008, but the Tigers had a solid backup catcher in Brandon Inge. It was becoming more evident that Pudge, 36, no longer fit the Tigers' plans. And since the Tigers were desperate for help in the bullpen with closer Todd Jones injured, general manager Dave Dombrowski contacted Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
In a span of a six hours, Rodriguez agreed to waive his no-trade clause and was headed to New York to play for the Yankees, and hard-throwing Kyle Farnsworth was on his way to Detroit. In the aftermath, Pudge wondered why the Tigers pulled the trigger.
"It was a little surprising, because I still believed that the Tigers were still in it," Rodriguez said during his introduction to the New York media. "They were only 5 ½ games out of first. They just wanted to go down a different road and catch Brandon Inge a little more and get him ready for next season. For me, it's still hard to believe I'm here in Yankee Stadium.
"I love to play in New York. It's a dream for me to be here."
Rodriguez, a 14-time All-Star and owner of 13 Gold Gloves, may be on the down side of his career, but he arrived in New York with a .295 batting average and five home runs in 82 games. The quartet of catchers the Yankees have used this season were hitting .245 with three homers and 34 RBIs. That includes Jorge Posada, whose season-ending shoulder injury created the void the Yankees are trying to fill with Rodriguez.
"This is Pudge Rodriguez we're talking about," Cashman said.
Even with his Hall of Fame credentials, Rodriguez feels like he's starting anew. He took a four-hour car ride from Cleveland to Detroit after the trade was completed and arrived home at 3 a.m. to pack. Five hours later, he was on a plane to New York. Then he spent Thursday afternoon in meetings with players, coaches and pitchers to learn a group of new signs.
In essence, Rodriguez is learning a new system without the benefit of Spring Training, but given his 17 years in the game, the learning curve shouldn't be steep.
"Sequencing, you watch swings," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, himself a backstop for 15 seasons. "As a catcher, you go over a gameplan, watch swings and adapt to the things that you know. For Pudge, I don't think it's as big a transition for him as maybe a young catcher coming up for the first time or a guy who has never seen any of our pitchers. He has an idea of what to do."
Farnsworth was a valuable member of the Yankees' bullpen. After years of inconsistency, he had emerged as an effective eighth-inning setup man this season. Before the trade, Farnsworth held opponents hitless in 28 consecutive at-bats and had gone nearly a month without allowing a run. Entering Wednesday's action, the Yankees' bullpen ranked third in the Majors with a .231 batting average against, successfully handling Joba Chamberlain's transition to the starting rotation. But the Yankees' catching quandary was too great to ignore. So they traded from strength.
"He's a significant upgrade," Cashman said. "With all due respect to everything we've got, that's our belief. We want this race to be interesting, and we want to cross that finish line and play a 163rd game this year."
Rodriguez, who led once-downtrodden teams to glory in Miami and Detroit, is the kind of player who can help get them there.
"He understands what it's like, in a sense, to be a Yankee," Girardi said. "He's excited about being a Yankee and what lies before us and the challenges. He's caught two World Series and was a champion in one of them. He's excited for that opportunity."
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.