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Berardino finally weighs in on Pudge


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Pudge's shoes tough to fill

Published December 10, 2003



Lenny Harris has seen Cooperstown-level catching greatness up close before.


When he was with the New York Mets' 2000 pennant winner, Harris lockered next to Mike Piazza and marveled at his ability to dial up the intensity. Baseball's career pinch-hits leader got the same sort of feeling dressing next to Pudge Rodriguez in the Marlins clubhouse.


"Pudge is a special player," said Harris, who joined the club in August. "Just like Piazza, he really gets focused for a game, gets locked in. It's just the intensity those guys have when that bell rings."


Rodriguez is gone now, his free-agent showdown with the Marlins coming to a senseless, painful ending late Sunday night. All we have is memories of his single season in South Florida and questions about exactly how the Marlins are supposed to replace all this remarkable talent he brought to the table.


First-rate offensive production. The sort of defensive intimidation that comes with 10 Gold Gloves. A deep-burning intensity that lifted his teammates to heights they never imagined before he arrived.


The great Don Mattingly would stand in front of his locker in those final moments before Yankees games, silently swinging a bat, letting his teammates know it was time to get serious. The catcher the Marlins just let walk away carries the same sort of inspirational heft.


"Thirty minutes before the game, Pudge gets stretched out and goes down to the cage and hits," Harris said. "It's like watching Ray Lewis play a football game. That's how this guy prepares himself to play a ballgame. It's tough to find that anywhere."


There is this ridiculous notion making the rounds that somehow the Marlins won't miss Pudge next season. Not at the plate. Not behind it. Not in the clubhouse.


Sorry, I'm not buying it. Just like I don't understand why the 2004 payroll must rise by just $6 million when the Marlins pocketed at least that much from postseason gate receipts alone. (To say nothing of individual-game ticket prices that increased.)


Yes, Pudge probably should have been willing to take at least a moderate pay cut in these strange economic times. Yes, he may have let his massive pride cloud his judgment and keep him from staying close to his Miami Beach home.


Sure, he's 32 and hit just two regular-season homers after July 18 and is nearing the fault line where even the best catchers see their production plummet.


But don't sit there and tell me Ramon Castro and Mike Redmond will make everyone forget Pudge. Don't tell me Javy Lopez and his bum knees would provide a seamless replacement. Don't tell me the Marlins are in the same position to defend their World Series crown today as they would have been with Rodriguez back in the fold.


Have you forgotten already? Forgotten the way Pudge won Game 3 against the Giants with that two-run single in the 11th? Forgotten the way he knocked that ball out of Yorvit Torrealba's glove as he barreled home the next afternoon?


Forgotten the way that same Saturday ended with Pudge standing firm -- strong as the life-sized statue outside his waterfront mansion -- and taking J.T. Snow's freight-train blow at that same home plate? Forgotten the way Pudge bounced up still holding the baseball, waving it in the air for all 65,000 screaming fans to see?


Forgotten the way closer Ugueth Urbina (another free-agent ghost) jumped on him moments later like a playful St. Bernard?


Really, now, have you forgotten Pudge's three-run homer in Chicago that ignited a comeback from a 4-0 hole in the series opener? Forgotten that he drove in at least one run in six of those NLCS games? Forgotten that he was named series MVP?


How about the stunning pickoff of Nick Johnson at third base in Game 1 of the World Series? The Yankees went just 1 for 3 on steal attempts the rest of the series.


Don't tell me you've forgotten the way Pudge handled that young pitching staff, transferring the fire in his eyes into theirs, slapping them on the chest after mound meetings, demanding their thirst for excellence match his.


"Those kids love him to death and look up to him. He has helped them so much. He took charge," Harris said.


How about the Latin quarter of the clubhouse? Who puts out those fires now that Pudge, Ozzie Guillen and Urbina have departed? Who keeps Miguel Cabrera grounded? Who keeps the middle infield's confidence up?


Now the best catcher in the Marlins' brief, curious history has moved on. To where and for how much, no one knows.


Here, though, is what should be understood in the aftermath of these failed negotiations: Pudge's former team just got a whole lot more ordinary.


Have you forgotten October already? The Marlins sure did.



Copyright ? 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


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While I agree with everything Mike said ABOUT Pudge I do feel that as usual he went out of his way to not present the Marlins' side of the controversy. Realizing of course this is an opinion piece, it's unfortunate that a writer of his caliber can't find a way to be more even-handed.


He and the FO have to find a way to work together and develop some mutual respect for oneanother.

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The Marlins did all they could to keep him. They went higher than anyone will, or should. It does bring up wonderful points, and I'll admit I'm still in a bad mood that Pudge left, but that was his choice; his greed. The team we have right now will struggle to win 90 games, I'll admit that, but a few shrewd bullpen signings, and one more bat (because we're rumored to be after everyone from Palmeiro to Guerrero) gives us just as much of a competitive edge as having Pudge back. As for the whole leadership thing that we'll miss about Pudge, well I think the front office blared loud and clear that this is Mike Lowell's team now. He's our ticket to a new stadium, and he was the first person we locked up, even though we didn't need to do that until next year. He's the man now, and along with Conine there will be leadership. Pudge is gone, it's time to move on, I'm sad to see him go, yet angry at him for being unreasonable. I think that many fans will remember Pudge for his senseless greed just as much as his on field production last year, and that is a shame...

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