Friday, June 10, 2005

Hey, Didn't You Used To Be Pudge Rodriguez?

Pudge smiling: good thing someone took a picture

It hasn't gotten much play, because of the Pistons' dominance of sports headlines in this town of Detroit, but there is something going on that I am concerned about, yet can't quite put my finger on. It smacks of something that is bubbling just below the surface, and it ain't momma's homemade spaghetti sauce.

What on earth is going on with Pudge Rodriguez?

I don't mean at the plate, although he is falling short of expectations, despite having an okay season thus far. I don't mean defensively. He seems agile and still quite capable being the backstop, maybe due to his weight loss.

But he has been quiet -- oh, so quiet -- and it started during spring training and you wonder what is eating him. Now the Tigers have traded his friend, reliever Ugueth Urbina, and it seems there may be some controversy surrounding the move, namely Ugie's off-the-field and on-the-airplane behavior. But more on that later. Anyhow, Ugie is gone, and that can't possibly help Pudge's countenance.

If you don't see what I am talking about, think back to last season. Think about how quotable he was, and how much he seemed to smile. If that was the honeymoon, then you can kiss that goodbye, because Pudge just isn't the same guy as he was in 2004.

I never hear hide nor hair from him anymore. I can hardly think of one quote I've read of his since spring training began. He is spoken about, still, but doesn't speak. Pudge is wearing a sour puss, and I have no idea why.

Of course I must admit, I don't know Pudge and I may be full of pine tar when I bring this up, so I can only go by comparison, but the 2004 Pudge and the 2005 Pudge are almost 180 degrees different, and I don't mean just by what the numbers on the scale say. He reminds me of an emperor without clothes, or clothes with no emperor. Either way, it's not good.

To be fair, I haven't heard one negative word about Rodriguez from his teammates or manager, so again, I could be accused of sniffing the Ben-Gay. But it's also eery to me how I haven't heard anything about it from the media folks, either. Why isn't anyone writing about something that appears, on the surface, to be fairly auspicious? The only thing I read was a cryptic line from one of the Tigers' beat writers back in March, indicating that he noticed a burr in Pudge's britches. But after that, nothing. Maybe when the Pistons are done, someone from the newspapers will see what I'm seeing. Or rather, not hear what I'm not hearing -- from Pudge.

Rodriguez isn't even on the record when it comes to the team's play anymore, and that's another odd thing. With other teams in Detroit and other cities, you usually hear and read the most from the stars, the leaders. Imagine following the Red Wings and not hearing a peep from Steve Yzerman. Doesn't compute, does it? I mean, come on, Dmitri Young isn't that much of a larger-than-life figure. There's room for others to talk, too, especially the richest catcher in baseball.

And regarding Urbina, now it is rumored that Ugie may have been involved in some sort of altercation on the team flight to Los Angeles last Sunday night, which greased his skids out of Detroit. And it didn't take much to read GM Dave Dombrowski's post-trade comments and see that he hardly denied the reported altercation. "I don't make it a practice to discuss what happens on the team plane or in the clubhouse," Dombrowski was quoted in today's Detroit Free Press. Pleeease. That's one of the weakest "denials" I have ever read. But Dombrowski is a smart, savvy man, and he knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted people like me to believe the Urbina altercation story, and so crafted a wonderful denial that was so weak it was brilliant. Mission accomplished, because I believe something indeed happened on that flight to Los Angeles. And that "something" is what contributed greatly to Urbina now being an ex-Tiger.

How the Urbina trade effects Rodriguez, only time will tell. But it can't possibly put him in a better mood. But then again, you wonder how much worse he can get at the same time.

Stay tuned.

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