(This is part of a series of posts about the 2017 Hall of Fame inductions. Read them all here.)

When Ivan Rodriguez first came on the scene in the very early 1990s, he brought a lot of hype with him.

Of course, many hotshot rookies have similar stories — they’re the next Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, or Steve Carlton.

But Rodriguez’s advance billing came with a grain of salt.

Sure, he was a great defensive catcher, but no one was quite sure if his bat could stand up to Major League pitching.

Unlike most young players, though, Rodriguez lived up to his promise and then some.

Not only did he develop into one of the best catchers ever behind the plate, he also built himself into a force at the plate.

Thanks to those efforts, Pudge will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, during the summer of 2017.

For longtime collectors, Rodriguez’s enshrinement brings back great memories of our hobby before the bust. He’s one of the last players from our youth who will make it to Cooperstown through the writer’s ballot — most of the rest will need help from the Veterans Committee.

To help you get in the mood for some old-time collecting with a Pudge-y flair, here are seven (in honor of Pudge’s uniform number) great Ivan Rodriguez cards from the early days of his career.

1989 ProCards Ivan Rodriguez (back)

1989 ProCards Ivan Rodriguez1989 Procards Gastonia Rangers Ivan Rodriguez

Back in the late 1980s, dedicated minor league cards staked their claim to the pre-rookie market much as Bowman would do a few years later.

When Rodriguez made his minor league debut for the Gastonia Rangers in 1989, both the Star Company and ProCards were there to chronicle the event on cardboard.

If you want a pure 1980s Pudge card complete with a back that looks like it came straight off your high school typewriter, though, the ProCards issue is the one you need.

And it can be yours for less than $50 most of the time, and occasionally less than twenty, with PSA 10 copies pushing toward $75 or more.

1991 Bowman Ivan Rodriguez1991 Bowman Ivan Rodriguez

In 1991, Topps was still trying to figure out what to do with the resurrected Bowman line.

The set had debuted two years earlier as an oversized nod to the hobby’s past but, while collectors enjoyed the large and colorful photos, we were less enthused by the cards’ refusal to play nice with the rest of our 2-1/2″ X 3-1/2″ treasures.

The Bowmans were too big!

Topps trimmed the cards down to a standard size in 1990 and, in 1991 hit on the formula that would carry the set so far in subsequent years: rookie cards!

Among the 150 or so first-year cards in that 1991 set are standouts such as Jim Thome, Chipper Jones, Jeff Bagwell, Luis Gonzalez, and Kenny Lofton.

1991 Topps Traded Ivan RodriguezAnd, of course, Pudge Rodriguez.

For just a few bucks, you can have the first widely distributed Major League card of a Hall of Fame catcher … what could be better than that?

(PSA 10 copies sell for $150-200.)

1991 Topps Traded Tiffany Ivan Rodriguez

The more you look at the 1991 Topps base set, the more you realize it could have been a Bowman issue from the same era.

For their 40th anniversary set, Topps dropped all the garish borders and wild colors of the 1980s and went with a simple design that emphasized the player photo — and the company’s own celebratory logo.

Rodriguez didn’t appear in the full set, but T.C.G. made sure to include the rookie in their 1991 Fleer Ultra Ivan Rodriguezyear-end Traded set.

Today, even the glossy “Tiffany” version won’t set you back more than $10 raw, though if you opt for a PSA 10 you’re looking at several hundred dollars.

1991 Fleer Ultra Update Ivan Rodriguez

Fleer helped kick off the era of “ultra premium” baseball cards with their 1991 issue named, appropriately enough, “Ultra.”

The hype around Ultra was soon surpassed by the glare of Topps Stadium Club, and the continued build-up of 1990 Leaf as Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa launched their monster careers.

After a few years, it became apparent that Ultra was not really very limited, but this Pudge card is still one of his rookies and represents a piece of hobby history — the first card of a Hall of Famer in a  groundbreaking set.1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations Ivan Rodriguez

Even if it is just an “Update.”

Today, this card can be yours for less than $30 in even the highest grades.

1992 Fleer Rookie Sensations Ivan Rodriguez

In 1992, Fleer caused a hobby “sensation” by issuing one of 20 “Rookie Sensations” cards in each of its jumbo packs of 35 cards.

Featuring big names like Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas, Sensations also offered up the first card of slugger Phil Plantier.

The cards were thick and shiny, and pretty limited, at least compared to most of the other material being pushed out by the millions that summer.

As the buzz around Plantier continued to grow, he pulled Sensations along with him, and they were the hit of the hobby most of that season1993 Upper Deck Ivan Rodriguez.

While the Rodriguez card never got the kind of love that Plantier’s did, it’s still a solid early-career issue that you can buy for a few bucks or so on eBay, with PSA 9 copies hitting $100 or more and PSA 10s pretty much nonexistent.

1993 Upper Deck Ivan Rodriguez

This one is all about aesthetics.

By 1993, virtually every card was being produced in quantities large enough to paper your office walls, and you can pick this one up for less than a dollar these days.

But when it comes to a striking visual of a modern catching great, this one is hard to beat.

You can’t see much of Rodriguez’s face on this card, but you do get his intense eyes and a hint of teeth. Is he going to catch the ball with his mouth? Bite the batter?

Whatever Pu1994 Topps Stadium Club Ivan Rodriguezdge has in mind, I wouldn’t want to cross him.


1994 Topps Stadium Club Ivan Rodriguez

Like the ’93 Upper Deck above, this Stadium Club issue won’t break your bank and it won’t give you much return on your investment down the line.

But, also like the UD card, Topps gave us an awesome glimpse into the on-the-field life of one of the game’s great catchers with this beauty.

Someone has just popped up, and Rodriguez is blasting out of his crouch to give chase.

If I had to bet, my money would be on this play ending in an out.

Another Rodriguez play — and card — worthy of the Hall of Fame.


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