Jim Leyland: 'Pudge is on a mission'
Jim Leyland managed Ivan Rodriguez for two seasons with the Detroit Tigers. Rodriguez helped lead the franchise to the World Series, and Leyland came to know what motivates Rodriguez, what kind of player and man he is.
As Rodriguez nears the end of his career, hitting as well as he ever has with a .338 batting average, Leyland senses what keeps Rodriguez playing at such a high level at 38.
"Pudge is on a mission to get 3,000 hits," Leyland said. "And I think he'll get it. He's a durable guy, takes good care of himself. He wants 3,000 hits. I think he'll get it. He's been able to last because he's got himself in great shape. He had a good body to start with. He works hard. He goes to the gym on the road. He's a remarkable guy. He really is.
"It's amazing what he's done. He continues to do it. He'll continued to do it until he gets 3,000 hits. He's locked into 3,000. People can talk about everything else they want. He's a proud guy. He wants to be in that 3,000 hit club, and he's a determined guy, and I believe he'll do it. And I hope he does."
For his part, Rodriguez admits he is taking aim at the milestone. Earlier this season, Rodriguez said he wants to play four more seasons. He has 2,758 hits, and four years would give him ample time to reach 3,000.
"Absolutely," Rodriguez said. "I'm not too far from there. I'm just going to take it one at-bat at a time, one game at a time and just keep playing hard. When that moment comes, it's going to be unbelievable. To be able to reach 3,000 hits in the major leagues is a great accomplishment. I'm just looking forward to staying healthy and to continue to contribute to the team to win some ballgames."
It's not striking for a player to want to reach a milestone, particularly one so venerated and within such close reach. It may be striking to hear him so easily and openly speak about an individual accomplishment. Leyland believes that's part of what makes Rodriguez, and any other great player, successful.
"I'll tell you this," Leyland said. "I haven't met a good player yet that wasn't a little selfish. I'll tell you that right now. Haven't met one. I haven't met a good player in all my years managing that wasn't a little selfish. It doesn't mean you're selfish in the wrong way. You can be selfish in the right way. But you're still selfish.
"I wouldn't give you a nickel for a player that wasn't a little selfish, myself. All the great ones have been a little selfish. Don't [kid] yourself. They have been. That doesn't mean they haven't been great team players, that they haven't come to beat the other team. That's got nothing to do with it. They're the guys that want to be up there. That's their moment. Call it whatever you want. I wouldn't give you a nickel for a player who didn't want to be up there with all the chips on the line."
Rodriguez's impact has been clear this year for the Nationals. While Rodriguez healed a back injury on the disabled list, the Nationals went 5-9. They have gone 4-1 in games he's started since his return, while Rodriguez has gone 7 for 16 with three doubles.
"How important is it to have a Hall-of-Fame caliber player in your lineup?" General Manager Mike Rizzo said. "It makes a big difference."
June 15, 2010; 7:06 PM ET
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