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Published: Sunday, 2/1/2004

Signing Pudge just what the Tigers need

Were he so inclined, Ivan Rodriguez could have looked at Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski and fallen out in hysterical laughter. And said something like, “Hit the bricks, pal.”

But he didn t. Forty million dollars is 40 million dollars.

Sometime this week, or next week, or maybe even the week after next, Rodriguez s four-year, $40 million contract will finally be finalized.

Rodriguez will set up shop in Detroit, and the next noise you hear will be owner Mike Ilitch, Dombrowski and manager Alan Trammell clicking champagne glasses.

When he makes it official, Rodriguez will be the newfound toast of Detroit, the most significant free-agent acquisition in club history.

The Tigers obviously need Rodriguez. The feeling is mutual.

Rodriguez, 32, will go down in history as one of the all-time great catchers. You can t add him to the lineup without feeling good about the Tigers turning a new leaf.

Desperate, the Tigers have offered Rodriguez one last payday, a golden parachute for his many years of outstanding service.

Bringing in a legitimate star athlete has been a rare thing in Detroit, and it becomes doubly important because the Tigers have fallen and can t get up.

Does 10 straight losing seasons ring a bell?

If the Tigers were a car, they d be recalled. If the Tigers were a rap artist, they d be Vanilla Ice.

Something drastic was needed.

Mission accomplished.

Offseason pickups Rondell White, Fernando Vina, Carlos Guillen, Jason Johnson, Al Levine and Mike DiFelice were merely appetizers to the main course featuring Rodriguez.

The scary thing about Rodriguez coming to Detroit for skeptical fans isn t that he s an injury risk.

No, it s why someone of Rodriguez s caliber would want to play for the Tigers. Rodriguez is every bit as good as advertised.

Ten Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star games in 13 seasons. American League MVP in 1999. A .304 career batting average. Undisputed leader of the world champion Florida Marlins last year.

As good as he is as a hitter, he s an even better catcher.

The way Rodriguez calls a game puts his pitchers at ease. He takes a load off pitchers and he also tosses out baserunners. He s a confidence-builder for Detroit s young pitching staff.

There s something at work in Detroit that is difficult to comprehend. I can t quite put my finger on it, but there s actually a sense of expectation among these Tigers.

My hat s off to Dombrowski. He s done a respectable job with limited resources.

Everybody looks at Dombrowski s record in his two years with the Tigers (98-225). That s not taking everything into account since he was brought in to manage payroll and develop the farm system. It s been a little unfair just to go off his record.

This is the first year that Dombrowski can be fairly evaluated from a talent-acquisition standpoint.

Dombrowski s success begins and ends with Rodriguez becoming a Tiger. And when in your wildest dreams did you think that would happen?

John Harris is The Blade s sports columnist. Contact him by e-mail at jharris@theblade.com



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