Few individuals had a greater impact on the 2003 Marlins than Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez did. Arriving via free agency on a $10 million “pillow contract,” he had arguably the most outstanding single season for a catcher in franchise history. The former AL MVP slashed .297/.369/.474 (122 wRC+), controlled the running game and led the Marlins with 17 runs batted in during their improbable postseason ride to the World Series title.
Even to this day, Marlins fans adore Pudge. His former colleagues? Not so much.
David Samson, who served as team president in 2003 (and for many years after that), reminisced about that season on Friday’s local hour of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz.
“People speculate—who are not in the game—about chemistry and winning and how they relate,” Samson says. “‘You have to have good chemistry, you have to like each other’...It’s absolute horse hockey.”
Simply put, “Pudge was treated differently” by the Marlins than fellow players who had less impressive résumés. Samson provides this example that allegedly created a “major problem” in the clubhouse:
People don’t talk about it now, but he actually left the team in ‘03 when he was not hitting well and he went to spend a few days with his own private hitting coach. That’s unheard of, and we let him do it because we really didn’t have a choice.
I was not in favor of it and here’s why: you can’t treat superstars differently because it impacts the dynamic of the whole team.
The “few days” in question here were May 25-27. Rodríguez was underachieving and the Marlins had just appointed Jack McKeon as interim manager to salvage the season. Publicly, McKeon insisted that Rodríguez was being given time off to fully recover from foot soreness. In 2017, Mark Simon of ESPN.com reported that Rodríguez was actually disciplined by McKeon “because he was in the clubhouse rather than available to pinch-hit during one game.” Samson’s version of the events clearly contradicts that.
Samson also describes pitchers Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett as being difficult to get along with, particularly Burnett who lacked maturity and work ethic at that relatively early stage of his career. On the other hand, then-rookie Dontrelle Willis was “so happy all the time” and well-received by teammates.
Later in the episode, Samson names Andrew Miller and Sean West among the most talented Marlins pitchers of his tenure despite their mediocre results. He puts Jeremy Hermida in the same category as a hitter.
Regardless of whether you choose to believe Samson’s stories, it’s an entertaining conversation.