Aurelio Rodriguez came to Detroit in the Denny McLain trade. The third baseman replaced 1968 World Champion Don Wert and became a fixture for a decade. Although he only hit .237, Rodriguez possessed one of the great infield arms and fielded at a Gold Glove level. Rodriguez played on division champions and 100-loss teams. He provided a steady hand at third regardless of the team’s overall success or failure.
The California Angels purchased Rodriguez’s contract from the Mexican League in 1966. They traded him to Washington in 1970 and the Senators flipped the infielder to Detroit at the end of the year. Detroit received Rodriguez, starting pitcher Joe Coleman, shortstop Ed Brinkman and pitcher Jim Hannan for Denny McLain, Don Wert, and two others. McLain and Wert were passed their prime and the other players never amounted to much. Meanwhile, Coleman emerged a 20-game winner, Brinkman was a MVP candidate in 1972, and Rodriguez became Detroit’s starting third baseman for the decade.
Rodriguez was remarkably consistent for Detroit. His average never topped .265 and he averaged .239 in nine Tiger seasons. He occasionally demonstrated some pop hitting 10 or more home runs on four occasions. The third baseman averaged 52 RBI for his career with a Tiger high of 60 in 1975. Rodriguez highest OPS with Detroit was .688 in 1971. Rodriguez specialty was defense, so any offense was a bonus.
Defense kept Rodriguez employed for 17 seasons. Tiger announcers referred to his arm as a “howitzer” and visiting teams marveled at the Tiger’s arm strength. Additionally, he led the American League in fielding percentage twice and became the first man since 1959 other than Brooks Robinson to win a Gold Glove at third. He never wavered defensively regardless of the team around him.
The Tigers won the 1972 AL East title with Rodriguez and a bunch of veterans. The team lost to Oakland in the ALCS with the third baseman going 0-for-16 in the five games. The team won 85 games the next season before age caught up with it. Detroit did not have another winning season again until 1978 and lost 102 games in 1975. The Padres purchased Rodriguez’s contract in December 1979 just as Detroit seemed on the verge of contention. The Tigers won the World Series five seasons later. Rodriguez played for four more teams until 1983 and hit .417 in the 1981 World Series for New York.
Rodriguez played in the Mexican League after his major league career. He retired after 1987 and moved into coaching. The former Tiger managed in the Mexican League in the 1990s. He returned to visit Detroit in 2000 when a car jumped a curb and killed him. The original A-Rod is buried in a Mexican baseball stadium.
Aurelio Rodriguez played nine seasons with Detroit. Although not a great offensive player, Rodriguez provided high caliber defense. Few players have ever had as strong an arm as A-Rod, who became the player to unseat Brooks Robinson as the American League Gold Glove third baseman. Rodriguez played for division winners and 102 loss teams over his decade. In the end, he played at the same level regardless of the team’s success or failure.