Longtime Tigers third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez killed in crash

Saturday, September 23rd 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT (AP) _ Aurelio Rodriguez, a model of consistency at third base for the Detroit Tigers during the 1970s, died Saturday after being hit by a car on the city's southwest side. He was 52.

Rodriguez was walking with an unidentified woman about 2 p.m. when the car apparently jumped a sidewalk and struck them before hitting a utility pole, police Sgt. Michael Matuzak said.

Rodriguez had to be pulled from beneath the vehicle and was pronounced dead at Henry Ford Hospital, Matuzak said. The 35-year-old pedestrian was in critical condition and the female motorist was in good condition at Detroit Receiving Hospital, spokeswoman Mattie Majors said.

``We're shocked and saddened to have lost one of our own, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family,'' said Tigers spokesman Tyler Barnes.

``He was a very personable kind of guy. He had a great smile. He was the kind of person everyone took to,'' Tigers broadcaster Ernie Harwell said from New York. ``We're going to miss him. I think he left his mark in Detroit.''

Rodriguez was living in Tucson, Ariz., while serving as the Arizona Diamondbacks' Rookie League hitting instructor. He had come to Detroit to sign autographs Sunday with Tom Brookens, another former Tigers third baseman, an official with Gibraltar Trade Center in Taylor said.

``He's going to be sorely missed,'' said former teammate Alan Trammell, now a first base coach with San Diego. ``Right now, I'm just a little bit in shock that he's no longer with us. It's just a sad day.''

Rodriguez, a native of Cananea Sonora, Mexico, broke into the major leagues with the California Angels in 1967. He was traded to the Washington Senators early in the 1970 season.

In what longtime Tigers general manager Jim Campbell called his biggest trade, Rodriguez went to Detroit along with shortstop Ed Brinkman and pitchers Joe Coleman and Jim Hannan in October 1970 for pitcher Denny McLain, third baseman Don Wert and outfielders Elliott Maddox and Norm McRae.

McLain had won 31 games and the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards for Detroit's 1968 world champions, and shared the 1969 Cy Young Award with Baltimore's Mike Cuellar. But by 1970 McLain had worn out his welcome in Detroit, following injuries and suspensions for consorting with bookmakers, carrying a handgun on the team plane and dumping a bucket of ice water on two sports writers.

Rodriguez played in at least 128 games in seven of his nine years in Detroit, and won a Gold Glove award in 1976.

``He solidified the left side of the infield with Eddie Brinkman,'' Harwell said. ``He had probably the best arm I've ever seen on any infielder, bar none. He wasn't a great hitter, but he had some key hits for the Tigers.''

Rodriguez stayed with the Tigers until 1979, Sparky Anderson's first as manager. By 1992, Anderson had used at least 43 players at third base.

``That was a nice man. He was a very nice human being,'' Anderson said Saturday from his home in California. ``He probably had as good a pair of hands on him as anybody, and a great arm _ the only two arms I've ever seen like that, (Travis) Fryman and him.

``We tried to get him when I was (managing) at Cincinnati on two different occasions. ... This guy was a great third baseman.''

Playing for manager Billy Martin's 1972 East Division champions, Rodriguez went hitless in 16 at-bats in Detroit's playoff loss to Oakland. Playing for the New York Yankees in the 1981 World Series, however, he hit .417 (5-for-12).

Rodriguez' big-league career with a total of seven teams ended in 1983. He finished with a .237 average with 124 home runs and 648 RBIs in 2,017 games.

Rodriguez played in the Mexican League as late as 1987 and coached in the Cleveland Indians' minor league organization in 1988. He returned to the Mexican League as a manager in the mid-1990s.