Aurelio Rodriguez: The Detroit Tiger with the Golden Arm

Forty-six years ago, the Detroit Tigers had quite possibly the strongest arm in baseball in uniform, but he wasn’t even a pitcher.

In 1976, Tiger third baseman Aurelio Rodriguez ended Brooks Robinson’s string of 16 consecutive Gold Gloves at the hot corner. It was an award Rodriguez probably could have won a few years earlier. Robinson’s reputation earned him a few of the awards late in his career. Rodriguez was brilliant at the hot corner: quick with his feet, excellent range to his left, and accurate with his throws.

But it was his arm strength that was eye-popping.

“[He] has the strongest throwing arm I’ve ever seen for an infielder,” Billy Martin said of Rodriguez during his time at the helm of the Tigers. Other Detroit skippers were similarly impressed.

“Show me another player who can throw it [like] him,” marveled Ralph Houk.

“[I had a] guy in Cincinnati who could throw, Concepcion,” Sparky Anderson said when he arrived in Detroit in 1979. “[But] this guy has a rocket.”

That rocket earned a lot of attention for Rodriguez, a native of Mexico who debuted with the Angels as a 19-year old in 1967 based largely on his defensive skills. The Tigers snatched him from the Senators after the 1970 season in a blockbuster trade that also netted the Tigers Ed Brinkman and Joe Coleman, and sent troubled Denny McLain to Washington.

Rodriguez stepped right in to the third base job and though he was inconsistent with the bat at times, his defensive play and that Howitzer attached to his right shoulder kept him in the lineup. In 1978, the 30-year old Rodriguez went into the season as part of a platoon arrangement for Houk. He shared time with young Phil Mankowski, who was seen as the heir apparent at third base. But Rodriguez, who was affectionately called “Chi Chi” by teammates, had other ideas. Under the tutelage of batting coach Gates Brown, Rodriguez had the best stretch of his career at the plate, and as late as May 28 he was leading the league in batting.

But it was his arm that made Rodriguez famous. Perhaps no other player in his era was known for one part of his body than Rodriguez. His famous throws across the diamond caught the attention of teammates and opponents. Later, when Martin was back in New York working for George Steinbrenner he urged The Boss to acquire Chi Chi. Rodriguez served as an able backup to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles for two seasons.

Rodriguez had a simple explanation for his great throwing arm. “God gave it to me, and I just try to do what I can with it,” Rodriguez said. For 17 seasons and more than 2,000 games, Rodriguez – a .237 hitter with average power – did everything he could with his right arm. And it was quite a lot.

7 replies on “Aurelio Rodriguez: The Detroit Tiger with the Golden Arm

  • MK

    What’s amazing about Rodriguez is that his defense was considered to be so great that he remained a starting third basemen despite his below average offensive production at a traditionally “offensive” position. He probably deserved to win at least 2 more Gold Gloves in the early 70s.

  • Brent

    I liked mankowski a lot because of his batting ctance. but no way he should have played in front of aurelio. he was da man!!!!

  • Michael Harrod

    I was 10 ft from him in 1971 in Lupton, Michigan during the Deer hunters ball in Nov. that yr. He was there with many Detroit Tigers from the 68 campaign. Lolich & Stanley to name a few. They all left 1/2 way through the night because the Band introduced Mickey S and I turned around and saw all of them get up and leave before they got mobbed. All but Aurelio he wanted to stay all night hanging onto the end of the bar and get drunk. One of his hunting camp escorts stayed with him and we walked out with him after they kicked us all out when it closed. He had broken English but he did what he wanted and that was to get snockered!

  • Edgar Bertrand

    Aurelio Rodriguez was my uncle .. it just amazing read about him and people comment .. my dad always told me great story about him .. im 27 now so i just saw him in his coach era .. he really was a great person its just a shame what happend… i would love to ask him about major league now .

    • Bobby DePew

      He Edgar …. Mr Rodriguez was a very memorable Detroit Tiger for me. My Dad took me to a few Tigers games each season, & we always got seats over by 3rd base, so we had a very good look at your uncle. We had a great view of his terrific throws. I also saw him hit a few home runs, which was also a thrill. And he was a true gentleman on the field…. Just wanted you to know that he had an impact on me as a kid 🙂 ⚾️.

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