Iván Rodríguez did NOT get called up to MLB on his wedding day

On 31 March, I will become a married man. Patrycja, my beautiful bride, is probably tired of hearing me rattle on about obscure baseball arcana, but this felt like the perfect time to revisit one of the most famous – and misconstrued – weddings in baseball history: that of Ivan ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez and Maribel Rivera in the early-1990s. Beyond the recycled mythology, there is more to this story than meets the eye, and a deeper exploration is most definitely required.

To those unfamiliar, of course, Iván Rodríguez was arguably the greatest defensive catcher of all-time. A bonafide Hall of Famer, Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves and appeared in 14 All-Star games during a glistening 21-year career. A World Series champion and American League MVP, Pudge – so named by a Texas Rangers coach – became known for throwing out would-be base-stealers with a cannon arm behind the dish. He also hit 311 home runs and notched 2,844 hits as an underrated offensive force. Put simply, there was nobody quite like Pudge.

Yet, along with the awards and accolades, Rodríguez is remembered by particularly nerdy baseball fans for an unprecedented – and perhaps apocryphal – event that occurred at the very start of his professional career. You see, according to legend, Pudge Rodríguez got married and made his MLB debut on the same day. And that yarn became indispensable to his origin story – despite somewhat dubious verification. 

According to most retellings, Rodríguez was due to marry Maribel, his childhood sweetheart, on the field between games of a Tulsa Drillers doubleheader on 20 June 1991. Then 19, Pudge was a star for the Rangers’ Double-A minor league affiliate, but even seasoned prospect gurus were surprised when Rodríguez was promoted to the big leagues on his wedding day. Pudge was also surprised, and those wedding plans had to be hastily rearranged.

Some say Rodríguez and Rivera got hitched in the morning – on the field or at the town hall, depending on who you ask – then raced to the airport and caught a flight to Chicago, where Pudge joined the Rangers, threw out two baserunners and caught Kevin Brown as the Rangers beat the White Sox, 7-3. A magical day all around, I’m sure you will agree. A fairytale, indeed, taken straight from the Hollywood playbook.

Perhaps understandably, that sweetened version of events – wedding in the morning, debut at night – has been repeated in books, on game broadcasts and across social media ever since. Even the Texas Rangers’ official accounts have propagated the story, which is pleasingly poetic – except, well, it never happened. The wedding was almost entirely misreported and misremembered. Rodríguez said as much himself in a 2017 autobiography:

“In fact, we had the rehearsal on the field on June 19. The plan was for us to marry in between games of a doubleheader the following day…On June 20, the day we were slated to be married, I was batting .274, which was a huge improvement from flirting with the Mendoza Line that first month. I was never a great hitter in the cold weather. Not many of us from Puerto Rico are since we are just used to the warmer conditions. My manager Bobby Jones called me in that afternoon before batting practice. I went into Bobby’s office, and he said, ‘I have to ask you a couple of things: do you want to get married and stay here in Tulsa? Or do you want to play in the big leagues?’ I said, ‘What do you mean? Of course I want to play in the big leagues.’ He said, ‘Alright, then you’re out of the lineup. They called you up. You’ve got to be in Chicago tomorrow. You need to talk to your girlfriend because you can’t get married. You guys have got to go.’ And I said, ‘No problem, no problem.’…

…I always appreciated that the Rangers and general manager Tom Grieve gave me the choice of staying for a day and being married or flying immediately to Chicago. Maribel wasn’t thrilled with postponing the wedding, but she was also completely supportive of my decision. There has also been a lot of confusion over the years on when we were officially married. The New York Times and other newspapers ran stories about how we married that morning at the Tulsa courthouse before I flew out. That’s not how it happened. We ended up being married the following spring training in Port Charlotte. We didn’t do anything in Tulsa. I have no idea where that story came from, but it became gospel thereafter.”


Rodríguez reiterated that explanation in a piece for the Players’ Tribune, and I’m inclined to believe the man. After all, who forgets their own wedding day? However, the peculiar thing about that original New York Times article – published 22 June 1991 – was the pristine credentials of its author, Pulitzer Prize winner Ira Berkow. Oh, and Berkow quoted Maribel herself in the piece, recounting oddly specific details of a Tulsa ceremony:

“…There would be a wedding, in the Tulsa courthouse, on Thursday [20 June] at 8:30 in the morning. Instead of her wedding dress, Maribel wore a blouse and shorts, and Ivan wore casual clothes instead of his baseball suit. ‘We didn’t have time for much else,’ said Maribel. ‘We had to throw all our stuff into suitcases right away because we had an 11 o’clock flight to Chicago.’”

Other esteemed outlets reported similar stories contemporaneously. The Los Angeles Times trailed the morning-wedding-evening-debut narrative, while a UPI game story by Carrie Muskat quoted Rangers manager Bobby Valentine, who said, “It’s been a nice day for him [Rodríguez]. He just stopped at the town hall on the way to the airport.” Even SABR, another source of noted detail, says “They rescheduled the wedding for Thursday morning, (in later years, Rodríguez said they actually got married during spring training the following year), then the couple flew to Chicago, where Rodríguez made his major league debut that night.”

Duly intrigued, I trawled public records to find a definitive answer. While digging through Ancestry.com, the world’s largest records archive, I found no match for an Oklahoma wedding between Iván Rodríguez and Maribel Rivera. In fact, I found no trace of a 1991 wedding at all. However, I did find a marriage certificate (#02211), dated 27 March 1992, processed by the Florida Department of Health, for a ceremony in Charlotte, Florida, where Ivanm (sic) Rodriguez Torres married Maribel Rivera Oliveri. That, I believe, is the famous wedding in question – staged during spring training of 1992, as Pudge always maintained.

As such, I’m somewhat confused by the pervasiveness and resilience of this myth. The original reporting from June 1991, citing a Tulsa wedding on the day of Rodriguez’ debut, remains an unsolved mystery. Maybe something got lost in translation, or perhaps a harmless tale told in jest found print and was subsequently aggregated. Regardless, Pudge and Maribel were married for 14 years. They also had three children together, before divorcing in 2006.

A year later, Pudge remarried. That ceremony was held in February, a few weeks before pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. Maybe Pudge learned his lesson the hard way, or perhaps he just had a thing for spring training weddings. His second wife was called Patricia, so Iván Rodríguez and I have something in common after all. The Rangers might even give me a call one week from Sunday. I will pack a chest protector just in case.

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