By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ivan Rodriguez, the second catcher ever elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, said on Thursday hard work, not steroids, carried him to the Cooperstown, New York, shrine.
Rodriguez denied using steroids during his Major League Baseball career as alleged by former Texas Rangers teammate Jose Canseco, who wrote in his 2005 book, "Juiced," that he personally injected the catcher.
When pressed at a news conference in New York marking Wednesday's election of Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines to the Hall of Fame, on whether he used performance-enhancing drugs, the 45-year-old Puerto Rican said: "No I didn't.
"What I did was work very, very hard physically and mentally. I think that was the key to my career.
"That is the most important thing, the amount of work ... day in and day out to be the best. I played hard and did my best to do it.
"I was a player that played the game the right way. I was a very disciplined player, work hard and do the best that I can."
Fueling some of the suspicion sparked by Canseco's book, was that Rodriguez reported to spring training with the Detroit Tigers in 2005, the year after MLB began testing for steroids and punishing their use, more than 20 pounds lighter.
Rodriguez, who went by the nickname "Pudge," denied the allegations at the time, saying he dropped the weight because it adversely affected his defense behind the plate.
A 14-time All-Star and winner of 13 Gold Glove awards for defense, the rifle-armed Rodriguez followed in the footsteps of his hero, Johnny Bench, as the only catchers voted in at their first opportunity.
Bench himself endorsed Rodriguez, who holds the major league record for games played as a catcher.
“He should be a lock,” Bench told Dallas Morning News reporter Evan Grant before the voting outcome was announced. "Thirteen Gold Gloves. As complete a catcher as I’ve ever seen.”
Rodriguez, who said he would go into Hall of Fame wearing a Rangers cap, was also an offensive force, compiling a career batting average of .296 with 2,844 hits over his 21-year career with 311 home runs and 127 stolen bases.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)