Written by Don Scott
One of the featured speakers at the 2011 Reading Hot Stovers Banquet was a guy who was a New York Yankee first-round draft pick, played more than 1,000 minor league games, spent 21 years in pro baseball and followed that with 11 years as a radio analyst for the Anaheim Angels. Quite a career for Rex Hudler, who admitted he went from prospect to suspect in a hurry.
“I had a full ride to Notre Dame but convinced George Steinbrenner to give me a $150,000 signing bonus in 1978, the most he had ever given at that time,” the outgoing Hudler said. “I spent ten years in the minors, didn’t get to the majors for the first time until I was 28 and eventually ended up playing for 18 different teams.
“I wasn’t the greatest player but there were certain things I could bring to a team that made it work,” he continued. “I was a personality who had fun and enjoyed playing. By the end of my career I was able to hit lefties pretty well too.”
Hudler’s first major league stop came in 1984 when he finally appeared in a Yankees uniform, with Yogi Berra as the first of many Hall of Fame managers he would play for, he pointed out.
“That was Yogi’s last year as a Yankee manager because he was fired and replaced by Billy Martin,” said Hudler. “I got traded to Baltimore where Earl Weaver was in charge so my first three big league years I played for Yogi, Billy and Earl and had no idea the kind of characters they were until later.
“Next it was Buck Rodgers, who traded me to Whitey Herzog, who quit so I played for Joe Torre, and I finished up with Terry Francona in Philly in 1998,” said Hudler. “Torre will tell you I got him fired and Yogi to this day still says the same thing. They all remember me because I as an energy-type player, so I’m happy I made an impression on someone.”
When he hung up the spikes, Hudler didn’t stray too far from the diamond. He just took his act to the broadcast booth for the Angels, and now does the Rex Hudler Wonder Dog Hour Saturdays on a Los Angeles station.
“As a radio personality I’m in the love business,” he explained. “Being a former player I’m one of them and can get more out of them in an interview than a big name guy that never put on a jock strap because they know me and trust me.
“I talk about some of my battles and if they get sassy with me I remind them that in 1994, when there was no World Series – and I’m not proud of that – is the reason they sleep by themselves in their own room and is the reason when they go to the bank the money is so heavy,” Hudler continued. “We struck for those things they now have.”
Looking back on his bonus money, Hudler laughed and said, “Doesn’t sound like so much now, but that was the most George had ever given and I’m proud of that.”
As to his relationship with ‘The Big Man, Hudler said: “He was great to me and took care of me because I was his number one pick.”
When questioned about the state of the game he loves so much, he didn’t hesitate at all with a reply. “What needs to happen for baseball is the older guys must mix with the younger ones and share their storie,” Hudler said. “The younger ones need to listen and hang out to hear about the game and people who made it what it is. They get paid so much now at an early age they often are overwhelmed and not sure what to do.”
“The veterans in the clubhouse need to be mentors because that’s their job and is why Terry Francona brought me to the Phillies,” Hudler added. “He knew I was a leader and Phillies type of player. I was there to help Scott Rolen and all the other rookies that year. That’s what a manager looks for, a vet to police the clubhouse and pass the game on. I was paid a good salary to come to Philadelphia to do that and I’m happy to see Rolen and some others are still playing.”