Monday, October 17, 2011

#264 - Joe Rudi

This card is sort of a big deal in this set. First of all, Joe Rudi's back! Joe took a hiatus in the '73 set since he was not one of the three players featured on his own card. It was an action card, but of Gene Tenace. Joe gets another action card in '74 and it's actually him lofting what appears to be a hit to right-center. And it's a big crowd which leads me to believe this is a playoff or Series shot since Oakland never filled the stands in the regular season. Joe's card also represents a milestone in the set as it represents the 40% mark of the total amount of cards. That means a recap is coming, but it'll be on the next post.

'73 was a mixed season for Rudi. He got hurt and missed a bunch of games. He was hitting around .217 in early June when he got benched by manager Dick Williams as Oakland was sort of floundering around the .500 level. But he and the team caught fire and Joe hit over .300 the rest of the way as the A's won their third division title in a row and returned to the post-season.

Joe Rudi grew up outside of Modesto California where he was a multi-sport star in high school. He was signed as a free agent by Kansas City in '64 after a few other teams lost interest because his hand was broken by a pitch his senior year. After a hot start in rookie ball that summer in a few games he cooled off in Single A ball. Until then mostly an infielder, Joe had a tough time at third base in Single A in '65 and it affected him at the plate. In '66 he stayed at that level but moved to Modesto - his hometown - and revived his average while hitting 24 homers and moving to the outfield. In '67 he sandwiched a Double A season in which he played mostly first and retained his stroke with a few games up top. Then in '68 it was back to the outfield in a few games at Triple A (where he certainly didn't have 74 RBIs as baseball-reference reports) but did well enough to spend the remainder of the season in Oakland, which turned out to be a bit challenging. In '69 an awesome season back in Triple A - .354 with 65 RBIs in 240 at bats - brought him back up for good as he rode out the season as an outfield and first base reserve guy.

In 1970 slugger Reggie Jackson held out and Rudi got his first significant starting time, responding well with a .309 average and 23 doubles in about half a season. In '71 Joe took over left field after the trade of Felipe Alou to the Yankees. He was doing pretty well offensively until he had to take two weeks off for his military hitch. He would then also miss a few weekends for the same reason and his offensive stats sort of tailed off the rest of the year. But '72 would be a huge year for him as his average pushed back above .300, he led the AL in hits and triples, and in the wake of his first All-Star nod Joe came in second to Dick Allen in AL MVP voting. In '74 he had perhaps his best offensive year, reaching a career high with 99 RBIs while leading the league in doubles, with 39, and total bases. Again he made the All-Star team and finished second in the MVP race and he also added his first Gold Glove. '75 was another All-Star and Gold Glove season although he missed some time and played primarily first base. His '76 season would be noteworthy because his mid-season trade to the Red Sox was nullified by Bowie Kuhn and in protest Charlie O benched Joe, which hurt his average. But he still put up 94 RBIs and won his third Gold Glove. After the season Joe left Oakland for California as one of the first big-name free agents.

Rudi got off to a pretty rocking start for the Angels but mid-season he would hurt his Achilles tendon and its condition would impact the rest of his career. He wound up hitting 13 homers with 53 RBIs in only 242 at bats. In '78 he was healthy as California improved significantly and his offense provided 17 homers and 79 RBIs. The next two seasons he would still be the primary left fielder but his playing time was hampered significantly by his Achilles ailments. In '79 he missed his last playoff action. Following the '80 season Joe went to Boston with Frank Tanana for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko. For the Sox he would do some reserve work and after the season would sign with Oakland for one last year of more of the same. '82 was his last year as a player and he finished with a .264 average with 179 homers and 810 RBIs. In the post-season Joe hit .257 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 38 games.

Rudi became involved in real estate while he was playing and has continued in that field on and off ever since. He also has done some work in insurance and even coached for Oakland a bit. In the late '80s he bought a farm in Oregon where he started and coached a local high school baseball team and went crazy with his ham radio hobby, putting up huge antennas on his spread (there was a small article about him with a photo in one of the "Where Are They Now?" SI issues a few years back). He has moved back and forth between there and the Modesto area since. His son played some minor league ball.

Joe gets one of those group of year-old props in his star bullets. The catch from the second one was pretty amazing as he pancaked himself on the outfield wall and barely held onto the ball (there is a photo montage of it linked to here). Joe was a big kid growing up and was six feet tall before he was 12, so the wresting is no surprise. He must have had lots of friends.

On the music side, in '73 Chet Atkins became the youngest guy inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but country music's not really my thing. Also around this time Joe Perry and Steven Tyler met for the first time at an ice cream store in New Hampshire, a significant moment for any Aerosmith fan.

These guys both played almost exclusively in the AL West:

1. Rudi and Reggie '67 to '75 A's;
2. Reggie and Lou Piniella '77 to '81 Yankees;
3. Piniella and Ed Kirkpatrick '69 to '73 Royals.

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