Friday, August 23, 2013

#584 - Ken Rudolph

In the last few posts we have had a couple of airbrushed cards. Technically this should have been another one since by the time this card appeared its subject had been traded to the Giants. In a bit of irony, then, Ken Rudolph is photographed at Candlestick, his future home. Ken was coming off his busiest year when the trade happened, having taken advantage of the continuing erosion of number one guy Randy Hundley to get some decent time behind and at the plate. Like most reserve catchers his offense wasn’t anything special and he made a few too many errors but he also threw out 42% of the guys that ran on him and that number was a discount to the ones he put up in past seasons. One of his biggest moments at bat that year was probably late in the season when he lined a single off Reggie Cleveland that would keep the Cubbies from being on the bad side of a no-hitter. That was the second time up top he pulled off that one.

Ken Rudolph was born in Illinois and at some point during his youth relocated to the Los Angeles area where he played football and baseball at Cathedral High and once threw a perfect game. From there he went to Los Angeles City College where he was team mvp before being drafted in the second round by the Cubs. After hitting .205 with good power in Rookie ball that summer he moved up to A ball where he hit .276. In ’66 he began his military hitch and around that hit .263 in A ball, again with decent power. That was followed by two more abbreviated seasons in ’67 and ’68. He hit .243 in A ball the first year but slid to .190 in a ’68 split between Double A and Triple A. After his second good IL season in a row that fall he made the Cubs roster to open the ’69 season and would spend the next three seasons shuttling between Chicago and the minors. His first hit up top was a pinch hit double against Cincinnati that began a winning rally. The first two years he spent time at Double A San Antonio, hitting .348 in a few at bats the first year and .250 the second. In ’71 his away time was in Triple A where he had his best offensive year with a .285 and 31-RBI year.

In Rudolph’s first few forays in Chicago he was either the second- or third-string guy behind the plate. The order didn’t really matter much because Randy Hundley generally played every day which would probably help wreck his knees in a couple seasons. In ’71 Ken lined a single in the ninth inning to break up a Juan Marichal no-hitter. It was his first hit of the year after going 0 for 17. That year Hundley missed nearly the whole season and in ’72 when he came back he needed to sit for extended periods so Ken got his first year of 100 at bats. At some point in ’73 the plan was to have him replace Hundley as the full-time guy – Randy was also traded prior to the ’74 season – but at some point that changed, my guess is due to Ken’s offensive output. So the Cubbies got a new number one guy from the Twins in George Mitterwald and Ken went to the Giants for pitcher Willie Prall. With the Giants he moved to the two spot behind Dave Rader, hit the game-winner in his first at bat, and upped his offense to .259 with a .350 OBA in his 158 at bats. After the season he and reliever Elias Sosa went to the Cardinals – they were both air-brushed on their ’75 cards – for Marc Hill, another catcher. St. Louis the next two seasons was similar to his early days in Chicago as Ken moved behind another catcher who rarely sat, Ted Simmons. In ’77 he was sold back to the Giants where he was almost never used behind Hill and Gary Alexander and was ironically replaced in St. Louis by Dave Rader. That July he was sold again, this time to Baltimore, who needed a quick fix for a few days while Rick Dempsey was injured. Ken did the job, hitting .286 in a few at bats, but was released after the season. Prior to ’78 spring training he signed on as a player-coach with St. Louis and pulled that role in Triple A where he hit .200 but had six dingers in only 110 at bats. That ended his playing time with an average up top of .213. In the minors he hit .250.

 In 1979 Rudolph returned to the Chicago fold where he managed the team’s Gulf Coast League franchise (he went 19-32). He seems to have then returned full-time to the Illinois area for a few years where he participated in at least one fantasy camp. By ’89 he had relocated to Arizona where he was operations manager at a UPS in Scottsdale. He also at some point obtained an education degree from the University of Nebraska – some commute from any of those places – and put it to use when in ’98 he began coaching baseball at Arcadia High School in Phoenix. He did that through 2012 when he retired. He is associated with a group in the area that does private baseball coaching. He has also had an affiliation with the Diamondbacks for a number of years as a coach and scout. He continues to reside in Arizona.

I dunno, I think Topps could have come up with a better star bullet than that second one. First off, they got the year wrong as Ken put up that average after being recalled in ’71, not ’72. Then it just invites one to ask what he hit the rest of the year which obviously wasn’t very good. That third star bullet is fun though. Through ’72 Ken threw out a pretty amazing 33 of 54 runners who attempted to steal on him. That’s a 61% clip. The cartoon is a trip also. I believe it is the most specialized and entrepreneurial off-season pastime seen thus far in the set. I wasn’t able to dig up any info regarding it though.

These two were almost always in different leagues and this one gets long:

1. Rudolph and Mike Caldwell ’74 Giants;
2. Caldwell and Ben Oglivie ’78 to ’84 Brewers;
3. Oglivie and Marty Pattin ’72 to ’73 Red Sox.

Off next week for vacation. See you in September. Happy Labor Day.

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