Joe RudiMarch 31, 2009
One great thing about the 1975 set of cards, my favorite set, is that the back of the card provides the player’s full name. None of the cards from the other years in my childhood allowed this intimate a glimpse into who the player really was. I guess this was probably not true of everyone, but when I was a kid my middle name was a tightly guarded secret (as was the middle name of all the other kids in my school), and my middle name was not only more common, thus less obviously mockable, than my first name, but was also given to me in tribute to my grandfather, whom I loved. Still, I held tight to the secret of my middle name, Andrew, as if it was Horatio or Mortimer or Sue, and when it was finally pulled out of me I felt naked and embarrassed, as if I’d been forced to disrobe, revealing that I had a curly tail at the base of my back.
That’s not what I set out to blab about this morning, but in perusing the stats on the back of this 1975 card I got snagged for a while on the beauty of being able to know that this standout’s full name was Joseph Oden Rudi. An era was ending in 1975. On one level, the era that was ending was the Oakland dynasty that, to me, Joe Rudi epitomized. The success of that team on the field, despite its legendary flash and exploding eccentric facial hair and Charlie O. Finley and Reggie “Superduperstar” Jackson, was built on the kind of all-around competence that Rudi quietly displayed while manning left field and knocking in runs in the middle of the batting order. On another level, the era that was ending was an era that offered a more intimate connection to the players in the game. By 1976, “Oden” would be gone, as would “Pasquali,” “Herman,” and “Bartholomew.”
Anyway, Joseph Oden Rudi was a good player. (Interestingly, Joe Rudi, i.e., the version of the player from 1975 on, went into a gradual decline.) Was Joseph Oden Rudi great? No, he was exactly good. His one area of excellence was as a fielder, however, and he most famously displayed his skills there during the A’s first championship, making a great catch in the 1972 World Series. (This catch is mentioned on the back of this card.)
In his honor, I’m now finally going to do what little I set out to do when I started writing today: assemble the all-time Cardboard Gods fielding team. This team is comprised of players from my era of collecting cards, and it is based on their exploits during that era (hence, for example, the exclusion of Brooks Robinson and, sadly, Carl Yastrzemski, whom I couldn’t justify including over his main competitor in left field, Joseph Oden Rudi.) Anyway, here it is…
P: Jim Palmer. He gets the nod over aging Jim Kaat, who is generally considered the best-fielding pitcher of all time. I wasn’t aware of this, but Palmer won several Gold Gloves in the 1970s, which, considering his Cy Young awards and World Series titles and good looks and wealth, seems kind of greedy on his part. How about giving someone else a chance, Palmer?
C: Johnny Bench. Kind of a no-brainer, although there were other great-fielding catchers in that day, including Jim Sundberg and Bob Boone. Like Palmer, the superstar Bench seems to have been kind of greedy with the trophies.
1B: Keith Hernandez. Mex and Steve Garvey won the same amount of Gold Gloves during the Cardboard God era of 1975 through 1980, but Hernandez gets the nod here because of his reputation as likely the best fielder to ever play the position.
2B: Frank White. If a shrink doing a word association exercise with me said “Gold Glove,” I’d probably say “Frank White.”
SS: Dave Concepcion. He gets the nod over Mark Belanger, who was starting to fade by the end of the arbitrary yonder border of the years from which this team is comprised (i.e., my puberty).
3B: Mike Schmidt. I guess he was the best. It’s not like I ever studied his play, or the play of anyone here, on an inning by inning basis. I was tempted to go with Graig Nettles here, even though I hate his guts.
LF: Joe Rudi. Then, as now, Gold Gloves in the outfield were often given regardless of position. In the National League, for example, three centerfielders were often honored in the same year (two Cesars, Cedeno and Geronimo, and the Secretary of Defense mentioned below). Rudi and Carl Yastrzemski were the only players, as far as I can tell, who won the award as a left-fielder during the era in question, and Rudi won it two times (in 1975 and 1976; he also won a third in the Cardboard God border year of 1974) to Yaz’s once (in 1977). However, an interesting claim could be made for Yaz on the basis of his almost singlehandedly dethroning the A’s dynasty in the 1975 playoffs with, in part, some spectacular fielding in left field.
CF: Garry Maddox. I believe the man whose range was such that he was able to cover one-third of the earth’s surface is the only player to win a Gold Glove in every one of the years in which I heavily collected baseball cards.
RF: Dwight Evans. Sparky Anderson called Dewey’s catch in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series “the greatest catch I have ever seen under the circumstances.” And he was just getting started. Just try to take that extra base on Dwight Michael Evans. I dare you.