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Joe Rudi

March 31, 2009

joe-rudi-75

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.

24 comments

  1. I always thought it was hard to ascertain just how good Yaz was in the field because Fenway distorts things for a left fielder. I think Rudi is probably the wise choice for left. Right field is just the opposite (you really need a CF out there with an arm), and Dwight Evans seems like the logical choice, too, though I’d be interested to see if any Dave Parker or Ellis Valentine partisans are out there. Those guys had arms like Evans had, but I don’t know about the rest of their fielding game. I need a Fielding Bible expert to chime in.

    I loved the ’75 cards because they were so audacious and colorful, just like the ’70s themselves, but my favorite set is the ’76 set (not coincidentally, my first year of cards). I remember being on some Topps site after finding Cardboard Gods and the site saying the ’76 set was considered on of Topps best, and I felt good about that, as I felt a sense of ownership with the ’76 cards.


  2. “I need a Fielding Bible expert to chime in.”

    I second that emotion. All my choices are those of a subjective dufus.

    In addition to Parker and Valentine, Winfield has to be a contender for the rightfield slot.

    As for what set is the best, I bet many people would choose their first. I know elsewhere on this site someone has advocated for the 1981 set being the best, noting that it was their first; the claim was in reply to my disparaging remarks about the set, I think (that year was my last set; in fact I only bought a few packs before giving up altogether).


  3. I’m completely trusting in most of the advanced, data-driven offensive and pitching stats, even if I’ll never understand the math behind them, but when it comes to fielding I rather prefer to be a “subjective dufus.”

    I’ve always been partial to the 74s because they were the first set that I really ate up, and I liked that they could go vertical or horizontal so as to accommodate the action photos. The 75s nailed the gaudy design that made the 70s great (the 72s were fun too) but the set itself seemed to include too few action shots.


  4. There was a set in the early 1980s that included the players’ full names. That’s how I found out Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver both went by their middle names. I thought there might be some kind of a pattern, but it didn’t check out with Steve Carlton or Jim Palmer.


  5. Did anyone else think they were about to see the All-Middle Name Team revealed? Curtis Montague Schilling is already in contention for getting the start on Opening (Fucking) Day.


  6. connected in a roundabout way..my favorite middle name player has to be Trot Nixon. ‘Christopher Nixon’ just doesn’t have the same Dirt Dog swagger.

    Toss in David Jonathan ‘J.D.’ Drew. Though, I guess he went by JD when he was younger when it stood for Jonathan Drew.. So, we’re actually saying Jonathan Drew Drew when we say J.D. Drew.

    When was the last time a team had a right fielder and his successor who both went by their middle names and wore the same number? It has to be pretty close to never.


  7. I am also a big fan of the 1975 cards, and it was from that set that I probably collected the most cards. I loved that early 70s A’s team and made a point of collecting the entire A’s team from the 1975 set, including if I recall correctly, the rookie card that included Phil Garner.


  8. Cell phones? Email? Twitter? Meh. Joe Rudi is sticking with the ham radio:

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2007/baseball/mlb/06/25/watn.rudi/


  9. Rudi was so underrated that he was overrated. I remember my dad being excited when the Red Sox bought him. I had something else to say, but a rep of ours just called and derailed my train of thought.


  10. I was pumped when it looked like Rudi and Fingers were coming to the Red Sox (Bowie Kuhn put the kibosh on the deal). By the time he finally did come to the Red Sox a few years later, he was pretty much through.


  11. This entry was hilarious, thanks for that Josh. I wonder if the closely guarded middle name battle will ever go out of style.

    Can’t wait for opening day….


  12. It’s funny how widely Topps sets can be interpreted or appreciated…and how we scrutinized them as youths. Around our neighborhood, the 1975 set was heavily scoffed at, mostly because there was a complete dearth of action photos in the series. Points were also taken away 1) because of the sets’ odd assignment of color combinations to each team’s cards (“Why don’t they just use team colors!!!”), and 2) the lack of landscape/horizontal cards. In general, we considered it one of the most boring sets of the decade. That said, I completely respect your opinion in the matter as highly personal/subjective and therefore beyond reproach.


  13. Dwight Evans was my favorite player-ever. Used to bat like him. I played right field, too-but only because I stunk.

    I wonder if the Rudi-Fingers sales go through we end the Bambino talk 30 years earlier?


  14. Long time reader, first time commenter…

    I liked Rudi when I was a kid, probably because of his cool name (easy to cheer for a guy named Rudi/Rudy, ask any Golden Domer) but I always associated him with the Angels when I was growing up because I started collecting cards in 1978 and really got serious in 1979, both sets that pictured Rudi as an Angel.

    He must have been a popular guy on those teams, especially with the writers. Twice he was runner up in the AL MVP with more deserving players, including teammate Reggie Jackson in 1974, finishing behind him.


  15. “Rudi was so underrated that he was overrated. ”

    I feel the same way about Rudi (The Rusty Greer Syndrome). I was puzzled as a kid as to why he was such a star. Granted, at the time I didn’t realize how depressed offensive numbers where the early ’70s, but even through OPS+ glasses, he seems to have been a bit overrated. Looking at him now, he was probably better than my childhood self thought, but runner-up in the MVP race seems a bit too much.

    He hasn’t played in 27 years and I’m not sure what to think of him. Bill James I am not.


  16. stevechasey:
    Thanks for the kind words. I can’t wait for opening day either, especially since my college hoops bracket has already experienced its annual shredding.

    wisconsinteams:
    “Around our neighborhood, the 1975 set was heavily scoffed at, mostly because there was a complete dearth of action photos in the series.”

    I can totally see that, but I think since it was my first set this somehow added to the set’s ability to get under my skin. Those wax figure poses in the 1975 cards have more resonance for me than any other photos from later years, and the few action shots in ’75 stood out very memorably as well, even (or especially) the odd action shots (see my post on Rudy Meoli of the Angels).

    spudrph:
    Tha Fingers-Rudi sale would have helped. I don’t know where Rudi would have even fit into the lineup (didn’t we already have a billion talented outfielders then?) but Fingers would have shored up a glaring deficiency. Perhaps the deal was killed because it would have put the Red Sox over the Mustache Cap (see my post on Angel Rick Miller for explanation of that term).

    livnlegend:
    Thanks very much for chiming in! I appreciate it.


  17. Rudi was superfluous, but the Red Sox bullpen ace at the time was Jim WIlloughby. I never read that Mustache Cap entry before. Hilarious.


  18. I was five the year we had Joe Rudi. I just remember singing “Joe Joe Rudi” to the Roto-Rooter jingle.


  19. i always liked the way rudi played the outfield. with his mustache and straightforward name, he seemed like a hardworking blue-collar kind of guy who was difficult not to appreciate.

    palmer even got to hit some home runs before the dh took over. it still bothers me greatly that he attempted that ridiculous comeback.


  20. Never hated the A’s as much as I should have for beating my Bums in ’74. I had always admired Campy and then the style of the early ’70s team. Must be something to have had them as the team that you fell in love with as a kid. For me, is was the early ’60s Dodgers.


  21. topps is responsible for making me an A’s fan. growing up in new mexico, i wasn’t beholden to any regional allegiances (not in baseball, anyway — in football it was either the cowboys or broncos … though when i was old enough to make up my mind, i became a Pats fan — and this is when they sucked).

    i first started getting into baseball in 1977, and while i pulled for the Yankees in the series, something kept me from becoming a full-fledged NY fan (thank jebus). the albuquerque dukes were a dodgers affiliate, and so a lot of people around here were dodger fans, but i couldn’t get with that either.

    it took my friend brock’s baseball card collection to lead me to the team that would be an obsession throughout the rest of my formative years. those 1978 A’s cards were mesmerizing … the colors, the elegant cursive script … I’d stare at them transfixed for hours. and when my best friend’s brother pulled out Statis-Pro Baseball and asked me to play, I chose the A’s. for better or worse, my fate was sealed.


  22. granthartisgod:

    That’s a great story about how you became an A’s fan. Honorable, too, considering that jumping on the A’s bandwagon at that time was about as far from front-running as a person could get. Must have been very gratifying when Rickey came along.


  23. Rickey’s arrival was extremely gratifying. Needless to say, Rickey quickly became my favorite, and he remains my favorite to this day.

    Forgot to mention that the seeming ubiquitousness of the Oakland Coliseum in those late ’70s cards probably played a part in me being seduced into A’s fandom. When dad took me to Oakland in 1980 (Mickey Klutts hit a walk-off tater off Ron Guidry in my first-ever in-person game), it felt like I’d made it home, in some strange, over-romanticized way.

    I’ve never forgiven, and never will forgive, Al Davis for that monstrosity in center field.

    Congrats on the pub in the NYT, by the way. The big time beckons!


  24. The first baseball card pack I ever had contained the 1975 Joe Rudi. I recall looking over this single pack of cards for hours on end. (The only other card I remember in that pack was Teddy Martinez with the Mets. I started to hate Teddy Martinez because the dub showed up again in my second pack I purchased.) But the glaring vibrant yellow and kelly green of the Rudi card made me love those 70′s A’s.

    I do think Rudi was underrated. Defensively, he made some great grabs in the ’74 series as well. Solid, excellent ballplayer and a major key to the A’s run in the ’70′s.



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