Royals broadcaster Rex Hudler is back in the Bronx where his major league career began in 1984 and 1985 with the Yankees. Hudler player for 13 seasons in the majors, finishing his career with the 1998 Phillies.
He spoke to NY Sports Day before Sunday’s game.
NYSD: When you’re back in the Bronx what do you remember most about being a Yankee?
RH: Taking the drive across the bridge with Ron Guidry as I was a September call-up and Ron Hassey would let me stay with him at his place. Lots of times he had business and he had to go early and he’d say, ‘Hey, Hud, you’re gonna have to go with Gator.’ I was like, ‘What? You mean I get to go with Gator.’ Hassey made it sound like The was a real problem. And I never said a word. I was nothing like I am now. I was all eyes and ears when I was a young Yankee. And that’s how it was back then. They don’t want to hear from the rookie. So I would just hold my breath, nearly, on the drive to Yankee Stadium. We lived in Franklin Lakes, or Hassey did, and gosh, I couldn’t wait to get to the ballpark. There was so much drama here. And this was the only thing I knew at the time. Because at the time, that’s my first big league organization, that’s my first taste of the big leagues. And there was so much that went on at the ballpark whether it was what was Yogi doing, what was Billy doing, Billy Martin, what was Mr. Steinbrenner saying? There was drama. And it was exciting. And then I had to pinch myself. My name was on a locker. It was kind of like a dream that I was actually a part of it. I was a player during the short time I was here but it was still a dream that I continue to live every day when I come back here even though it’s a new ballpark.
NYSD: How did you like playing for Yogi?
RH: I’ll never forget it. Spring training my first year with them, him and Carmen, his wife, were eating in a restaurant and me and another number one pick, Matt Winters, were standing nearby and we were looking at each other saying, ‘There’s Yogi. Yogi’s over there.’ We were in awe. He was our manager but we were young and he didn’t even know who we were. He comes up, he walks up and he goes, ‘Hey, Rex. Hey, Matt.’ He knew our first names and that really impressed me that he would get up, leave his wife and come over and say hi to us. That told me something about him, that he cared, he knew. And then getting to go to the ballpark, find out what a gentleman he was and he was like a father. He had a real soft touch to him. He had a tenderness to him even though he was this tough, rugged guy. I sat on the bench a lot here. I was backing up Willie Randolph. And they had an old fountain at the end of dugout. Yogi would come by and he would always go [coughing sounds]. He would cough up. And we would always laugh and count how many times he would cough up. This was a legend even then. He was a legend. We used to have fun. We would spit on each other’s shoes. We would throw water. Me, Butch Wynegar, Ken Griffey, the old man was like a kid. Ken Griffey Jr.’s dad, he was like a kid and here I am, the youngest one, I’m really the kid, Marty Bystrom. We used to have a lot of fun on the bench. One time Gene Michael said, ‘Hey, Steinbrenner’s watching you guys. No more goofing around on the bench.’ Because, you know, he had people watching inside so we had to tighten up and everything. But just how much fun. Pete Sheehy was the clubhouse man. He used to hang a hanger on the back of guys pockets. That was a little practical joke. He would pass out the checks and when he gave me my check he would hand it to me behind his back like I was stealing it. Pete Sheehy was the clubhouse guy for Babe Ruth. He was an old man. I would come up and stretch to get ready to go into a game and he’d go ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m stretching.’ ‘Eh. They never used to do that in my day.’ They would just go out and play. They’d go right from the bench to go on the field. They didn’t stretch their muscles or anything. So to me it was like a dream. It was a dream. Especially when I went on and played for so many other teams and for so many other years.
NYSD: And then playing for Billy Martin?
RH: That was an adventure. He stood behind me. I was a number one pick by the Yankees. And they had a lot of expectations. I was supposed to be Jeter for them. Even though we didn’t know about Jeter then but I was supposed to be their guy and take Bucky Dent’s job. But I just wasn’t ready. Just wasn’t time. But Billy came on and I was up in the big leagues. He would stand behind me when I took my ground balls at shortstop and there was a lot of pressure there and I would take every ball like it was the game. And I would be dead tired by the time I went to take batting practice. And then I would take batting practice and I couldn’t hit the ball out of the infield. I mean, it was a humbling time for me. And I understand, I have empathy for young players that come up and they’re just trying to get established. I remember how hard that was. They used to laugh at me in the batting cage when I would hit the ball. Here at Yankee Stadium the grass was thick and I couldn’t get the ball out of the infield. And I just remember Don Baylor and Toby Harrah and Roy Smalley and Ken Griffey, Rex Hudler. Well, what name didn’t go in that group? Mr. Steinbrenner would buy all his players. They always had veteran free agents that always came in. It was a little intimidating but I think I had respect from the guys because of the way I played. I played hard. I hustled. I ran hard and I kept my mouth shut and I think they respected that. I knew how to carry myself in the locker room. But it was very intimidating and I didn’t want to get laughed at anymore so I went to the weight room after that, after they laughed at me and I had to become a man. I was a boy in the big leagues and didn’t belong. I remember seeing a Mike Boddicker curveball from Baltimore. It started up over my head like in the sky and it fell down and I’d swing at it all day long trying to hit it. And it was a joke. I’m like ‘Really?’ Thankfully it everybody had a curveball like Boddicker did. But I remember just being totally overmatched. And then when Billy Martin got fired and Lou Piniella came on, it gave me another great opportunity to go play for another Hall of Fame manager in Earl Weaver. So my first three years in the majors was Yogi, Billy and Earl. Quite a contrast but all of them, some of our era’s greatest managers.
NYSD: How did you like Earl?
RH: Earl was fantastic. He was a yeller. And I was raised with this discipline from a Texas mom and dad. So I had discipline. I had manners. I was used to getting yelled at before. So it didn’t bother me at all. But I remember Earl, I made an error to end the game in a spring training game the first year I was with them. And he got me for insurance for Alan Wiggins because they had signed him as a free agent. And he yelled at me, undressed me in front of the whole team, in front of the whole dugout. ‘If you ever make a play like that again, I’ll send you so far back you’ll never see he light.’ And I sat there with my head up and looking at him thinking, ‘He knows my name.’ So there’s another Hall of Famer. Yogi knew my name and this guy knows my name. So I felt so proud of me. That he yelled at me was like a badge of courage. I felt like I was honored that he yelled at me. Going on, I only got a couple cups of coffee with him during my two-year run there but I got to learn a little bit about the Ripken Way and to get a little taste of Earl Weaver was a beautiful thing.
NYSD: You were always backing up Willie Randolph and Cal Ripken, these guys who would never be out of the lineup.
RH: Yeah. That’s just kind of how it was breaking in but I learned so much. I watched. I watched and I learned. But I knew that I had what it took to be a big leaguer. God blessed me with good speed. I could run. I had good hands. I could catch the ball. Defense is a big part of the game and as I evolved in my career as I learned how to hit a little bit later but thankfully my defense kept me in the game. And then I learned a little bit more how to hit as I grew up. Ended up having my best years in my 30s. In my mid-30s I had my best season. And that was the player that George Steinbrenner drafted. But it didn’t happen until I was 35. I signed with him at 17 so it took me a long time to mature and grow up but better late than never. It happened.
NYSD: When did you go from quiet, observant guy to nonstop talking?
RH: I want to say that I was comfortable being myself and who I was. Probably, I would say 10 years after I signed, 1988, 1989 with the Expos. I was determined. I had a big chip on my shoulder from doing 10 years in the minors. I was a little bit angry, a little bit ‘I’m going to take it out on my opponent.’ I started saying, ‘Look, it’s my turn now. I’ve arrived. I’ve waited long enough and it’s my turn.’ And I had the physical skills and the physical toughness to make a mark sometimes it was a physical mark on my opponent. I played with a chip for five years in the majors and then I got an opportunity to go to Japan. Going to Japan helped me. I learned how to play a little more under control because I was kind of a wild player and a utility guy for the first five years in the majors and then I learned how to hit a breaking ball a little better. We won. I got 450 at bats and I brushed up and I got better and so then I went on to come back and got five more years in the majors and completed my 10 years in. And I was playing to have fun. And I didn’t care. And I was myself. And I knew, I had a couple of two-year deals. Three two-year contracts so I knew I was a player. I knew I had something to offer because I had worked so hard and now it’s my turn to share with others and to love all my teammates and to have fun and to smell the roses. Because I knew it would be over someday. I knew it. And I kept going, everyday, ‘I’m not going to let anybody ruin my day today. I’m going to have fun. I’m a big leaguer.’ And so I took that with me until I was 37 years old. I was done. But I look back now and I don’t have any regrets. And the people I got to meet and the managers I played for. Yogi, Billy, Earl. I got to play for, Buck Rodgers was great, he was fun. Then they traded me to Whitey Herzog. Herzog traded for me, another Hall of Fame manager. He quit. I was so good he quit three months later. And then Red Schoendienst took over, another Hall of Famer, for two weeks and then Joe Torre took over. So I got to play for Joe Torre. And then at the end of my career I got to play for Terry Francona and Joe Maddon with the Angels. It wasn’t about my career. My numbers are terrible it you look at my numbers. I have terrible numbers as a baseball player. I was a journeyman who loved every stop, lived in every time zone, played in three countries. I met the woman of my dreams. So people go, ‘Hud, why are you so happy?’ And I go, ‘Why shouldn’t I be? It’s been a dream. I’ve been living a dream; 21 years as a player and now my 20th year broadcasting. To me, it’s a little hard to contain.