Photo by Tom with Kreativeshots.com
Interview conducted by David Saltzer - AngelsWin.com Columnist
Rex Hudler, a.k.a. The Wonder Dog, is a former Angels player and former radio/television color commentator. He recently wrote a book called "Splinters" in which he talks about his life, his faith, and his time in the Major Leagues. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with Rex Hudler to find out more about all of these issues as well as what Rex has been up to this offseason.
How are things? What are you up to?
Things are great. The last two weeks I’ve been doing my recordings for Sony for a Major League video game called “The Show”. I’ve been happy doing some color commentary for them. I’m wrapping that up. In the meantime, I’m a father of four children and trying to stay on the good side of my wife during the offseason, which is challenging at times. But I’m having a good time. I’m really enjoying the offseason and the fun I have being a part of my kids lives. That’s mainly what my job is.
I understand that you are doing some upcoming book signings. Can you tell us about them?
I frequent these Costco super markets around Orange County, and they heard about this book and were interested in having me come to do a book signing at their places. It will be fun to go out and see some fans and say “hello” and share my book Splinters with them.
Where and when will your next book signings be?
I am going to be appearing at the Tustin Costco [on El Camino Real] on the 12th—this upcoming Saturday from 11:00 am until 1:00 pm.
What inspired you to write a book?
Over my 21 year baseball career, and then the 10 years as a broadcaster, there were a lot of things out there that I wanted to share. I’ve had a writer, a ghost writer, follow me around for 5 years off and on and I just told him stories and he kept an audio log of it. And I told him stories about different teams and different leagues and 10 in the minors and 10 in the majors, 5 years in the American and the National, and living in 3 countries during those 21 years. There were some stories to be told and I wanted to share those. What finally got me the idea to do this book—my wife and I struggled back and forth—should we do it? Well, we didn’t have a publisher, so we decided that we would self-publish and go out our own pace. Do our own proof reading. And we learned an awful lot about the book industry, and how that all works during the process. But, I just wanted to have something to share, and it ended up being a memoir. It ended up being a book about my life, my faith, and a lot of the struggles I’ve had as a player, and some of the fun stuff. I shared about some of the different managers that I got to play for, and raising 4 kids—one of them with Down Syndrome. I call it Up Syndrome.
Can you tell us more about how you came up with the title for the book?
I wanted one word that could capture everything and Splinters came to mind and meant the splinters I collected because I didn’t play everyday in baseball. I rode the pine for nine lots of times. And then I realized it: everyone has splinters. I’m willing to share some of my splinters off the field and also some personal splinters in the hope that some people could be encouraged, or make me more human and be transparent in front of the fans in baseball.
When I read the book, it was just like I was sitting down having a conversation with you. Was that your goal in how you wanted to come across?
Not really. I didn’t have any idea, although I did know that there was not going to be an author’s words in there. They were going to be mine. We wrote the book. My wife and I, and my partner, Jim Rosenthal—he did a nice job. He’s a writer from New York. He’s a friend of mine. He’s a big baseball fan and a big fan of mine and he’s the one who encouraged me. He said “Hey look, let’s do something with all these stories that you’ve been telling over the years.” I didn’t have any idea that it would end up being all my words pretty much the way I say them. That’s okay. You know, whoever is my fan, I give them medals number one. But, number two, they have to be able to put up with the book. But, it’s a short read. It’s an easy read. There are a lot of pictures about my childhood, some of my friends, my spiritual mentors, and some people that other people may think are not important but were extremely important in my life. It was fun trying to capture some memories and jot them down in the hope that some people would be entertained but mainly encouraged.
What kind of reception have you had to the book?
Well, it’s been mixed. It’s been fun. I don’t have a publisher, so I don’t have an agent out there pushing the book. I don’t have anyone out there offering to put it on their shelf. So, we’ve kind of been taking our time, but we probably sold 5-6,000 copies. We’ve had a real good run. It’s been fun. I’m with a printing company in Orange County, so, they’ve taken real good care of us. They know it’s our own project. The whole thing was done in the hope that if we did generate any income that it would be a way to help our Team Up for Down Syndrome. That’s our organization that my wife and I started 13 years ago. It would be a way to supplement them a little bit as well. So far I think we’ve done well. It hasn’t been a full year yet that the book has been out. But it was fun this season talking about it on radio shows and different places. But overall, we’re happy. And, if it touches one person, that’s really all I wanted. If one person could be encouraged. And certainly that’s happened. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from people and different emails sent talking about different parts of the book that encouraged them. Every person, there’s going to be some story that’s going to attract them. Everyone sees the book differently. Everyone is going to get something from it different. It’s not the same message. In fact, there are a lot of different things in there that have happened. Talking about my childhood—about being an adopted child and what that was like. There are a lot of different things in there that number one, people didn’t realize about me. And, number two, I think that there’s something in there for everyone. And it’s an easy read. It’s entertaining and has some humorous spots in it. I am just overall thrilled that there is any interest at all.
I really enjoyed the prayer that you learned from Bob Ennen: “I’m a sinner Lord; I need your help. Can you please guide my life?”
Nice! Hey, that’s pretty cool! You know what? Every person in their life they have a higher power. For me, it was G-d. I understood as a young person that I couldn’t control my destiny. I couldn’t control any of that. So, I was very grateful for my spiritual mentor. A handyman by trade. An older gentleman who really took us under his wing and wanted to share the good news in the Bible and some of the hope that we have through Jesus. I was really grateful for him in that particular time in my life. I was young and I was able to memorize some Scripture so that I could use it for food later when I grew up. Gosh, I owe a lot to Ennen. Certainly the prayer I said with Bob was when I accepted Christ into my heart. Heck, that was life changing and probably the best decision I ever made in my life or that I’ll ever make.
At one point you wrote a paraphrase of a discussion that you were having with G-d and G-d said to you “Hey Hud, where have you been? I’ve been here waiting for you. You saw what you could do by yourself. Nothing.” What advice do you have for someone who wants to get back onto the path?”
I would say that if you wanted to get back on the path that they can’t do it their way. It’s difficult to maneuver things in life with you in charge because we are only human beings. Why not trust your future into someone who can see the future. G-d can! We can’t. To me, that’s just a no-brainer. I would encourage people to look for some guidance besides themselves because none of us can see the future. Only G-d can.
You talk about the Baseball Chapel? Can you give us a sense of how many players are involved with the Baseball Chapel? How did it come to be?
The Baseball Chapel was originally developed to be able to reach the ballplayers that couldn’t go to church on Sundays because we played in the ballparks at one o’clock games Sundays a. So you’re at the park early—9 o’clock in the morning. At 10 o’clock you’re not able to attend services. So the Baseball Chapel was formed to bring the church to them, tothe players. There’s probably 5, 10, 15 guys —depends on the team—that whenever they announce the Chapel in the stands or in a certain room, you know “Chapel, 10 o’clock,” then everyone goes. They usually have a speaker or somebody who plays an instrument and they read out of the Bible and give us like a church service there. It just depends on the team. I got to play for 6 different teams and everyone was different. There were some where more participated than others. But it was a wonderful way to have some kind of fellowship with the guys I worked with. Baseball is another pretty rough occupation. When we’re down in the trenches there is a lot of language. There are a lot of young ball players, so there’s a lot going on in their personal life that may not be conducive to going to church. Still, a lot of us need that strength to carry on our Christian life in a tough world like baseball.
While faith does play a predominant part in your life, in your book you talk about several critical points in your life where you took fate into your own hands. Much like G-d helps those who help themselves. You wrote Mr. Steinbrenner a letter asking for a promotion. You asked to be traded. You called the Phillies up directly. Do you believe that your faith encourages you to be an active participant in it?
Absolutely. Like I said, we all get on an airplane and trust and have faith in the airplane that it will fly us from one destination to the other. And that’s just automatic. When you sit in a chair, you automatically have faith that that chair is going to hold you up. That’s the kind of faith that G-d wants us to have in Him. As He says in the Bible, trust Him wholeheartedly for all of our needs. That He’ll provide the desires of your heart if you do that. Don’t worry about anything. Instead, pray about everything. There’s a communication there. There’s a relationship between me and G-d through Jesus. Faith is everything. Look, I have faith. I don’t put that much faith into myself, although I’ve felt led to do a few things during my baseball career. Of course I would pray about all of it. When I wrote George Steinbrenner a letter, I didn’t just do it on a whim. I would pray to G-d “Is this was the right thing? Do you think I should do it?” What happens when we get answers is we have a peace in our heart, that comes over our heart. And that’s when you know that if you have peace in your heart about certain situations then you know that it’s okay to do that. I’m nowhere near a perfect person, or pretend to be, or any of that. I just know what’s real and that’s real in my life. It has been, since I was a young kid. I am more successful when I have faith and I trust Him than myself.
What thoughts and comments would you have for your fans who are of different faiths than yours?
Hey, we have one thing in common, a lot of the fans, and that’s baseball. And that’s fun. I’ve learned how to separate. When I’m a broadcaster, I don’t dare bring in my faith or religion or anything into that because that’s not what I’m there for. I’m there to talk baseball. So we have one thing in common. Certainly I am not a pushy or aggressive or anything towards anybody. I would just love them. I would love them no matter what. I’d love them whether they have faith or not because in my Christianity, I’m called to love people, no matter what their denomination is, what they are like, what color their skin is. G-d just wants us to love people. And if you do that, He is going to honor that when you get to the Kingdom.
Let’s talk a little bit about your Major League career. Who would you say was the toughest pitcher you faced?
I would say Dwight Gooden. I didn’t face Doc until the mid ‘80s back when he was a young phenom at 19 years old. I saw him at Triple-A. They brought him up from A-Ball. Then I saw him years later with the Mets in the mid ‘90s. He was really tough. He threw a hard. He threw a big curveball. He threw me three straight curveballs one time and I took all of them. I think I swung at the last one and then fell down. I walked back to the dugout and my manager Joe Torre from the Cardinals was just laughing at me. It was a day game, and I played once a week. And I played against Doc Gooden. He put me in there and I had no chance. I’ll never forget how silly he made me look.
Photo: Scott Wachter/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
What’s it like to make the jump from the minors to the majors and now facing the guys you grew up idolizing or following? You said at one point in your book that you made the recognition that you were facing “Just another Hall of Fame player in a different city.”
Yes, but that was after I had been beat up a little bit in the minors. My first cup of coffee, I was 21 or 22, and certainly there was a wide-eyed feel about it. You’re a little bit intimidated. There’s a little bit of an adjustment. No question. First of all, you want to show these guys that you can play up here. And then, you don’t want to be too embarrassed or get embarrassed. Usually that ends up happening because you get overmatched. And the pitchers, man you can tell a big difference. That two-seam sinker was unbelievable the first time I saw one of those at the big league level. I remember facing Todd Worrell, a closer for the Cardinals, who struck me out on three pitches. You know, all of them were nasty, hard. And that slider he threw me . . . it looked like a fastball and then all of a sudden it darted away with a lot of electricity on it. It was a different game. But then, I reached a point that I became a Triple-A/big league player and was up and down. It was time to either pee-it-on or get off. So I got engaged to my wife and as far as I looked at it, this was my last shot. So when I got to the big leagues in ’88 with the Expos, that’s when I looked over at Ozzie Smith and wasn’t intimidated because my attitude changed. Now, instead of being wide-eyed, I was 28 years old and it’s my turn, and I’m going to show you that I can play in your league. So, mentally, when you turn your attitude on like that, watch out! I was physically fit. I was fast and I was a physical player. I was aggressive. I played the game hard, and so I developed a little reputation. That got me 5 years in the big leagues. I went to Japan and learned two ingredients: How to hit a breaking ball and to self control—to calm down just a little bit. I needed to. I was a very energetic player. I learned those two things and came back and had 5 of my best seasons after that in the majors.
We often hear stories about great pranks that occur in the majors. Could you share one with us that either you witnessed or participated in? Names can be changed to protect the innocent.
That was everything. That was so fun! Look, that was a part of every team. When you are in a locker with 35 guys, that’s one big party. One big fraternity.
In Montreal, you had to pickup your own luggage off of the carousel, which is unusual. In the States, they do it for you. So I took off our trainer, Gene Geiselman, for the St. Louis Cardinals, I took his luggage off and he didn’t see me. I took his luggage off and hid it on the bus. So, he’s standing there waiting for his luggage and it never came. I was messing with him. He gets on the bus and we get back to the hotel about 3:00 in the morning. I had his bag up in my room. I waited until about 4:00 or 5:00 and I called the bellman and I had the bellman take it to him. I wasn’t quite smart enough to tell the bellman “Hey, don’t tell him what I look like or who it was.” I didn’t do anything like that. So, when he brought it back to him, he said “Who? Who did that? Who gave you the bags?” And the bellman said “Oh, a round red-headed guy.” So he knew right away. He kind of threw me under the bus.
So, we get back to St. Louis, and he remembered so, we had an off day. My wife and I went home in the afternoon, and in our driveway was pile of dirt and sand—about 8 tons—sitting in our driveway. So, my wife and I we kind of slow down and pull up and go “What the heck?” I said “Man, what am I going to do? We can’t get our car in or our car out. Who did that?”
My neighbor comes over and said “Hey, are you building a swimming pool in the back? What are you doing?” I said “I don’t know what. Somebody is playing a prank on me or what.” He said “I got the name of the company.” So I went “Oh, you did? Thank you.”
I called the company up and said “Hey look, you guys dumped some sand on my place.” And they said “Yeah, you ordered it.”
“Yeah, somebody called up and said that this is Rex Hudler and I want 8 tons of dirt in my driveway.”
I said “Man, somebody did that and they just played a prank. Can you come back and pick it up?” And he goes “Oh, we only deliver. We don’t pickup.” I said “I only got a wheelbarrow. What do you think I’m going to do, move all that dirt? You guys have to come back and pick all that up. I’ll tell you the guy who did it.”
Now I didn’t know. So I go to the ballpark the next day and I’m waiting around for somebody to give any kind of hint. So Gene Gieselmann comes up to me and goes “Hey Hud! Did you any special deliveries yesterday?” I played dumb and said “Uh . . . no. What are you talking about?” So I played dumb just to try and kind of mess with him a little bit. And then I called the company and told them who to bill it to and gave them the number and everything. I said “Here’s his phone number. I want you to play a prank with me and call him up and tell him that ‘We’re going to press charges against you for making a false order like that and that you put our workers in jeopardy of getting hurt and we’re going to come after you.’”
So, they called him up and they played along and they made him feel really bad. He was on the other end and I had a tape recorder and taped it. I had him saying “Oh gosh, I was just messing around playing a prank. Oh, I’m really sorry. Here’s my number and my credit card.” So, he ended up getting me, but I got him back! Those were the kind of cat and mouse games that go on and the mental mind games.
There was a time when guys would mess with your personal stuff in your locker—your clothes that were hanging there. I remember somebody cut up my underwear and they put it back in there. When I went to go change, I went “What? Hey! Look!” And the guys were all looking around and they know who did it.
So I found out who did it and I put his clothes in water during the game the next day. He’s playing. So for 2 ½ hours he’s playing. He’s out there on the field. I put his clothes in water and then froze them. I hung them up in a freezer. And so for 2 ½ hours they froze during the game. And then when the game was over, the clubhouse kid hangs them in the locker for you. Then you go to the shower and then back to your locker and the clothes are just frozen stiff. It was just beautiful!
Everybody knew it was you. You’d tell everybody. And then once the guy goes into his locker, brittle as it may be, he looks around to see and everybody he looks at looks the other way so he didn’t know who did it. Those kind of fraternity things were fun because you’d let everybody in on them.
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How would you say that the game has changed from when you were drafted until today?
Obviously the athletes are more specialized. These kids now are not just playing all the sports. They are focusing on individual sports. In baseball they play baseball only. They are a lot more advanced. Also I want to say that the ballparks are all new. There’s not as much nostalgia as there was. There are new ballparks, and that’s just the way the game changes. The money has changed too, which is good. I think that the biggest thing is that the young athletes are stronger and better and more individualized.
Let’s talk a little bit about the fans. In your book you talked a little bit about the passion of some of the Mid-West fans. What was it like meeting the fans at Throwbacks?
Oh man, those were great! Are you kidding me? The Angels fans, they are dedicated and there are a lot of them that are loyal. The heart of the Angels has really been showing. They’ve been playing better. I think this is a glory time for the Angels. It was fun to be able to feed off of the crowd. I have a lot of natural energy, and it was fun to be able to share with them. In some aspects, my personality sometimes dictates that maybe I’m a cheerleader or something like that. Really, that’s not what I’m about. I’m about encouraging and those kind of things that I played with my competitors and with my teammates.
Look, being a broadcaster, I was feeling love all over me. That’s just how I am naturally. So, it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed the people, especially getting to meet young people, young kids, moms. They could identify with my broadcast a lot. They enjoyed the team. It’s a great product. I liked the way I broke it down and talked to kids about the rosin bag and some of the little things that some people don’t know.
Did you have a favorite moment during your Rex Hudler Show at Throwbacks?
I loved having Buck there. He got me 6 years in the big leagues. I was really thankful for him. He knew that I could hit left-handers and play different positions. He was a big advocate of mine.
Also, we had Albie Pearson. He was on the first Angels team in ’61. He was so articulate and he was in his 80s (I think). And he came and able to tell stories. That was really fun. It was great to hear some of the history of the game from people who were there.
We at Angelswin.com really appreciated your shout-outs to us in Spring Training and a couple of times during the season—especially during a game in Seattle. We wanted to thank you for your support and recognizing that the medium for covering baseball games is changing. Do you have any thoughts on future of where things are going with blogs and sports?
It gives everybody a chance to communicate and to share their feelings. I think that is good. It’s another avenue. Any way that you have, whether it’s writing a letter, sending an email, or getting on with a bunch of your friends and talking to them on the computer, I think it’s great! Especially for sports. Especially for baseball because you play every day and there’s always something going on. There’s always dialogue and you want to talk to one of your buddies. Go ahead and get on. I think it’s a wonderful way. I’m looking forward to the future as well and find different ways to broadcast the Grand Game. But I think it’s a positive, especially the way that you can talk to 15, 20, 30 people, that’s a lot of fun.
Hudlerisms. We love them. Where and how do you come up with them?
Sitting on the bench and playing baseball as long as I did, I kind of invented a lot. I was kind of a bench-jockey. But I had fun and I would learn a few things. I had a few sayings that I would use. And then I realized that as I became a broadcaster, what I did was, I kind of brought those things up. I wasn’t trying to say “Hey, look at my new invention or look at my new thing.” It was that I was going to share some of those things that go on down in the dugout and come to the broadcast booth as a former player. I would come with a player’s mentality so the fans could understand what a player was thinking. That was my job. My job wasn’t to be a play-by-play broadcaster. It was to give the fans an idea of what a player was thinking. Those kinds of things just naturally came out, and I always used them where they fit. They were a little bit off-centered, but baseball players, we’re not exact creatures with exact language. I think they fit their purpose. It was fun. People could understand them. It would tie them in. They’d laugh. Baseball is a game of fun and communication. If you can’t have fun in baseball, then you’re in trouble. That’s a long season. I’ve learned that as a player and brought that to the broadcast booth. Some people liked it and some didn’t.
What kind of work did you do to prepare to broadcast each game?
It starts the next day when you wake up. You get a little time and you sit down behind your computer and you go over the team, you over over the pitcher, you go over the scouting report. You try to have some things written down on a little notepad that I’d keep in my pocket. And then I’d have a pretty good idea of when I’d get to the ballpark around 3:30 or 4:00, whenever I got there, I would go down to the locker room and talk to the players. I’d introduce myself and say “Hey look, I get to talk about you for 4 times tonight when you show up to bat. I want to be able to give you some love and talk a bit about you. So maybe you could help me out a little bit with some nuggets and I can give you some love tonight.”
What’s the story with the baseball in your hand. We always see you with one. Is there a special ball that you keep with you?
I played for 21 years, and a lot of it was spent riding the pine. I’d throw the baseball in the dugout to help pass the time. When I went into the broadcasting booth, I took it with me. It kind of was a “paci” [pacifier] for me. It was just something to do. It was just something to hold in my hand. It just helped me. But then I realized that it was a great way for me to market baseball. Anytime anyone would tune in and see me, they’d see the baseball and they’d know exactly what we were talking about—baseball! I was able to advertise the game that way. And the fans, they loved them. I’d give them out to the fans. Mr. Moreno was very kind. He’d let me take one or two a week and I would give them to a fan. They would just be happy. It was something special to give a ball to a fan. Who doesn’t like getting a baseball at a game?
My favorite moment from your announcing career was when you and Physioc got put on the Kiss cam. Your move on Physioc was a hoot! What was your favorite moment?
Oh man, there were plenty of them. I just loved being there for the fans—the kids, the moms, the dads, everyone. I just loved having fun with the fans. There was this one time when I had a spot for Bosley hair treatments. And I thought to myself, “Hey Hud, what are you doing? They’ll never let you live this down!” But then I thought, “I’ve got to live it up!” So, I brought in brushes, hair dryers and mirrors to make it all great. And there I was, with all these fans looking up at me after the spot during the game, and I was living it up. I was doing my hair up and just having fun with it. And the fans—they were loving it up! Hearing the laughter from 20-30,000 fans, that was a good moment.
What happened this offseason with the Angels broadcasting?
Well, we had our annual broadcasters meeting, and the Angels called me in and told me that they just didn’t have any place in the broadcast booth for me. It was just like that. I thanked them for my years with the Angels and for the opportunity to be with them.
Do you think you’ll still be involved with the Angels?
You never know with this Grand Old Game. Things happen for a reason. Look, I bounced around a lot over my years, so you never know. I would never close a door on an opportunity. It’s just up to me and Jennifer to accept that this is another one of those “splinters” in life and that everything happens for a purpose. It’s not up to us to always understand it, but He has a plan for us.
How would you explain this transition to one of your younger fans?
I would say that ownership and management has a right to do what it wants with the team. And, that just like any star who moves on, baseball constantly changes. But that we need to learn to live with change. We can’t control everything. It’s not always up to us to control everything. But, we need to accept the change. We need to welcome the new—embrace the new. We may have to grieve the old. It’s okay to grieve the old. But we have to embrace the new. That’s what baseball is all about.
Rex, on behalf of Angelswin.com and all of your fans everywhere, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
For more information about Rex, his speaking engagements, his upcoming book signings, or to order copies of his book, fans can go to www.rexhudler.com. For more information regarding Team Up for Down Syndrome, fans can go to www.teamupfordownsyndrome.org.
Regarding the upcoming book signing mentioned in the interview, Rex will be appearing at the Tustin Costco located at 2655 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92782. Books will be available for purchase at the book signing, and Rex will be available for photographs and autographs for fans.