Saturday, January 21, 2012

#87 Joe Rudi - Oakland A's

Card:  This is Rudi's 15th and final Topps card.

Pic:  Rudi looks relaxed as he gets ready to bat.  I prefer a shot like this over one with a contorted follow through. 
I'm not feeling the bright green/pink combo.

Player: Joe Rudi was signed by the Kansas City A's in '64 and struggled to establish himself in the big leagues.  Rudi batted under .200 in his first three years with the A's from '67-'69.  In 1970 he worked with A's hitting coach Charlie Lau who shortened his swing.  Rudi batted .306 in 350 at bats with 11 HR and had started to fulfill the potential the A's had seen in him. 

1971 was Rudi's first season as a starter and while his offensive stats (.267 BA, 10 HR) don't stand out he had a great season defensively.  Both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference list Rudi with 14 fielding runs for the year, a terrific total for a left fielder.
Rudi went 1-8 in his first taste of postseason action as the A's bowed out against the Orioles.  Rudi had one of his best seasons in '72.  He batted .305/.345/.486 and led the AL in triples with nine and hits 181.  Rudi made his first All-Star team and finished 2nd to Dick Allen in MVP voting. 

                                                     Pencil drawing by Dan Guerra

Rudi excelled in the playoffs helping the A's start their dynasty by knocking off the Reds in '72.  He hit a home run and had a remarkable catch against the wall in the ninth inning to preserve a 2-1 win in Game 2.

Rudi's production fell off in '73 batting .270 with 12 HR.  He played well in the World Series batting .333 in the A's triumph over the Mets.  Rudi was great in '73, leading the AL with 39 doubles, batting .293/.334/.484 with 22 HR and a career best 99 RBI.   He won his first Gold Glove, made his second All-Star team and finished second to Jeff Burroughs for AL MVP. The A's cruised to their third championship in a row as Rudi batted .333 with a homer in the '74 Series win over the Dodgers. 

As 1975 unfolded the A's dynasty was crumbling at the hands of A's owner Charlie Finley and his various disputes with his star players.  On June 15, Finley sold Rudi and Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox and Vida Blue to the Yankees.  The deal was voided by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and despite the circus like atmosphere surrounding the team, the A's were able to again win the AL West.  The A's however weren't destined to win four in a row and were swept out of the ALCS by the Red Sox.  Rudi batted .278 with 21 HR on the year and won another Gold Glove.

Rudi played out '76 as he eyed free agency, batting .270 with 13 HR and 94 RBI.  Although for several years he had been regarded as under rated, this obviously was no longer the case as Rudi finished 12th for the AL MVP despite his pedestrian stats. 

Rudi inked a five year deal with the Angels but struggled with injuries and the expectations of a free agent signee.  Rudi's skills were eroding and he averaged only 360 at bats per season.  His best year for the Angels was '78 when he batted .256 with 17 HR.  After the '80 season he was traded with  Jim Dorsey and Frank Tanana to the Boston for Fred Lynn and Steve Renko

With the Red Sox his average plummeted to .180 in 122 at bats.  The season marked the seventh consecutive year his average decreased.  Again a free-agent, he returned to Oakland, who signed him to a two-year deal. (Yikes!)

Playing primarily firstbase, Rudi batted .212 in 193 at bats in '82 while battling chronic achilles problems which also kept him on the DL for the following season.  Having played his last game at age 36, Rudi called it a career.

Flipside:  These stats are tiny and signify his career totals.   If you can read his games played column you'll see that he only played 134+ games in a season twice in his career, 147 in '72 and 158 in '74.  It's no accident that his healthiest seasons were also his most productive.  His WAR in those two years...5.9 and 5.6.  His next best season '75 was 3.1. 

Oddball:  Rudi was already 6' tall by age 11.

History:  Rudi, a 16 year veteran amassed 1,468 hits with 179 HR and a .264 career average.  Rudi's peak years coincided with the A's dynasty.  By the time he was 30, Rudi was constantly dealing with various injuries.  He was a three time All-Star and won three gold gloves for his fine fielding ability. 

Rudi worked as a coach off and on for the A's in the 80's for Tony Larussa and now works in real estate in Baker City, Oregon.

Much of the data for this was pulled from a fine bio on the SABR Biography Project page on Rudi.

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