Rex Hudler played for six big-league teams from 1984 to 1998. He also spent a year in Japan, suiting up for the Yakult Swallows in 1993. Along the way, the man known as “Wonder Dog” played for some of the most notable, and entertaining, managers in baseball history.
Hudler, now a color commentator for the Kansas City Royals, shared stories about his former skippers prior to a recent game.
Rex Hudler on his managers: “My first manager was Yogi Berra. I was a young player in Yankees camp and Matt Winters, another rookie, and I were at the hotel restaurant. This was a few days into spring training. We saw Yogi Berra sitting at another table with his wife. We go — in a hushed tone — ‘That’s Yogi Berra!’ We were on his team, but we were in awe of Yogi.
“About 10 minutes later he comes walking over and says, ‘Hey, Rex. Hey, Matt. How are you guys? I’m looking forward to seeing you play.’ He knew our names! When he knew my name, I almost soiled myself. We couldn’t believe Yogi Berra would know who we were. That gave me a nice feeling.
“Then they fired Yogi and hired Billy Martin. Billy hated rookies. He challenged me. He was hard on me. One day he asked me to bunt, and I got an 0-2 bunt base hit. When I ran by the bag at first base, I looked at him in the dugout. He had commanded me to bunt in a certain area, toward first, and I didn’t; I bunted toward third. I spit at him on my way back to the bag, at Yankee Stadium. Take that.
“When I took my lead, I saw him look back at his coaches like, ‘Did you see that?’ He was taken by it. He respected it. He was thinking, ‘This guy is like me.’ He liked that I was tough. I wasn’t afraid and I wasn’t going to back down if I was challenged. They fired him. They hired Lou Piniella and traded me to Earl Weaver.
“Earl was a manager who would yell at you. I threw away a game in spring training. That was my first year [in Baltimore] and his last year before he retired. When the game was over, he yelled at me. He said, ‘If you ever make a play like that again, I’ll banish you so far you’ll never see the light of day.’ I liked it. I had my head up. I told myself, ‘F-ing A. He knows my name. Beautiful.’
“Earl didn’t allow young players in the clubhouse during the game. One day, I happened to be in there when something happened on the field. I heard him coming. He was yelling and screaming. The head equipment man, Jimmy Tyler, took off and ran. That guy had been there for 100 years, so if he ran, I knew I was in trouble if Earl saw me. I jumped in a locker and pulled the clothes over me. I hid in that locker like a scared rabbit. He came in, turned over some tables and threw a tantrum. Earl had anger. He was intense. He never saw me.
“I moved on from Earl and went to Buck Rodgers [in Montreal]. He was a crusty old catcher. Loved Buck. He was a blue-collar manager. Tough guy. His fingers went different directions. But he had a sense of humor and would let you play. He helped me get six years in the majors. Then Whitey Herzog traded for me.
“I got [to St. Louis] in April of 1990. Whitey Herzog was so gentle. The way he told stories. You’d be nervous before a game, but then he’d telling stories about him and Red Schoendienst going fishing, and within five minutes you’d be relaxed. I was absorbed in Whitey Herzog’s stories. He acted like it was just a baseball game.
“They fired him. Schoendienst took over for two weeks. Red Schoendienst, Hall of Famer. Here was his first meeting: ‘Fellas, the Rat quit. They’re letting me in charge, so show up on time and give me 100% and we’ll get along fine until they get somebody else in here.’ Old-timer. I loved it.
“Joe Torre came out of the broadcast booth and was our new manager. First day on the job, he comes over and sits by me at my locker. Introduces himself and says, ‘I understand you’re using a couple of different styles of bats. Tell me about it.’ The skipper. I’m about the 24th player on the team, and he spent some time with me. He made me feel comfortable. I liked him. I’d never had a manager come over and talk to me like that.
“I went to Japan and played for Katsuya Nomura. Famous Japanese catcher in his day. The only catcher in the history of our game to catch over 3,000 games. He walked around like [erect posture, shoulders back]. Carried himself like he invented the game. Media followed him. He was an old-timer, but he hated Americans.
“I respected him. I bowed to him. He was like Earl Weaver and Billy Martin. Those managers were mean. They said bad things to you. Nomura was like that, but he made me better. I handled him with no problem, because of the generation I came up in. He helped me became a better player, we won the Japan Series, and I came back to America.
“I signed with Dusty Baker for spring training with the Giants. Didn’t make the team. They fired me. I went home for two days. Phone rang. Buck Rodgers was now with the California Angels and I went there and had my three best seasons.
“I was a free agent at 35 years old. Terry Francona was the new manager in Philadelphia and they gave me the biggest contract of my career. Terry Francona is a real gentleman. He’s a player’s manager. In spring training, he asked me if I wanted to go on road trips or not. No one had ever done that before. I was late in my career and he showed me a lot of respect. I spent a year and a half playing for him, and then I retired.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.