Rex Hudler certainly isn't the first name that comes to mind if you're a Phillies fan looking back on teams of the late 1990s. Now a color commentator for the Kansas City Royals, Hudler enjoyed a 13-year career in which he bounced around a handful of teams and played the role of a utility man the majority of the time. His best season came in 1996, when he hit 16 home runs in just 302 at-bats and slashed .311/.337/.556 at age 35.
It was after this campaign that he signed with the Phillies as a free agent, and the "enthusiastic style [that] made him a favorite with Angel fans," per Chris Foster and Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times, would have seemed to make him a welcome addition to any roster. He only played in Philly for two years at the end of his career, totaling 32 hits in 163 at-bats for a .196/.247/.319 slash line.
So, no, it wasn't the most memorable stint, and it's understandable if you didn't quite remember that name at first glance. But Hudler sure doesn't forget you guys. He joined Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville on the latest episode of "The Athletic Baseball Show" and shared his memory of playing in The Vet as a Phillie for the first time.
"...Terry Francona, new manager, wanted a veteran leader, hired me. So I come in, and I wanted to be too good — it was the first time I ever got a big contract, I'm 35 years old!" Hudler recalled. "So I overtrained in the winter. I was on this treadmill, high-speed treadmill, running 21 miles per hour, so I blew my hammy, and when I did, I knew that was it... I never had any leg, hamstring problems in my entire long career. Never. And so I knew this is going to be trouble."
That hamstring injury may have been why Hudler got off to such a slow start — he recorded a grand total of zero hits in 12 plate appearances throughout the team's first road trip — before finally getting his bat on the ball in the home opener.
"I get my first hit. It was a jam shot over the shortstop, and you know, the turf at The Vet was a little worn and I took out of that box going for two because I could still run," Hudler said. "...Bam, the other side went. I felt the other hammy. I made it to second and (John) Vukovich, the third base coach, he's looking at me. He knew I was hurt and he's going, 'Get outta here,' so I had to come off the field.
"67,000 Philadelphia fans — and I was one of their top free agents — just let me have it. I've never been booed like that before, ever, by anybody, let alone 67,000. Dougie, the roar of 67,000 for you is something you never forget either, that's a great thing. But a boo... it took me a while to recover from that."
It really seems like that was the case. By the middle of May, Hudler was 1-26 from the plate with six strikeouts. Not great. Ultimately, however, he pulled it together, with a .273 average from June 1 until the end of the season to pull him back over the Mendoza Line.
1998 offered an opportunity for him to redeem himself in his second Opening Day appearance at The Vet, and it went even worse than the first time. With the bases juiced in the bottom of the 10th inning of an 8-8 ball game, Hudler entered as a pinch hitter. Five pitches later, he sat back down on the bench after striking out.
"...I had a chance to knock in some runs with the bases loaded and I struck out and I got booed again at Opening Day," Hudler said. "Two Opening Days now in a row, back-to-back years."
Luckily, the next batter was Doug Glanville, who knocked a single into left field to win the game in walk-off fashion. Glanville made an impact that year, with 189 hits and 106 runs in that debut season with the Phils. He too, however, experienced some of that classic Philly vitriol early into 1998 as he struggled to get going — he had a cringe-worthy slash line of .174/.188/.196 after his first ten games.
"My senior thesis was designing a stadium at 30th Street Station in Philly, and some fan had done the research and knew about this paper and the stadium I was planning to build," Glanville said with a laugh. "And when I started off really slowly, he asked me if I could design a stadium I could hit in.
"That was the Philly faithful, right there."