Although he was often overshadowed by the larger-than-life figures like Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter and Vida Blue on those Oakland teams of the 1970s, Rudi carved out his place in A’s history as a key member of three consecutive World Series title winners.
In 1972, he helped the A's win the World Series and made a game-saving catch in Game 2 that would be the highlight reel for many Major League Baseball films. With Tony Perez on first and Oakland leading 2-0 in the ninth inning, Rudi raced to the left-field fence and made a leaping, backhanded catch of Denis Menke’s smash to save a run. Earlier in the game, Rudi had a solo home run.
During the A’s third consecutive World Series title run, he posted a career-best 22 home runs and 99 RBIs. His home run in Game 5 of the 1974 World Series off Dodgers' reliever Mike Marshall would turn out to be the game winner and Series clincher.
Rudi's A's became the first team since the New York Yankees (1949-53) to win three straight World Championships. In a 16-year career, Rudi was a .264 hitter with 179 home runs and 810 RBIs in 1,547 games. He won American League Gold Gloves in 1974, 1975 and 1976, and was a three-time all-star.
Shortly after he finished signing autographs for the fans in attendance at the Iowa Cubs' game, Rudi went down memory lane in an exclusive interview with Oakland Clubhouse.
Bill Seals: What was it like coming back to the Bay Area last weekend for a reunion with the rest of your 1972 Oakland teammates?
Joe Rudi: It was a great time. Obviously Rollie Fingers was there because it was his bobblehead day. Vida (Blue) was there, along with Gene (Tenace) and Dick (Green). A lot of the guys came back. The only guys that were missing were Reggie Jackson, who was in Boston and is still active with the Yankees, and Sal Bando had a prior engagement.
It was great to see everybody. They did a real good job at the ballpark and laid out the red carpet for us to walk out to home plate. We all stood around while Rollie threw out the first pitch to Gene Tenace.
It was also nice to get the wives together again. A lot of people forget about the families and a lot of the guys brought in their wives and kids. One of my goals the next two years is to bring my (extended) family. I’ve got four kids and they’ve all got families now and I want to bring them back to the ballpark. It will be fun to have all the kids come back to see the ballpark. My older boy especially grew up in that ballpark shagging in the outfield and running around.
BS: How much have you remained in touch with your former teammates over the years?
JR: We really don’t see each other very much. Everybody at this point in their lives has been out of baseball for so long that they’re engrained where they live with their families. You don’t get many opportunities other than situations like this or when you do golf tournaments.
BS: How much has the ballpark experience changed or remained the same since you roamed the outfield at Oakland Coliseum?
JR: They really ruined that ballpark (with the construction of Mount Davis). I hope with the commissioner they work out the differences with the Giants and let the ball club move down to San Jose. They’re just not going to make it there. It’s too hard to get to with the traffic being the way it is, and it’s really not in a good area of Oakland with the high crime rate. The attendance is never going to be good. They really need to get down some place with a new ballpark where the freeway system is a lot more conducive. The freeway system in San Jose is much better suited to handle traffic in and out.
They have to work it out. If they don’t let them go to San Jose, they’re going to lose them in the Bay Area. They’re going to have to move, because they’re not going to survive much longer. They just can’t compete. I’m hoping Major League Baseball gets a little close to how the National Football League is, because it’s much more adept at keeping more teams competitive year in and year out. You don’t have the big-money teams winning year in and year out like you do in baseball.
BS: Apart from the stadium issues that are hampering the organization, what have you thought of the A’s teams of recent years?
JR: They don’t have the money to keep the kids. That’s the one unfortunate thing in Oakland. They’ve had a lot of good players come up, but as soon as they start getting to the point where they’re making any kind of money they trade them off. That’s frustrating for fans that follow different players. They’ve had high turnover and usually have a pretty young ball club. Until things get worked out where they get a new ballpark or change how baseball distributes the money, it will be tough for them to compete.
BS: How much involvement have you had with the A’s organization since your playing days?
JR: They’ve done a good job of doing things from time to time in bringing teams back. I wish they had kept the ex-players a little more involved with the team in spring training. A lot of organizations will bring in the guys that played back in the earlier days down just to have continuity there. Unfortunately, with the change of ownership that’s happened several times with the A’s, I’m not sure where they dropped the ball. They just haven’t made that effort to bring them in.
The only people that I ever had much interaction with were the Haas Family, the people that bought the A’s from Charlie. They were really nice people. It was amazing because you never knew they had a dime. They were down on the field a lot. They went out of their way to be close to the players. Tony LaRussa, Dave Duncan and myself even came back as coaches. Then after they sold the club, most of us that had been in that group haven’t been back. There’s a little disconnect since that period of time.
BS: Since your retirement, it looks like you and your wife have been pretty busy in the real-estate business.
JR: Yes, we’ve been in real-estate. My wife’s a third-generation broker. Her dad and grandfather both had their own businesses, and we’ve been doing it ever since we got married. Her dad got us started buying houses back in the '60s. It’s been one of the things we’ve been involved with for years and it’s something we feel comfortable with.
BS: How have you remained active in the game of baseball?
JR: I coached all my boys all the way through. My last one graduated from high school in ’98, so I really haven’t had much to do with everyday stuff. I do a little coaching from time to time, if somebody comes and asks for help with hitting. I try to stay out of their hair and let the local coaches handle their teams. Our oldest grandchild is only five, so we’ve got a few years before they get up there. Hopefully we live long enough to see them play high school ball.