John Tudor's amazing career in Major League Baseball
Growing up in Massachusetts, John Tudor played multiple sports, including soccer, hockey, and baseball during high school, with hockey laying claim as his favorite of the three. However, for those who are familiar with Tudor and know that he went on to become a dominant starting pitcher in Major League Baseball, winning a World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in ’88, pitching in both the ’85 and ’87 World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals, and getting elected to the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame in May of 2020, this fact might be a bit of a surprise.
“I actually liked hockey the best, but as it worked out, I was not a great hockey player,” Tudor joked. “Really, at that level I wasn’t a great baseball player either, but I just grew into it a little bit, progressively got better, got put on a couple good teams, and got lucky with being at the right place at the right time.”
After two years of Junior College baseball in Massachusetts, one of those “right place at the right time” moments came when Tudor started looking into Georgia Southern University thanks to a friend of his who was familiar with the team’s head coach, Ron Polk. Tudor wrote to Polk, explaining that he was interested in trying to earn a walk-on spot with the team, to which Polk agreed to host him for a tryout.
“Honestly, I ended up at Southern by blind draw,” Tudor recalled. “I wrote (Coach Polk) a letter and explained that I was interested in coming to Southern, so he told me to come down for a tryout and I was lucky enough to make the team. Then, I got drafted at the end of the year by the New York Mets, but I didn’t sign with them. At that time, there were two drafts, so I was drafted again in the secondary draft later that year and signed with the Boston Red Sox. From there, I worked hard and was lucky enough to just keep moving throughout the league.”
Tudor’s time in Major League Baseball saw him represent the Red Sox from ’79 to ’83, the Pittsburgh Pirates in ’84, the Cardinals from ’85 to ’88 and again in ’90, as well as the Dodgers during the second half of the ’88 season and all of the ’89 season. The lefty hurled a total of 1,797 innings, posting a career Earned Run Average of 3.12, and racking up 117 wins, including an incredible ’85 season with the Cardinals when he went on a 20-1 run and maintained an overall ERA of 1.93 for the season, which resulted in a second-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting. In fact, at the time of Tudor’s election into the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame last year, he still held the record for the highest winning percentage in franchise history.
Unfortunately, injuries, including Tommy John surgery after blowing out his elbow in the first inning of Game 3 of the ’88 World Series, led to Tudor’s retirement from baseball in 1990.
While he admittedly does not watch too much baseball now, Tudor said he still manages to catch a few innings here and there and was happy to share some comparisons between what he sees in the game today versus what it was like when he was commanding the mound.
“I know they experimented with changing the Designated Hitter rule last year, but I like the pitcher hitting,” Tudor admitted. “I think it just adds an extra element to the game, especially since nowadays you see the starting pitcher coming out after five innings, or teams are starting games with relievers. It just seems like everybody feels like they need to try and reinvent the game, but the game has done pretty well on its own for a long time now.”
Tudor was quick to point out that his opinions on pitchers needing to hit had absolutely nothing to do with his own abilities at the plate though, as he was more of a situational hitter.
“I wasn’t a very good hitter. I mean I never even hit a homerun in Little League, but depending on the situation I was told different things at the plate,” Tudor laughed. “If it was a bunt situation, I was told to bunt, otherwise you swung away, depending on what was going on. The ability to bunt kept you in games sometimes, so for the most part I made sure I could get a bunt down when I needed to, but I’m sure I messed enough of those up in my time too.”
As for the “juiced” baseballs debate and how many homeruns have been belted out of ballparks over the past couple of years, Tudor took a diplomatic approach, but also had to stand up for his fellow pitchers.
“In my opinion, I think the balls are harder now than when I played, which factors into the number of homeruns that are being hit,” Tudor explained. “Homeruns certainly increase the excitement factor for fans, but I think it just makes it that much harder to be a pitcher in today’s game. If a ball comes down the middle and a batter squares it up, that’s not a surprising homerun, but when a homerun ball comes off the end of the bat to the opposite field and still gets out of the park, that makes you wonder if something is wrong with the balls. To me, that’s not the way the game should be designed, but again, the fans like it, it just makes it a lot harder to be a pitcher.”
Thankfully, Tudor doesn’t have to worry about the changes that today’s pitchers are having to face or try to keep up with the incredible power some of today’s hitters bring to the plate. Instead, the Lake Oconee resident hopes to experience a more traditional summer than what took place last year and is ready to trade in his cleats and skates in favor of clubs and rods.
“I’m starting to think about picking golf back up again now that my hockey career is over, and especially since there aren’t any rinks around here to keep me skating,” Tudor said. “Honestly though, I’m hoping to get out and do a lot more fishing than I was able to last year. I just need to find somebody who can show me the lake since it’s a bit different than most lakes I’ve tried to fish before.”
While figuring out the fishing secrets of the lake might present a bit of a new challenge for John Tudor, Georgia’s Lake Country provides him with a community that is full of wonderful golf courses to polish up on his game, and ample fishing holes to figure out what practices work best for reeling in the big ones, so there is no doubt he will eventually dominate both just as he was able to dominate the pitcher’s mound during his time in Major League Baseball.
Story by Trevor Bowden & photos by Leigh Lofgren. Published in the May-June 2021 issue of Lakelife Magazine.