Rex Hudler

April 23, 1990: Cardinals trade for the “Wonder Dog,” Rex Hudler

On the same day that third baseman Terry Pendleton pulled his hamstring attempting to stretch a single into a double, the Cardinals added much-needed infield depth, trading relief pitcher John Costello to the Montreal Expos for utility man Rex Hudler.

Hudler’s acquisition immediately gave Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog more lineup flexibility. In two seasons in Montreal, Hudler had played second base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions. In 395 plate appearances with the Expos, Hudler had batted .262 with 10 homers, 27 RBIs, and 44 stolen bases.

The trade “lets me do things I couldn’t do because I had only one utility infielder,” Herzog said.[1]

Hudler had taken just three at-bats for the Expos in the first month of the season.

“This is a class move on their part to send me to a place where I’ll play,” he said. “I think it’s because (manager Buck Rodgers and vice-president of player personnel Dave Dombrowski) know how far I’ve come.”[2]

A graduate of Bullard High School in Fresno, California, Hudler had been a baseball and football star. Notre Dame and Michigan State both recruited him as a wide receiver (Kirk Gibson, who played both football and baseball for Michigan State, showed him around during his campus tour in East Lansing). Hudler signed his letter of intent with Notre Dame, but signed with the Yankees after they made him their 1978 first-round pick.[3]

Despite being selected 18th overall, Hudler took a long road to the majors. In 1983, after the Yankees sent Hudler back to Class A, he wrote a letter to George Steinbrenner saying that he had been overlooked in the Yankees’ farm system. The next day, he was promoted to Triple-A.[4] In 40 games, he hit .305 with the Columbus Clippers, then followed that up by hitting .292 in 114 games in 1984.

That season, he made his major-league debut for the Yankees, appearing in nine games. In 1985, he appeared in 20 games, appearing at first base, second base, shortstop, and as a pinch hitter.

In the winter, the Yankees traded him to the Baltimore Orioles as part of a package for Gary Roenicke. He appeared in 14 games in one season with the Orioles, primarily as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner. He received just one at-bat, though he did steal his first major-league base.

After appearing in 31 games with the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, New York, in 1987, Hudler signed with the Expos as a free agent. There, his career blossomed. He appeared in 77 games in 1988, batting .273 with four homers, 14 RBIs, and 29 stolen bases in 1988. In 1989, he appeared in 92 games for the Expos, batting .245 with six homers, 13 RBIs, and 15 stolen bases.

Hudler’s wife Jennifer made appearances singing the Canadian national anthem at Olympic Stadium.

“The team will probably miss her more than me,” Hudler said.[5]

Hudler already knew a few of the Cardinals. He had been teammates with Willie McGee as a Yankees farmhand, and he and Pendleton both hailed from Fresno. Pitcher Bryn Smith was a former teammate in Montreal. However, Hudler admitted he was a bit leery about reuniting with Joe Magrane. In 1989, Magrane allowed one of Hudler’s six homers, then hit Hudler with a pitch when he tried to bunt.[6]

“I took it as respect because he knows I own him and I know he hates me,” Hudler said. “Is he a nice guy? The only words I ever said to him were swear words.”[7]

When Hudler greeted Magrane in the clubhouse, Magrane said, “We’re teammates but we don’t have to be damn friends.” It was only then that Magrane and Tom Pagnozzi let an astonished Hudler know he was being pranked.[8]

“You’ll like his style. He’ll fit right in here,” Smith said. “He plays hard. He might be a little over-aggressive, but he’ll go through a brick wall for you.”[9]

“Intense?” Magrane said. “He makes Pete Rose look like a pastry chef.”[10]

Nicknamed “the wonder dog” by ESPN’s Chris Berman,[11] Hudler admitted that he was still learning to play within himself and not try to do too much.

“The guys who don’t know me think I’m a bad guy because I like to play hard,” he said. “I don’t play to make friends. I have a lot of enemies.”[12]

Meanwhile, Costello was disappointed by the trade. A 24th-round Cardinals draft choice in 1983 out of Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, Costello made his major-league debut in 1988, going 5-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 49 2/3 innings. In 1989, he had gone 5-4 with a 3.32 ERA in 62 1/3 innings.

At the time of the trade, Costello and his wife had just purchased a home in the area and had a 4-month-old daughter.[13]

“If ever there was a clause that I could veto a trade, I’d veto this one,” Costello said, “but there isn’t a clause. I don’t want to go. It’s tough to leave here. This was the perfect place for me. I’m still going to live here in the offseason.”

A groin pull had forced Costello to miss the first week of the season, and he had a 6.34 ERA in 4 1/3 innings.

“We didn’t trade for him on the basis of his numbers this year,” Rodgers said. “He’s a solid bullpen guy we’ve liked for a number of years. Our doctors have spoken to their doctors about the groin pull and everyone seems to agree it’s nothing serious – although we may have to break him in slowly.”[14]

Indeed, the Expos placed Costello on the disabled list on April 30.[15] He appeared in just four games for Montreal that season. That November, the Expos shipped him to San Diego for minor league relief pitcher Brian Harrison.

Costello threw 35 innings for the Padres in 1991, going 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA, but San Diego released him after the season. He played for Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate in Calgary in 1992, but did not appear in the majors again.

Hudler became a fan favorite in St. Louis. He appeared in 89 games in 1990, batting a career-high .281 with seven homers, 22 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases. In 1991, he appeared in a career-high 101 games, though he hit just .227. In 1992, his final year in St. Louis, he appeared in 61 games, batting .265 in 98 at-bats.

Hudler spent the 1993 season in Japan, helping the Yakult Swallows win the Japan Series championship. After the season, he signed a free-agent deal with the Giants but was released before the season started. Six days later, he signed with the Angels and played three seasons there before playing his final two years with the Phillies. He signed with the Indians midway through the 1998 season but didn’t play in the majors.

He finished his 13-year major-league career with a .261 batting average, 56 homers, and 107 stolen bases.

Since retiring, Hudler has served as a broadcaster for Angels and Royals games. He also serves as a motivational speaker for corporations, charities, and community groups, and he and his wife founded Team Up for Down Syndrome, an organization that supports the Down syndrome community and those with special needs.[16]

Enjoy this post? Find similar stories listed by decade or by player.

[1] Dan O’Neill, “Cards Trade Costello To Montreal For Hudler,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 24, 1990.

[2] Jeff Blair, “Expos trade Hudler for reliever Costello,” Montreal Gazette, April 24, 1990.

[3] Scott Ostler, “The Wonder Dog,” Sky Magazine, April 1997.

[4] Scott Ostler, “The Wonder Dog,” Sky Magazine, April 1997.

[5] Jeff Blair, “Expos trade Hudler for reliver Costello,” Montreal Gazette, April 24, 1990.

[6] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[7] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[8] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[9] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[10] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[11] Scott Ostler, “The Wonder Dog,” Sky Magazine, April 1997.

[12] Rick Hummel, “‘First Choice,’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 25, 1990.

[13] Jeff Blair, “Expos trade Hudler for reliever Costello,” Montreal Gazette, April 24, 1990.

[14] Jeff Blair, “Expos trade Hudler for reliever Costello,” Montreal Gazette, April 24, 1990.

[15] “Costello placed on disabled list,” Montreal Gazette, May 1, 1990.


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