John Tudor was one of those players who always had their face in the back of the Red Sox yearbook as a “Promising Prospect” or “Red Sox of the Future.” He would be there with Joel Finch and Win Remmerswaal. It was almost startling to me when he actually BECAME a star, albeit with another team.
Then he had one of the strangest but in many ways coolest last act in baseball that I can ever remember.
Tudor grew up in Peabody Massachusetts and was drafted out of Georgia Southern in 1976.
He came up through the Red Sox system and played on the 1980 Pawtucket team that had Bruce Hurst, Bob Ojeda and Mike Smithson in the rotation and Rich Gedman and Wade Boggs in the lineup.
He was 25 when he made his big league debut and didn’t stay in the majors for good until 1981 when he was 27. In 1982 and 1983, Tudor was a good but hardly an eye popping pitcher for the Red Sox.
After winning 13 games and throwing 242 innings in 1983 with an ERA of 4.09, Tudor was traded to the Pirates for Mike Easler.
He had a good year for a bad Pirates team in 1984 and was traded again, this time to the Cardinals for George Hendrick. He lost 7 of his first 8 decisions in St. Louis in 1985.
Then he caught fire. He went 20-1 to finish the year with a 1.37 ERA, ending the season with an ERA of 1.93, winning his last 11 decisions. He got 10 complete game shutouts and threw 275 innings, finishing second to Dwight Gooden for the Cy Young Award.
The Cardinals won the Division. He threw 7 solid innings to win Game 4 of the NLCS over the Dodgers as the Cardinals won the pennant.
In the World Series, he won games 1 and 4, throwing a complete game shutout over the Royals to put the Cardinals up 3-1 in the series.
When the Royals charged back to force a game 7, partially sparked by the horrible Don Denkinger call, Tudor was given the ball for Game 7 with a chance to clinch it. Instead he was bombed, not getting out of the 3rd inning. The Cardinals came up short.
He continued to be a reliable pitcher, albeit facing some injuries like a broken leg in 1987. Tudor threw a shutout into the 8th and kept the Cardinals pennants hopes alive in Game 6 of the 1987 NLCS over the Giants. The Cardinals would win the pennant and Tudor would also win Game 3 of the World Series over the Twins.
But he let up a key homer to Don Baylor in Game 6 of the World Series and the Cardinals dropped that game and game 7 for another missed chance.
In 1988, Tudor was leading the league in ERA when he was dealt to the Dodgers in a surprising move involving Pedro Guerrero. LA needed another veteran starter in their playoff push with Fernando Valenzuela injured.
He was the starting pitcher in the Dodgers epic extra inning win in Game 4 of the NLCS over the Mets. In the World Series against the Mets, he took the mound in Game 3. He retired the first 4 batters he faced, ending with a Mark McGwire strikeout.
But the second McGwire swung and missed, Tudor walked off the mound. He was hurt and he knew it.
His elbow gave out and he was lost for the rest of the post season. The hobbled Dodgers now lost Fernando Valenzuela, Kirk Gibson, John Tudor and eventually Mike Scioscia due to injuries. Somehow they held on to win the World Series. Tudor finally got his ring.
Tudor only made 6 appearances in 1989 and it looked like his career was finished when he was not tendered a contract at the end of the year.
Instead the 36 year old returned to St. Louis. He started 22 games and made 3 relief appearances. He tossed 146 1/3 innings and posted a 2.40 ERA and won 12 games. It was a terrific comeback performance and one that probably could have resulted in a big free agent pay day.
Instead he went back to Massachusetts and joined an amateur team. He was the first baseman in Wakefield. He could no longer pitch. But he wanted to keep playing. So John Tudor walked away with millions of dollars, several trips to the World Series and was coming off a season where he showed he could still do it.
But now he was just going to play. He was playing for the love of it. That is called leaving on your own terms.
A write up of his time playing for the Wakefield amateur team can be found HERE.
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