Day 10: 30 baseball books in 30 days of April, ’09: Right about now, we can use a little of the gospel, according to Hud

This one seemed most appropriate to release at time when Angel hearts are heavy and the “spliter” really feels like it won’t go away:

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The book: “Splinters”

The author: Rex Hudler, forward by Joe Torre

How to find it: Self published, 176 pages, $20

Where we’d go looking for it: www.RexHudler.com, proceeds go to his “Team Up For Down Syndrome” foundation. (When Hudler refers to children with “Down’s,” including his own, he says they have “Up’s” because those kind of kids are never down.)

The scoop: God has given us all a gift with the Hudman. His gift back to us is a book that explains, in many ways, how he’s become the ball of energy that you see and hear on Angels’ telecasts.

The title of the book comes from the fact that everyone gets “splinters” in their lives, it’s just how you react to them that determines what kind of person you are.

Since we don’t (for the time being) have an audio version of this, we’ll be content with the written word, hearing Hudler speak it in our heads as we laugh along with all the crazy things that have happened in his life — made humorous all because of how the very religious Hudler describes them.

Maybe this explains it, on page 72:

“I did take a lot of teasing from my teammates though. I was a very emotional player because I put so much into playing the game all out. I remember the first time I ever got choked up playing baseball. It was when I made my first catch at Yankee Stadium in front of 56,000 people. I made a diving catch against the Orioles my rookie year, and heard the roar of 56,000 and I immediately felt a giant knot in my throat.

“I got choked up again after I hit a pinch-hit, three-run homer against John Franco and greeted my cheering teammates outside the dugout. After a close game in Camden Yards, Lee Smith closed the game down by striking out Cal Ripken — and it was a nail-biter, a long game, a battle, and it was so tense that it almost brought tears to my eyes. I again got that familiar, choked-up feeling.

“Like most players, I put my heart and soul into the game. Between the lines, I would give up everything I had to get my team a win. Some people say there’s no crying in baseball, but that’s not true. These were tears of joy!”

He played under Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, Joe Torre and Terry Francona. He was teammates with Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith (who he once nearly strangled while breaking up a double play as a member of the Montreal Expos) and even Barry Bonds during one spring training before he was released by the Giants. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner hated the fact he had to trade Hudler, one of his most favorite players. He called Jim Rome’s radio show to announce his retirement after 21 years in pro ball, while he was with the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A team in Buffalo trying to play his back into the bigs in 1981.

The chapter that may hit home even more, however, is Chapter 20, “Building New Dreams,” about the arrival of his son, Cade, born in 1996, who has Down syndrome.

“At that time, I felt a deep splinter,” he writes.

It was only after teammate Jim Abbott told him that “miracles can happen … help him reach his full potential,” did Hudler awaken to what was in store for him and his family.

Hudler also writes how at the end of his career, he nearly signed with the Dodgers, but GM Fred Claire said he couldn’t match the two-year, $2.8 million deal that the Philadelphia Phillies offered.

Too bad. It would have been worth the investment for Dodger fans in the late ’90s with a 36-year-old utility player.

Two other “splinters” Hudler doesn’t skirt in covering: A brain hemmorage in 2000, and the marijuana possession arrest in Kansas City in ’03. He says he’s gotten past them with the help of a Bible verse from James 1:1 “Consider it pure joy my brothers, when we face trials of many kinds. The testing of our faith will develope patience and perseverance that we may not be lacking in anything.”

How it goes down in the scorebook: Better than a 1.8. And we’ll explain:

In the Dickson Baseball Dictionary (revised and released last month, and we’ll get around to reviewing it later this month), under the entry for the word “zone rating,” the description reads:

“An estimate of a player’s fielding efficiency, comparing the number of plays a fielder makes to the number of balls hit into the zone he patrols. The raw data for zone rating is gathered by slicing the playing field into a set of zones and assigning each zone to the player within reach of balls hit into that zone. It is a variation of ‘defensive average,’ except that until 2000, fielded balls that were turned into double plays counted as two successful fielding plays, which resulted in zone ratings higher than a ‘perfect 1.0′ — 1.8 was achieved by second baseman Rex Hudler in 1996.”

Again, who else but Hudler could rank higher than perfection?

Post-script: One of Hud’s favorite lines is also a vocal point of his foundation to raise money for Downs Syndrome: “Be a fountain, not a drain.” But the quote we enjoy most for some reason was included in Charlie Jones’ book back in ’02 called “If Winning Were Easy, Everyone Would Do It: 365 Motivational Quotes For Athletes.”

Says Hud: “The cream always rises to the top. I’m a good example of that. Not exactly whipped cream. I’m kind of an ugly foam.”

There’s nothing ugly about Hudler. Enjoy.

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