The Big Three: Hudson, Mulder and Zito. ACES. A special era for the green and gold is concluding forever. An era that gave us five years of one of the most exciting rotations in A's history. Marked with a combined 6-6 post-season record, 6 All-Star game appearances, and a Cy Young Award (Zito), the friendly competitiveness and close relationships made for magical times. We remember and relish these special combinations and this weekend we get to see a nostalgic reunion as Tim Hudson makes his final start in Oakland for the Giants against his friend and colleague, Barry Zito. It's one of those rare moments when it feels like time needs to stand still. Saying goodbye is always hard.
Left-handed Ace Mark Mulder, after rupturing his left Achilles tendon, officially retired at 37 in 2014. Ace Barry Zito, after a difficult run with the Giants and a one-year hiatus that coincided with the Giants signing of Hudson, attempted his comeback with AAA Nashville. Z pitched well enough to get back to the coliseum mound last week—his first toe on the MLB rubber since 2013. Tim Hudson, the right-handed ace of the trio, delivered the anticipated announcement on September 9th that he will, indeed, retire at season's end and not enter free agency. Huddy told the baseball world, "This is definitely my last year, for sure. It's the right thing to do. It's the right time for me and my family" (Sports Illustrated, 9/9/15).
Tim Hudson: 40 years old (or in baseball numbers 40.072). The only guy that can make a slight hunchback posture and dangling right arm look intimidating. He's pitched in 9 post-season series beginning in 2000 with the A's and concluding with the Giants in 2014. He has a post-season ERA of 3.69. He has his ring. His career statistics are rated as average for Hall of Fame prospects. His 17-year statistics prior to this weekend's final start? 222-132; 3.48 ERA; 2079 SO; and a WHIP of 1.238. And yet, there are other factors that might weigh in when sportswriters casts their HOF votes in 2021 and beyond. For example, as of this past July when Hudson beat the Athletics, he was only the 15th pitcher in Major League Baseball history to beat every major league baseball team!
Kim Hudson's appraisal of her husband's career lays it out well to Fox Sports News: "If you were to write a movie about (Tim's) career and at the end he finally won the World Series after never being out of the first round, it would be like a cheesy Disney movie, you know?" And Tim Hudson is still producing. Coming off the disabled list September 1st and not having taken batting practice in two months, Huddy sent one over the left field wall and followed with a base hit in his next at-bat (ESPN.com), shades of his college years where he batted above .350 and knocked a few long balls each season, including 18 home runs in 1997. Yep, Kim Hudson, Tim's story has Disney written all over it. How about this title? "The ACE of Diamonds: A Tale of Two Leagues."
Tim Hudson is not a big guy. He admits it. He's even been quoted as saying it surprises him that as a smaller guy (6 feet, 175lbs) that he would make The Show and then go on to make it a 17 year career! Born in Georgia but an Alabama boy who went to Chattahoochee Valley Community College (CVCC) and then on to Auburn University, Tim Hudson was drafted twice by the Oakland Athletics. He was first drafted in the 35th round of the 1994 MLB Draft but did not sign. Thirty-fifth round is something that consistently happened for a guy considered under-sized.
In some respects this was—in hindsight—a stunning oversight by GMs in both leagues. Despite being in a Division II community college, Hudson's numbers defied the scouts' odds given for a pitcher his size. As a freshmen at CVCC he earned first team All-American honors and his team won the AJCCC Championship; Hudson had a 2.76 ERA and 76 strikeouts. Huddy then followed with even better numbers in his sophomore year at Auburn University with a 1.95 ERA (1st in the conference) and 117 strikeouts. At Auburn University he nabbed honors as the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Player of the Year and All-American honors. He was also the first player to be named to the First-Team All-SEC at two positions in the same year—Pitcher and Outfield. As a junior, he had a 15-2 record with a 2.97 ERA in 1997. In three seasons in the NCAA his totals were 20-5, 3.09 ERA and 255 strikeouts.
Hudson was drafted a second time by the Athletics, this time in the 6th round of the 1997 MLB Draft. After signing in 1997, he made his Major League debut with a five-inning start on June 8, 1999 against the San Diego Padres, where he allowed three earned runs in a game the Athletics eventually lost 5-3. Box scores: 5.0 IP, 7 hits, 11 SO, 4 BB, 3ER. He recorded his first career win in his second start on June 13 against the Dodgers while allowing only one run in seven innings for a 9-3 victory.
For his 1999 rookie year, Tim Hudson went 11-2 with a 3.23 ERA and finished 5th in the AL Rookie-of-the-Year vote. Hudson bettered his record the following year with 20-6 record, nabbing him the award of American League Wins Leader. Huddy was named to his first All-Star Team in 2000 and followed with elections in 2004, 2010, 2014. In his 6 years with the A's, certain statistics stand out. His win-loss percentage is .702 with a total ERA of 3.30. He pitched 1240 innings and gave up 1134 hits, 94 of which were home runs. He struck out 899 (an average of 6.5/9 innings pitched) and has a WHIP of 1.222.
Before the 2005 season, Hudson was traded to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Charles Thomas, Dan Meyer and Juan Cruz. The Georgia-born and Alabama-raised Hudson, who rooted for the Braves as a kid, left Oakland with 81 wins. Upon being traded, a disappointed yet always-professional Hudson commented, "I always wondered how it would be to put on a Braves uniform and play in Atlanta...Now I get to see" (ESPN, 2004). So why trade Huddy?
Beane said that as a GM he "needed to do something bold," though it "wasn't an easy decision" (ESPN, 12/14/2004). Actually what Beane needed to do was get something for nothing. Hudson declared a deadline of March 1, 2005 to complete a contract extension or he would enter free-agency. Beane had no intention of resigning Hudson. To maximize his return, Beane traded Hudson prior to his final contract year. Beane went on to say, "This was the most difficult phone call I've ever had with a player about a trade or a departure...I spent a lot of time on the phone with him. It was very difficult. We're going to miss him, there's no question" (ESPN 12/14/2004). How many times have we heard that before, A's fans? Only in 2004 it wasn't a Beane mantra yet, and we actually believe Billy. We've grown up now; we know the drill. Bold move? You're going to miss him? Sure, Billy, sure.
Mulder said that, despite what the A's would get in return, they would miss Hudson. Mulder told ESPN Radio that the Braves were "getting one of the best guys in baseball, not only on the field and off the field, but just the competitor that he is." Mulder further stated, "You're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who wants the ball and who's going to go out and get the job done. When Huddy doesn't have his best stuff, he is out there competing and just flat-out getting it done. That's what we are going to miss" (ESPN 12/17/2004). On August 6, 2005, Hudson began amassing the benchmark statistics to prove Mulder correct, winning his 100th career game by defeating the St. Louis Cardinals. On April 30, 2013, Hudson became the 113th major league pitcher to reach 200 wins, with an 8-1 Braves victory over the Nationals in 7 innings with 6 SO, 2 BB, 3 hits and 1ER. Huddy also went 2 for 3 at the plate with a double and a home run.
As a player he proved through other statistics what Mulder stated about him, performing consistently for all three of the teams for whom he played. In the era of starting-pitchers-throw-six-maybe-seven innings, Hudson has been a gamer: In 2001 he went 235 innings (2nd in the AL); in 2002, 238.3 (3rd in the AL); 2003, 240.0 (3rd in the AL); 2006, 218.3 (9th in the NL); 2007, 224.3 (3rd in the NL); 2010, 228.7 (4th in the NL) and of active players he's thrown 3,123 innings (2nd overall) with a current career standing of 119th. Of active players he is ranked 1st in shutouts (13) and 2nd in games started (477) making him 62nd in MLB history.
He was named Player of the Week in 2002 (A's), 2007 (Braves) and 2013 (Giants). He was in the Cy Young Award running numerous times: 2000 (2nd), 2001 (6th), 2003 (4th), and 2010 (4th). In 2006 his hard work had him named to Team USA Roster for the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He was named NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2010 after having Tommy John surgery and missing the remainder of 2008 and starting 2009 on the 60-day Disabled List; he did not play prior to the All-Star break in '09.
In November of 2013, Huddy agreed to a two-year, 23 million dollar contract with the San Francisco Giants. He started off setting a franchise record by going 30 and 2/3rds innings without a walk. In his first year with the Giants, he was selected to participate in the All-Star Game. On August 27, 2014 in a 4-2 team win over the Colorado Rockies at AT&T Park, Hudson recorded his 2,000th career strikeout. And then in October of 2014, Hudson became the oldest pitcher to start Game 7 of the World Series, though he was pulled before completing the 2nd inning. The Giants went on to win the game 3-2 and the series 4-3 over the Kansas City Royals, earning Hudson the crown jewel: a World Series ring.
This weekend series concludes the green and gold ACES Era. Zito told Jane Lee, "It was definitely fun to watch them go out and do their thing, and we all did it in different ways. Mulder was the king of the two-hour game, Huddy would just go out there, sinker-split, punching dudes out left and right, and I had the curveball and the changeup. We definitely enjoyed watching each other, I know that" (MLB.com, 9/22/15). As A's fans, we enjoyed watching them too. And this weekend is your final chance. Saturday will see the first pitch by Mark Mulder. It will be Tim Hudson's swan song, his final start in Major League Baseball. And his competitor suiting up and starting for the green and gold? Barry Zito who will get his first start since 2013 which may very well be his final game, though he is undecided at this time. It's a nostalgic time. The end of an era. Tim Hudson, you've had a great run. Best of luck to you Huddy. Don't miss his final start Saturday whether by radio, TV or in person! Huddy is coming home, and it's time to help him celebrate his final day.