Faced with long odds, Hudson did it his way
Chatterbox second baseman's big personality helped define strong MLB career
Sometimes, for fun, I like to think about what KIND of Major League Baseball player I would have been. I don't mean how good I would have been; it takes a lot of imagination and dreaming to go down that road. I mean, specifically, what kind of player would I have been?
Would I have been a hustling type of player who came to the ballpark every day hyped and ready to go? Would I have been a moodier type, one with good days and bad days who was perpetually knocked in the press for my inconsistencies? Would I have been the silent type of player, just going about my business, speaking in cliches, letting my play on the field speak for me?
Orlando Hudson never shut up. Never. It was a rather astonishing thing; you would be at a game, and you would hear this constant chatter coming from the field, and you realized it was coming from second base. It was coming from Hudson. They called him O-Dog, not so much because it sounds kind of cool, but because Hudson was constantly yapping.
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The talking was part of his seemingly inexhaustible energy. Hudson said that his grandmother once told him: "A sleepy-headed man won't keep no woman." And so he was the opposite of a sleepy-headed man. He was the first to the ballpark, even during Spring Training, when being first meant arriving at 5 in the morning. He was the most active force on the field. He never stopped moving, never stopped bouncing and, mostly, never stopped talking.
That extreme passion is what made Orlando Hudson the player he became. He was not a prospect. He was selected by Toronto in the 33rd round out of high school, went to Spartanburg Methodist College in an effort to get noticed and drafted higher, and instead was selected in the 43rd round by the Blue Jays the next year.
Forty-third-round Draft picks have almost no chance of making the big leagues. Not one other player in Hudson's round signed and made it to the Majors (David DeJesus did make it, but he didn't sign that year; he was later a fourth-round pick). Hudson had to prove himself, step by step. They did not expect him to hit; so he hit. They thought his arm might not work as a third baseman, where they originally had him play. So he became a brilliant defensive second baseman.
And he just kept climbing and climbing, improving and improving, until at age 25 he was given the Blue Jays' second baseman's job. He was a breathtaking fielder right away. That unstoppable fire that he had for baseball and for proving himself and for talking nonstop also led him to dive for every ball anywhere near him and try to get outs on plays that others might have given up on. "Diving is what I do," he explained.
He won four Gold Glove Awards and probably could have won one or two more. He developed into a pretty good hitter; from 2006-09 with the D-backs and Dodgers, he hit .291/.363/.440, was a good baserunner, made two National League All-Star teams and was among the better second basemen in the game.
But it was his personality that defined him. Everybody knew the O-Dog. Many loved him. He was generous off the field, working with just about every charity that asked for his time, spending his money on giving his family a better life. He played baseball as many believe it should be played, with gusto, with chatter, with enthusiasm and love.
Others -- well, you would see teammates smile and hear them say, "O-Dog is a little much." He was "extra," as my daughters like to say. And the end of his career reflects that teams only had so much tolerance. He bounced from team to team, from Arizona to Los Angeles to Minnesota to San Diego to Chicago in a four-year span. He wanted to keep playing after a rough 2012 season, but he could not latch on to a team.
"There's definitely things I want to do in the game," Hudson told ESPN. "I want to achieve some more goals, let's leave it at that. Personally, I think I have more years in me left to play every day."
In the middle of the 2013 season, he was still hungry to get back in the game.
"It's not over," he told a local South Carolina television station. "My agent has talked to several teams. ... I have still not ruled out that I'm retired. I'm waiting for the right team, the right deal."
The deal never came. In the end, Hudson had a fine career, much better than anyone could have expected when he came out of school. He was not especially fast, did not have a great arm, lacked natural power, but he played 11 years in the big leagues and achieved many good things. He no doubt would have loved for his career to be a bit longer, but he couldn't change the way he played the game and, all things considered, would not have wanted to change.