A version of this story was originally published in May 2021.
You wouldn't notice anything strange glancing at Rex Hudler's 1996 Upper Deck card. It's a shot of the infielder tagging out a runner sliding into second. A typical, normal baseball card action pose.
But then, when you flip it over to read Hudler's stats, you'll find, um, quite the image greeting you.
"Oh, man," Hudler excitedly said to me during a phone call. "I just said yes to an opportunity!"
Nearly every year, in honor of Dairy Night (yes, baseball is weird), the Angels host an on-field cow-milking contest between an Angel and opposing player. Hudler, who played for the Halos from 1994-96, was, as he put it, "the designated milker" every time the date came up on the calendar. He had vast experience in that department growing up in Texas, something he talks about fondly.
"My great grandaddy, when I was 9 or 10 years old out on a farm in East Texas, showed me and taught me how to milk a cow," Hudler recalled. "I'm so thankful for a lot of things in my life, but especially having a relationship with my great grandma and grandpa and my grandparents."
Hudler said he was "undefeated" all three years, dominating the competition. Although, one time the cow did kick over his bucket full of milk and he had to quickly play catchup.
"It was really kind of a pride thing," Hudler told me. "Before the game, my teammates were like, 'C'mon, Hud. You can't let them beat you. ... This is your role for our team.'"
But how did his cow-milking prowess end up on the back of a baseball card?
"Somebody -- it just showed up on a card," Hudler laughed. "They said, 'Hey, turn around and smile.'"
Hudler didn't realize the snapshot would eventually be featured on a card. Nobody told him. So, when a friend showed it to him one day, he was shocked. He was also extremely happy.
"I absolutely love it, I'm so happy," Hudler told me. "It brings back memories of my great granddaddy. I would love to have an 8 by 10 of that I could put in my office somewhere with that smile. It's like I just drank some of her milk."
Hudler's enthusiasm for his card nearly jumps through the phone at me. That energy is hardly surprising -- if you watch any of his broadcasts as TV commentator for the Royals, you'll know what I'm talking about. It's refreshing to hear someone talk so passionately about baseball and baseball's eccentricities, weird baseball cards being one of those.
"I'm just glad I smiled and showed my true joy," Hudler said. "Baseball is so much more than just a job. ... I love to promote the game. I'm all for it -- in all aspects of it.
He said he tried to bring that same passion to his other famous hugging-the-dugout-pole card. A photographer asked to take his picture and, on impulse, he leapt up on the pole and squeezed it with all his might -- trying to make it as goofy as possible. He didn't realize this one would also be on a card, and when it appeared, his mom was not happy that he made a cross-eyed look.
"She got really mad at me for that," Hudler remembered.
But nothing will top the fun and familial nostalgia of the milking-the-cow image.
"It was nothing but fun," Hudler said, chuckling. "Milking a cow at a big league ballpark at home plate was certainly a thrill."