Was that the only reason he was sent packing? "No," Hudler says, "it was the worm, too."
A year after consuming that June bug, with the taste still fresh on his tongue, Hudler stunned his Japanese teammates by downing a worm. "I leaned my head back, and Jack dropped it in my mouth," Hudler says, grinning broadly. "Then I began to chew." The next day a Tokyo newspaper ran a picture of him under the headline CRAZY AMERICAN EATS WORM. "That worm turned on me for the good," Hudler says. "Most players who leave for Japan never play in the majors again. I got to come back. I never forget how lucky I am. Which probably explains why people tell me I run to first base like I haven't eaten for a week and there's food waiting for me at the bag."
Hudler wasn't born hungry. He grew up in working-class Fresno, Calif., the middle child of a nurse, Ann, and an insurance agent, Marlyn. "Other kids ridiculed me for my freckles," Hudler says. "But Mom always told me they were angel kisses, and that I was a special person."
Special enough to be named an All-America wide receiver as a senior at Bullard High. For his performance Hudler received more than 25 college scholarship offers.
Notre Dame was his first choice. The Fighting Irish were national champions, and their quarterback was Joe Montana. Hudler signed a letter of intent. "Just for fun," he says, "I decided to play baseball my final semester at Bullard." He played so well, scouts took notice. The day of baseball's 1978 amateur draft, Hudler came home from school and asked his mother, "Did any club call?"
"Yeah," she said. "The damn Yankees."
"What did you tell them?" he asked.
"That they wasted their first-round pick. You're going to Notre Dame."
"Way to go, Mom!" Rex said glumly.
"If they really want you, they'll call back."