All young major league pitchers go through an educational process. But if you watch Tim Hudson pitch enough times, it looks like he has gone through a good deal more than most.
—Rick Peterson, Oakland A's pitching coach
Perhaps the education of righthander Tim Hudson began on a dusty Little League field in Phenix City, Ala....
Because it is 1984 and he is nine, Tim Hudson is Timmy Hudson, a wisp of a boy barely big enough to ride the town fair's Tilt-a-Whirl. Little Timmy Hudson is a dynamite athlete—quick and fast and graceful—but clearly not a pitcher. Just look at him: arms like pipe cleaners, legs like twigs. Look how his Phenix City Cubs uniform hangs off his shoulders like a potato sack. Look at his munchkin hands and Tweety Bird feet.
Look at him on the mound, pitching against the Indians. He has never done this before. It shows. He walks the first batter. The second. The third. And the fourth. He hits two others. His teammates wilt in the blazing Alabama sun as pitch after pitch misses the plate, as hitters flop back from his wildness. "I was terrible," says Hudson, "but I didn't care. I loved it."
Timmy lasts one inning. It is the first of thousands of innings he will pitch, but the second will not come until he's in high school.
Perhaps the education of Tim Hudson began last season, in Boston....
After striking out Nomar Garciaparra on a nasty split-fingered fastball to end the sixth inning, Hudson shot a death stare at the Red Sox shortstop. Garciaparra screamed at Hudson who, head down, scowl completed, walked calmly toward the Oakland dugout. Later that evening, while watching ESPN's SportsCenter, Hudson saw a replay of the stare-down. He was shocked. "I had no idea I was doing that," he said. "That's not me. That's not my style."
Ah, but it is. The stare-down has been Hudson's trademark. This is not necessarily a good thing. "Tim doesn't always understand how intense he can be," says A's second baseman Frank Menechino. "But it's safe to say that the other teams notice." Last season, when he was a nobody rookie, Hudson went 11-2 with a 3.23 ERA while breaking every first-year commandment.
On the mound, the 6-foot, 160-pound Hudson struts like Fonzie in the parking lot at Arnold's. He cuts down batters with a devastating four-pitch repertoire (fastball, split-fingered fastball, changeup, slider), then cuts them down again with his gaze of death. "In the Old West, he would've been the guy swindling everyone in cards and walking off with the best-looking girl," says Oakland general manager Billy Beane. "He's got that swagger."
He's got enemies too. Last month against the Cleveland Indians, Hudson surrendered a second-inning homer to slugger Jim Thome. Hudson's next pitch, a fastball, sailed inches from David Segui's head. Like Garciaparra, Segui angrily shouted at Hudson. Both benches cleared. "I'll be the first to admit it looked bad," says Hudson. "But I was only trying to throw a fastball inside. It was an accident—I swear to God. I don't like having people mad at me." He pauses. "I never want to lose my aggressiveness, but I'm not trying to show people up."