A quarter century
after retiring from baseball, Joe Rudi is still obsessed with making contact.
Only now his objective isn't hitting a Don Gullett fastball in the World
Series--it's zeroing in on fellow amateur radio operators in farflung locales.
Up to a dozen times a year, Rudi, known by the call sign NK7U, and at least
seven other hams (as they're known) gather on his 20-acre spread in Baker City,
Ore. Competing against teams worldwide, they scan their radio dials for 48
hours, attempting to contact as many operators in as many countries as
possible. "It's a competitive thing," says the 60-year-old Rudi, who
still sports his signature mustache. "Just like in baseball, there's a team
aspect in these contests. And you have to be prepared to play."
In his 16 big
league seasons no one ever accused Rudi, a three-time All-Star and three-time
Gold Glove winner, of being unprepared. Overshadowed by larger-than-life A's
like Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, he nonetheless finished second in the
AL MVP voting in 1972 and '74 and was a key contributor for the three-time
champs. It was Rudi's leaping, ninth-inning catch of a Denis Menke drive
against the wall at Riverfront Stadium that saved Game 2 of the '72 Series
against the Reds. Underdog Oakland would win the Series in seven for the first
of its three straight titles.
During his days
with the A's and later with the Angels and Red Sox, Rudi often took his radio
on the road with him. "When we got to the hotel, I'd ask for the highest
room I could get, on the north side," he says, "and then I'd set up a
portable antenna against the window and talk to whomever I could."
Now, on his
plateau in eastern Oregon, Rudi--who like his wife, Sharon, works full time
selling real estate--has erected seven radio towers between 100 and 180 feet
high, with 45 total antennas. He has also converted a small building adjacent
to his four-bedroom house into a control center. "It's a NASCAR-style
setup," he says. "Not one of those small operations."
His teammates joke
that Rudi loves scaling the towers to put up new antennas or feed lines--which
requires a little dexterity and a lot of courage--more than he does sitting in
a chair to search for frequencies. But they're wrong. "When you turn the
radio on, you never know who you're going to hear," he says. "It could
be someone in the Midwest or someone in the Middle East." Or a memorable
ballplayer from Baker City, Ore.