A quarter centuryafter retiring from baseball, Joe Rudi is still obsessed with making contact.Only now his objective isn't hitting a Don Gullett fastball in the WorldSeries--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 leastseven 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 48hours, attempting to contact as many operators in as many countries aspossible. "It's a competitive thing," says the 60-year-old Rudi, whostill sports his signature mustache. "Just like in baseball, there's a teamaspect in these contests. And you have to be prepared to play."
In his 16 bigleague seasons no one ever accused Rudi, a three-time All-Star and three-timeGold Glove winner, of being unprepared. Overshadowed by larger-than-life A'slike Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter, he nonetheless finished second in theAL MVP voting in 1972 and '74 and was a key contributor for the three-timechamps. It was Rudi's leaping, ninth-inning catch of a Denis Menke driveagainst the wall at Riverfront Stadium that saved Game 2 of the '72 Seriesagainst the Reds. Underdog Oakland would win the Series in seven for the firstof its three straight titles.
During his dayswith the A's and later with the Angels and Red Sox, Rudi often took his radioon the road with him. "When we got to the hotel, I'd ask for the highestroom I could get, on the north side," he says, "and then I'd set up aportable antenna against the window and talk to whomever I could."
Now, on hisplateau in eastern Oregon, Rudi--who like his wife, Sharon, works full timeselling real estate--has erected seven radio towers between 100 and 180 feethigh, with 45 total antennas. He has also converted a small building adjacentto his four-bedroom house into a control center. "It's a NASCAR-stylesetup," he says. "Not one of those small operations."
His teammates jokethat Rudi loves scaling the towers to put up new antennas or feed lines--whichrequires a little dexterity and a lot of courage--more than he does sitting ina chair to search for frequencies. But they're wrong. "When you turn theradio on, you never know who you're going to hear," he says. "It couldbe someone in the Midwest or someone in the Middle East." Or a memorableballplayer from Baker City, Ore.
Rudi, a defensive hero in '72, plays Mr. Fix-it on his Oregon radiocompound.