Out To Show He's A Good Skate

Stung by criticism, the Cardinals' John Tudor says his World Series behavior was out of character
November 25, 1985

John Tudor is sorry. Sorry that, at 31, a truly great season and a nearly great World Series were marred by a seventh-game disaster on the mound and a week-long self-destructive battle with the press. Sorry that the climax of his self-described "Cinderella year" came not with the clock striking midnight and his coach turning into a pumpkin but with Tudor slamming his pitching hand into a dugout electrical fan. Sorry that for the past two weeks, at the urging of his agent, Steve Freyer of Sports Advisors Group, the aggressively private Tudor, whom his own loving mother refers to as "a loner," has had to relive the unsavory seventh game and the events leading up to it through a series of kiss-and-make-up interviews with the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, not to mention the gamut of Boston television stations, in an effort to improve his soiled image. Sorry that a team that had won 108 games during the year will be remembered more for the antics of Joaquin Andujar and Whitey Herzog in their 67th loss, and Tudor's own foul temper throughout the postseason.

Or is Tudor sorry? "I don't have anything to apologize for or anybody to apologize to except Gordon Edes, and I've done that," he said last week at his home in Peabody, Mass. "Some of my comments were out of line, but they really weren't that far out of focus."

To refresh everyone's memory, Edes is the L.A. Times writer whom Tudor called a "schmo" (as in, "Why do I have to answer questions from a schmo like that?") after inquiring if it would help Edes's story if he, Tudor, took a swing at him. Edes's indiscretion? He asked Tudor why, after hurling a brilliant 3-0 shutout in Game 4, he would alienate the ink-stained wretches who were covering the Series by suggesting that all one needed to obtain a media credential was a driver's license. And why, earlier, after another reporter had asked Tudor whether the World Series featured the two best pitching staffs in baseball or the two most inept offenses, Tudor replied curtly, "That will go down as one of my alltime questions," and refused to answer further.

"I don't usually take shots at people like that," says Tudor now. "I'm not a wise guy. I'm basically a stoic person. People who know me know that I acted out of character."

Just as it was out of character for Tudor to walk four of the 14 batters he faced in Game 7, then slam his pitching hand against the fan to the tune of five stitches. Tudor is a stoic: "A person seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain" (The American Heritage Dictionary).

" 'Why can't you enjoy this?' people asked me after the fourth game," Tudor recalls. "Well, we hadn't won yet. I'm not into publicity. I'm not a Gary Carter. ABC wanted to follow me around with cameras all day, but that's not me. I'm shy, but how I acted during the Series had nothing to do with being shy. I wanted more time to myself. It put me out of sorts. I'm not making excuses. I should have handled it better. I hope next time I will."

Well, one can always hope, Murphy's Law notwithstanding. You remember that schmo Murphy. Tudor certainly does. Tudor has only to glance up from his Jacuzzi in Peabody to see Murphy's ominous message on a plaque on the wall, one of the few wall decorations in the three-bedroom home, for heaven's sake. ANYTHING THAT CAN GO WRONG, WILL GO WRONG, it reads. That's our Tutes. He trusts life as far as he can throw it.

Somewhat contradictorily, Dave Bettencourt, Tudor's longtime friend, a science teacher, onetime Cape Cod League teammate and coach at Doherty Junior High in Andover, Mass., says, "Tutes is a great example of a guy no one believed in but himself. And he never forgets."

Whether Tudor really believed in himself—or believes enough—is by no means certain. And it's dangerous to go through life never forgetting. It can lead to great gloom and chips on the shoulder the size of boulders. If you were good to Tudor on his way up, he would bend over backward for you. Bettencourt tells of Tudor's giving away his own baseball glove and spending time with young lefties on Bettencourt's team, once going so far as to send it 20 pairs of used Boston Red Sox shoes at the end of a season. But if you didn't treat Tudor well, take a hike, chum. He is not a man to mince words. "I say what's on my mind," he admits. "That's probably bad."

The oldest of three children, Tudor was a late bloomer for whom almost no one predicted success. He was once cut from the Peabody High School baseball team. "John's problem is he doesn't realize how big he has become," says Bettencourt. "He still thinks of himself as John Tudor, no big deal."

Even as a child he was reclusive. "When he was little, if other kids came around that he didn't know, he'd take off," recalls his mother, Jean. "My husband's a lot like that."

Melton Tudor, John's father, is an engineer for General Electric who, by most accounts, is the prototypical New Engender. Industrious and taciturn, he shares his eldest son's distaste for the limelight. When local television camera crews made plans to visit the Tudor home during the World Series, Melton Tudor put the kibosh on the scheme. Call it Yankee cantankerousness or whatever you like, but there is a rigorous respect for privacy throughout most of New England. "I played four years here [in Boston] and never got recognized," says John, who is approached in public all the time in St. Louis. "Those sorts of things can get out of hand." Of course, Tudor was never a star with the Red Sox, for whom he played on and off in 1979 and '80 and full-time the next three seasons, when he had a 39-32 record.

It was during his years with the Sox that Tudor formed his opinions of the press. Somehow or other—Tudor attributes the remark to Johnny Podres, later the Red Sox pitching coach—Tudor was labeled "gutless." Afraid to come inside. Always whining about a sore arm. Not a competitor. Tudor's stoicism served to damn him in Beantown. He doesn't care! The gutless so-and-so doesn't care! Home run? Give me the ball. Strikeout? Give me the ball. Error? Give me the ball. Ralph Houk would march out, signaling to the bullpen. Tudor would give him the ball and head for a shower, no fuss, no muss, no histrionics. Obviously, he didn't care. And the papers wrote it up just that way, always dancing back to that single label—gutless.

"It just couldn't have been further from the truth," says the Red Sox' Dave Stapleton, who roomed with Tudor during his years in Boston. "But it happens all the time in the big leagues: Once you're labeled, it's tough to shake it."

"That's when he got that chip on his shoulder," says Bettencourt. "The papers were saying that he had ice water running through his veins, that he felt no emotion. Some of his teammates insinuated that he was not a competitor, that he was aloof. The more they wrote those things, the more it all snowballed. John knew people he cared about were reading that stuff, and that's what did it."

Not a competitor? Anyone who had grown up with Tudor knew about his competitiveness on the hockey rink and the basketball court, where he would be the first kid to stand up to an elbow or dive into the stands after a loose ball. "The kid empties his bucket for you," says Bettencourt. And gutless? Are you kidding? A guy who has spent New Year's Eve scuba diving for lobsters and scallops in frigid Gloucester Harbor, 75 feet beneath the surface?

The Red Sox traded Tudor to the Pirates after the 1983 season. In 1984 he was 12-11 (3.27 ERA) with a last-place Pittsburgh team. In nine of his 11 losses the Bucs scored two runs or fewer; in 11 of Tudor's starts he allowed one or no earned runs. Still, the offense-starved Pirates traded Tudor to the Cardinals after the season in a deal that brought outfielder George Hendrick to Pittsburgh.

Tudor got off to a rocky start in St. Louis and was 1-7 after losing to Atlanta on May 29. "Great trade, Tutes," Bettencourt told him sarcastically two days later. "He told me that he was going to a most eligible bachelors function in St. Louis later that week, and that the only way he would get in was if he wore a Joaquin Andujar mask."

Andujar was going great guns at the time. Tudor reportedly was one game away from being traded back to the Red Sox for starter Bruce Hurst, although he had heard no rumors to that effect. He credits something else Bettencourt said that night with turning his season around. While watching the Atlanta game on television, Bettencourt had noticed that when Tudor reached the balance point in his delivery, when his right leg was at its highest point, he wasn't hesitating as he had with the Red Sox and Pirates. That hesitation had had the double effect of throwing the batter's rhythm off by a fraction and allowing Tudor's arm to catch up with his body.

Tudor worked on that and, evidently, a lot more. He won 20 of his next 21 decisions, 10 by shutouts, and that does not even include a pennant-race duel with the Mets' Ron Darling in which Tudor was lifted after the 10th with the score 0-0. In fact, Tudor was so dominating against the Mets—he also pitched a 10-inning whitewash in September against Dwight Gooden—that the Mets' front office sent a memo to all their minor league southpaws telling them to watch John Tudor in the postseason: That is the way to pitch.

So what happened in Game 7? Why the el foldo? Tudor, who worked 305‚Öî innings during the regular season and postseason, refuses to say he was tired. He won't even blame umpire Don Denkinger—Herzog's whipping boy—for "squeezing the strike zone" on him. "I can't really say any of the balls were close enough to call strikes," Tudor says. "No matter how hard I tried to throw a strike, I couldn't. When I walked [Jim] Sundberg to force in a run, I was trying to throw the ball right down the middle of the plate to let him hit it. I still couldn't do it." This, from a man who had walked only 49 hitters in 275 regular-season innings and who, until the third inning of Game 7, had gone an astounding 127 innings without walking a leadoff hitter.

"His fears became a self-fulfilling prophecy," says Freyer. "He knew that if he had to pitch again after the fourth game that the Cardinals were in trouble."

How else to ruin his sparkling year but to be forced to go out and prove himself one more time in the biggest game of his life? He approached the game thinking about how much it might cost him, not how much he might gain. "You could sense before the game that he was talking himself out of it," says Bettencourt. "It wasn't that he couldn't handle the pressure. It was that he was afraid of letting his teammates down. He's been that way since he was a kid." Apparently, Tudor isn't quite as stoical as he thinks he is.

It was 3-0 when Tudor left Game 7 in the third inning, but he was charged with the next two K.C. runs in the 11-0 debacle. Say this for Tudor: After he was stitched up at the hospital he returned to face the press, some members of which had risen to applaud when he was pulled from the game—hardly the act of a gutless fellow. No, guts is not what Tudor is short on. Tact, perhaps. And a certain affection for the frailties of his fellow man. As the poet Elinor Hoyt Wylie wrote in 1921: Avoid the reeking herd/Shun the polluted flock/Live like that stoic bird/The eagle of the rock.

At least to hear him tell it, John Tudor, a Cardinal, would love it out there.

TWO PHOTOSLANE STEWARTTudor skated with the NHL's Blues last week, his Game 7 encounter with the fan (note bandage) and the press a memory. PHOTOJ.B. FORBES[See caption above.] PHOTOJOHN D. HANLONTudor credits Bettencourt (left) with correcting the flaw in his pitching motion. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above.] PHOTOLANE STEWARTIn St. Louis, Tudor visits the cardinal club house to catch up on his off-season mail.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)