Guerry Clegg commentary: Tim Hudson's story worthy of a movie script

sports@ledger-enquirer.comMay 4, 2013 

The Evan Gattis Story is movie script material. Four years away from baseball, working odd jobs, occasionally finding shelter in his car, overcoming his own demons of substance abuse and depression. Now, Gattis is a budding star in the big leagues.

But there's another amazing story with the Atlanta Braves continuing to play itself out. It is equally remarkable for different reasons. It's a truly heart-warming story of perseverance and determination, a story of beating ridiculous odds to become an enduring star in the big league.

The Tim Hudson Story.

The comparison is raised here not to take anything at all away from Gattis. To be completely removed from baseball for four years then come back to make it on the game's highest level is almost unprecedented.

But so is what Hudson has accomplished. As he has made churning out seasons of double-digit wins seem routine, it is easy to forget that this might not have ever happened.

Logically, it should not have happened.

Growing up in the youth leagues of Phenix City, Hudson had always excelled and developed a reputation as a scrappy little competitor. Russ Martin, then Glenwood's coach, had seen more gifted players. But Hudson grew on him -- unfortunately, only figuratively at this point -- and he finished high school career as one of the best players in the Alabama Independent School Association.

Martin knew he could play. Still, it was hard to look past the fact that Hudson was still slightly built and piled up his numbers playing against small private school competition.

The big leagues? Hudson just wanted a shot at playing after high school. B.R. Johnson, then the coach at Chattahoochee Valley Community College, gave him that opportunity, which came without any assurances. Two years -- and one significant growth spurt -- later, Johnson became Hudson's chief advocate. My personal introduction to Hudson came at Golden Park. Johnson set up an interview with Hudson just yours truly and Dave Platta.

Somewhere deep in this paper's archives there's an article in which Hudson shared his dream of playing in the big leagues. Pitcher … center fielder … whatever. I went away impressed with Hudson's audacity, but imagining voices of scouts that I'd heard so many years behind home plate at Golden Park -- "too small to pitch, not fast enough to play center field."

Even his new coach, Hal Baird at Auburn, wondered if Hudson had the stuff to get out SEC hitters. One year -- and the development of a devastating sinking fastball -- later, Baird joined Martin and Johnson as one of Hudson's strongest advocates. His body finally started to catch up with his enormous heart. He was 6-1, still thin but muscular enough.

As a senior, Hudson turned in one of the greatest single seasons in SEC history. He was 15-2 as a starting pitcher -- accounting for exactly 30 percent of Auburn's 50 wins -- with 165 strikeouts. Between pitching starts, Hudson played center field and hit .396 with 18 home runs and 95 RBI.

Despite all of that, many big league scouts and general managers doubted him. Oakland drafted him in the sixth round, and some considered that a reach.

Within two years, Hudson had blown through the Athletics' farm system to The Show. Had it ended there, it still would have been an amazing story -- the undersized high school kid had overcome enormous odds and reached the big leagues. Think of all of the great high school players from this baseball hotbed that never rose higher than Double-A, let alone made it to the big leagues. Great players like Walt McConnell, Jeff Oyster, the late Brent Schoening, Nick Long and Garrett Groce.

Of course, not only did the story not end there. It kept getting better and better. A year later, he was an All-Star -- playing, of all places, at Turner Field in Atlanta. By the end of his first full season, he was a 20-game winner. Then 18 wins, then 15, then 16, then 12. In all, 92 wins in six seasons with Oakland.

Then, faced with losing him to free agency, the A's traded him -- to the Braves, the team of his childhood dreams. He joined the starting rotation with one of those childhood heroes, John Smoltz.

Fast-forward eight years. One start after the bullpen blew his 200th career win, Hudson enjoyed one of the finest -- and certainly most memorable -- games of his career. His 200th win came along with a double off the wall and home run. That victory has prompted discussion of whether Hudson may one day find himself on a podium in Cooperstown, giving his Hall of Fame speech.

Even if that doesn't happen, The Tim Hudson Story is still pretty incredible.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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