Sports

Fans still remember Rudi's leaping catch on its 36th anniversary

Joe Rudi
Joe Rudi Modesto Bee

Even now, 36 years later, Joe Rudi will hear about it. He has been out of baseball longer than many of its current players have been alive, but hardly a week goes by without somebody making mention of The Catch (baseball version).

"I'm surprised so many people are still so familiar with it," the A's legend and Downey High School graduate said before being honored for his selection to the 40th Anniversary Team last month. "At the time, you don't realize what something means in the grand scope of things. All you're doing is try to win a game."

In the team's four decades in Oakland, fewer players were as successful at helping the A's win. Rudi, a left fielder, was a three-time All-Star and three-time Gold Glove winner who twice finished second in the American League MVP voting. But in discussions about the A's dynasty of the early 1970s, more colorful characters such as Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter often overshadow Rudi.

But without Rudi's game-saving play on Oct. 15, 1972, the A's reign might never have occurred. The team was a heavy underdog against the Cincinnati Reds' "Big Red Machine," and even a Game 1 win didn't change most prognostications.

In Game 2, the A's nursed a 2-0 lead into the ninth. Tony Perez singled to start the final frame for Cincinnati, and Dennis Menke followed by smashing Hunter's first pitch for a sure double to left. Only Rudi didn't see it that way.

He got back to the warning track and leaped high to make a backhanded grab with the ball inches away from clanging off the wall. Pictures of the play revealed Rudi in a Spiderman-esque pose with his entire body seemingly superimposed on the wall.

"All I can do is attribute it to our coaching staff," Rudi said. "They worked with the outfielders all the time on plays like that one. I'd had a lot of teaching, and it really came into play at that particular moment."

That it changed the respective fortunes of the A's and Reds is obvious. Instead of second and third and no outs, the Reds' rally fizzled. Hunter retired Cesar Geronimo on a groundout, and after Hal McRae's single scored Perez, Rollie Fingers entered and set down Julian Javier on a foul out to secure a 2-1 win.

"Without that catch, yes, it's probably a different series," said Bert "Campy" Campaneris, a shortstop on that team and another of the 40th Anniversary honorees. "It's one of the great catches in the World Series. But Joe made great catches like that all the time."

And, Rudi said, it's nice to know people still remember it.

"We had so many great players on those teams, and we had so many great moments," he said. "It does make you feel good to know that you did your part."

  Comments