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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Baseball Throwback Thursday - Rudy Meoli

Rudolph Bartholomew Meoli (Mee-oh-lee) graduated from Royal Oak High School in Covina, CA in 1969. He was the fifth player taken in the fourth round of that 1969 June Amateur Draft. Other players taken in that round include fellow infielders Pete Mackanin and Bill Stein, who would appear in over 1,500 major league games combined.

The eighteen year-old Meoli, a shortstop, would start out in rookie ball that summer and work his way up to the Angel’s AAA team in Salt Lake City in 1972 (he appeared in 7 games with the Angels in 1971 as a late season call up). He played in 128 games, hitting .265. The prior year in AA he stole 19 bases, so he did have a little speed.
The Angels had traded six-time all-star starter Jim Fregosi to the Mets before the 1972 season. Veteran Leo Cardenas handled the position in 1972 but he was winding down his sixteen-year major league career. Meoli was handed the job in April of 1973 when Cardenas was traded to Cleveland for two minor leaguers.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t hold onto it. In 120 games, which also included a few starts at second and third, Meoli hit only .223 and made 27 errors. In 1974, second-year man Dave Chalk took over at short and made the All Star team. Meoli spent most of the season back at Salt Lake City (hitting .308!) while appearing in 36 games for the Angels, primarily as a defensive replacement. He did hit a career high .244.

In 1975, Meoli did spend the entire season with the Angels. However, he hit only .214 in 143 at-bats while Chalk was an All Star reserve again. Meoli’s window had closed. In September, the Angels traded former super prospect Bobby Valentine (yes, the manager and announcer) and the ubiquitous “player to be named later” to San Diego for Gary Ross. Gary. Ross. In November, Meoli became the latest player to be named later.
It was a short stay in southern California, as he was shipped to Cincinnati in April of 1976 for outfielder Merv Rettenmund (Rettenmund had a charmed career, appearing in the post season six out of ten years).

The defending world champs had perennial all-star Dave Concepcion. Meoli may have hoped to land a utility infielder role with the team, but he failed to supplant Doug Flynn and was the starting shortstop at AAA Indianapolis in 1976 and at second in 1977. He hit .274 over the two years (Meoli was a career .281 hitter in the minors. He just could not handle major league pitching).
Still only 27 years old, the Cubs purchased him at the end of 1977. Steve Ontiveros was the Cubs’ starting third baseman and Meoli was one of a half-dozen backups who saw time at the position in ’78. He hit only .103 in 35 at bats, faring better at AAA Wichita, where he hit .293. The Cubs released him outright after the season ended.

The Phillies brought him to spring training in 1979. He started twelve games at short and ten at second. However, he hit only .178 in his last shot at the majors. He appeared in 20 games at AAA Oklahoma City when he was purchased by the Minnesota Twins: who promptly assigned him to AAA Toledo. He got in 51 games (hitting .265) before the season ended. And he was released.
The San Francisco Giants signed him in March of 1980 and released him three weeks later. His career was over. His nomadic days of playing baseball were done. During his last two seasons, as he tried to keep his career alive, Meoli played for Chicago, Wichita, Toledo, Philadelphia and Oklahoma City. That’s five cities, in five states, in three different leagues. Professional baseball isn’t all glamour.

Rudy Meoli played six years in the majors, appearing in 310 games and batting  .212 with 2 homers and 10 stolen bases. And 48 errors (a .942 fielding average).  

But you know what: he was on the field for three of Nolan Ryan’s four no-hitters. And he saved one of them. Ryan’s first no hitter was on May 5, 1973, against the Kansas City Royals. In the bottom of the eighth, pinch hitter Gail Hopkins hit a looper into shallow left. Meoli turned his back to the plate and sprinted into shallow left field and made an over-the-shoulder catch. It was the closest the Royals got to a hit all day.

When we give our best, even if we aren’t superstars, good things result.
Why did I decide to write about the non-descript Rudy Meoli? Because I’ve got his 1975 Topps card and I’ve always liked that one. Sadly, popping the ball straight up in the air typifies his batting career.