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Hudler is cream of the free-agent crop

Hudler is cream of the free-agent crop

It was 13 years ago at Thanksgiving time that I made contact with then-free agent Rex Hudler and his agent, Arn Tellem, in hopes of signing Hudler to a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

At that time I was the general manager of the Dodgers, and I felt Hudler would be a good fit for our team because of his hustle, his versatility and his reputation for being a great teammate.

Hudler was coming off of a season with the Angels that was to be the best of his 10-plus Major League career, and he was being pursued with offers that he never dreamed possible.

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I will never forget the call I received from Tellem in response to my two-year offer: "Fred, Rex really appreciates the offer you have made on behalf of the Dodgers, but he really doesn't want to get into any type of bidding war and has decided to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies."

A free agent who wasn't interested in a "bidding war"? That was unusual. That was and is Rex Hudler.

Hudler is a free agent once again after he and announcing partner Steve Physioc were informed on Tuesday by FOX Sports West and Angels officials that they will not be a part of the on-air team next year.

Receiving the news two days before Thanksgiving and after 11 years with the Angels would jolt most people, but not Hudler. Not the man who earned the nickname "Wonder Dog" during his playing career.

Hudler, 49, told the representatives of both FOX and the Angels that he greatly appreciated the opportunity they had given him ("I thanked them from the bottom of my heart," Hudler said) and headed out the door to fulfill a prior commitment.

He went directly from the meeting to a charity event at the Second Harvest Food Bank, an appearance that had been scheduled for him by the Angels.

That is Rex Hudler, always giving, always positive and always ready for the next challenge and opportunity.

"I don't know where I'm headed in my career, but I know my wife and family and I will let God drive the car, just as we have for so many years," said Hudler.

"I do know one thing -- I want to be a part of a team. That's where I fit. I love team involvement. I had a 21-year career as a player in professional baseball and I've been blessed to be a part of an announcing team for 11 years.

"I want to give as much as I can to other people. That's what drives me. My favorite part of being an announcer was to be around the players and to give encouragement to those who were in need of a positive word, and you will find those players in every clubhouse.

"As an announcer I always tried to give the perspective from someone who spent more than two decades in the game and who knew plenty of struggles along the way. I always gave my best, because that's the way I approached every phase of the game where I was fortunate to be involved."

In a press release, the Angels announced that they are "going in a different direction next season and will use single announcing teams on TV and radio."

Hudler is going in the same direction that his life has taken him, with a heavy involvement in charities, motivational speaking and some sort of what he emphasizes as "team involvement."

Baseball, as always, will be a big part of what Hudler does, along with his devotion to his wife, Jennifer, and their four children.

The Hudlers founded the non-profit organization "Team Up for Down Syndrome," which raises money for public awareness, housing, education, job training, family counseling and health care for those living with Down Syndrome.

"Baseball can be a difficult game, and so can life," said Hudler. "I just know that you have to stay positive and to do the right things and leave the rest in God's hands."

I thought Rex Hudler would be a great addition to the team I was with more than a decade ago, and I have no doubt that he will be a winner wherever he ends up at this point.

In fact, he may be the best person available on the entire free-agent market.

Fred Claire was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 1969-98, serving the team as executive vice president and general manager. He is the author of "Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue." This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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