Tampa pair finds fine line between All-Star, all done

July 14, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

PITTSBURGH -- They pitched for the same high school in Tampa. John Hudek was Texas' 30th-round pick in 1985, and scouts projected him as a third baseman. Chris Myers was the Orioles' first-round pick in '87, a left-hander Wade Boggs said would be "like Dave Righetti -- only better."

"Chris Myers was a concert pianist -- he could orchestrate a whole ballgame by himself," said Jeff Vardo, the former baseball coach at Plant High, the school that also produced Boggs. "Hudie was the guy playing for peanuts and potato chips at the piano bar."

Indeed, if you had to predict which one would end up unloading trucks for a department store, you probably would have said Hudek. And if you had to predict which one would pitch in an All-Star Game, you probably would have said Myers.

It turned out the other way around.

Hudek, the Houston Astros' rookie closer, represents the classic rags-to-riches baseball story, a pitcher who was placed on waivers last July and struck out Cal Ripken in the All-Star Game one year later.

Myers, once the No. 7 pick in the country, represents the classic failed prospect, a pitcher who never reached the majors and left baseball after getting released by Montreal in spring '93.

Myers is 25 now. He works on the sales support staff at Burdine's, and attends Hillsborough Community College. His goal is to get into computers, but he has completed only 12 of the 62 credits required for a two-year degree.

He no longer follows baseball.

He didn't even know the All-Star Game was Tuesday night.

"I'm human. I get jealous now and then," Myers said from his Tampa home Tuesday. "But I'm not going to make myself miserable worrying about everyone else. I'm much happier not playing anyway.

"The way I went out, the things I saw, the way they treated me . . . if I could have made it, it would have been great. But there's so much politics in the game. I'm not going to go begging for a job."

As a senior at Plant, Myers was named the top player in Hillsborough County, an award that went to Gary Sheffield the year before. The Orioles wanted Stanford's Jack McDowell with their first pick in '87. But when the White Sox grabbed McDowell at No. 5, the Orioles took Myers.

They haven't used a first-round pick on a high school player since -- their last six first-rounders came out of college. The list includes Gregg Olson, Ben McDonald, Mike Mussina and Jeffrey Hammonds. The Orioles did not have a first-round pick this year, so their streak remains intact.

Myers had an outstanding curveball, but club officials said he had a "soft" makeup, meaning he lacked competitive fire. Twice, his progress was delayed by arm trouble. He finally reached Triple-A in '91, but after winning eight games, he was sent to the bullpen when the Orioles demoted Jeff Ballard, Paul Kilgus and Jeff Robinson.

That was the beginning of the end for Myers. The Orioles traded him to Montreal in August '91 for pitcher Richie Lewis, whom they later lost in the expansion draft to Florida. For whatever reasons, the Expos quickly soured on Myers, and he spent part of the '92 season back in Single-A.

"It was weird," Myers said. "My last year with the Orioles, I was pitching real well. I was disappointed with the trade. It seemed like I just got pushed out. And when I went to Montreal, they just buried me in their system. I'm just a little bitter the Expos treated me like that."

Myers said the Expos put him on the disabled list while he was healthy, and no other team was willing to take a chance on his arm.

Looking back, maybe he wasn't tough enough. He certainly wasn't as tough as Hudek, who endured six years in the minors before mak- ing his breakthrough.

"Chris Myers had better numbers -- the star was really shining for him," Vardo recalled. "He had all the tools -- a good body, a good arm, a good curveball. But when I had John Hudek, he was like a pit bull. The word 'quit' isn't even in his vocabulary.

"Sometimes, I think a young athlete has to face adversity. Chris was such a gifted athlete all his life. He got put into a position with equal or better talent, and he had difficulty adjusting. Hudie has been a brawler all his life. That's his forte."

Hudek, 27, attended Florida Southern College rather than sign as a 30th-rounder. He was drafted again in '88, by the Chicago White Sox in the 10th round. Four years later, the White Sox left him unprotected in the Rule V draft, and Detroit acquired him for $50,000.

The Tigers offered him back to Chicago in spring '93, and the White Sox refused. Hudek then cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A. Last July 29, the Tigers again put him on waivers, clearing a spot on their 40-man roster for Storm Davis.

This time, Houston claimed him -- and when the Astros released Mitch Williams two months ago, Hudek suddenly became their closer. The hard-throwing right-hander appeared in the All-Star Game before earning his first major-league victory -- he's 0-1 with 15 saves and a 1.97 ERA.

"It just proves that when you get drafted, the round doesn't matter," Hudek said. "What matters is how you want to play the game. You can be a 30th-rounder, be focused and get there. You can be a first-rounder and think it will be easier -- I don't know."

Hudek said he was shocked when he learned Myers was out of baseball. He used only one word to describe his reaction to Myers' fall. It was the same word Myers used to describe his reaction to Hudek's rise.

"Wow," John Hudek said.

"Wow," Chris Myers replied.

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