#CardCorner: 1989 Donruss Charles Hudson
By the late 1980s, the Donruss Company had really pulled its act together with regard to the quality of its baseball cards. After struggling with typos, assorted other factual errors and blurred photography in its early sets, Donruss began to hit its stride as the decade progressed.
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The 1989 set was one of the company’s better offerings – and the card of Charles Hudson one of the more attractive cards contained within the set.
Let’s begin with the design. I particularly enjoy the rainbow effect that Donruss used with the borders at the top and bottom of each card. In the case of the Hudson card, the border begins with a green color on the left before gradually dissolving into a bluish purple motif.
On the sides of the card, Topps used a simple black border, which provides a nice contrast to the colored borders. A thin white line on either side of the card creates a frame for the cards, which feature a nice mix of action photography and posed shots. And Donruss also includes each team’s logo, a practice that has been abandoned by most card companies. It’s particularly nice to see the old logo of the New York Yankees, with its red, white, and blue color scheme, and that old fashioned patriotic hat, propped up on a standard-issue baseball bat. Whenever I see that hat, I immediately think of James Cagney, who wore that same distinctive hat in the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, about the life of American composer George M. Cohan.
The Hudson card gives us a close-up look of the young right-hander, who is seen in the midst of delivering a pitch during an afternoon game at Yankee Stadium, sometime during the 1988 season. Action cards sometimes obscure a player’s face from our view, but here we are afforded a good look, including the darting of Hudson’s eyes in the direction of home plate. It’s such a clear shot that we can see Hudson gripping the ball in the lower left-hand corner of the image, with his thumb and forefinger coming in contact with the seams.
Hudson is somewhat of a forgotten figure from the 1980s, but at one time he was a highly touted right-hander in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization. The Yankees acquired him in the hope that he would help them solve their perennial pitching problems of that era, but it never quite worked out that way. He flashed promising talent at times, but injuries, inconsistency, and a brush with the law short-circuited his career. It came to an end in 1989 – the same year that this Donruss card hit the stores for the first time.
Only eight years earlier, Hudson joined the Phillies, who selected him in the 12th round of the MLB draft. Hudson had been a schoolboy legend in Texas, first at South Oak Cliff High School and then at Prairie View A & M. The Phillies assigned him to the rookie-level Pioneer League, where he put up solid numbers in 14 starts and 87 innings. But it was in his second professional season that Hudson bloomed. Assigned to the Class A Carolina League, where he pitched for Peninsula, Hudson outshone all of the other league pitchers. He won 15 of 20 decisions, posted an ERA of 1.85 and struck out 147 batters in 185 innings.
Given his youth and inexperience, the Phillies did not fret much over Hudson’s World Series struggles. After all, he was only 24 years old, and looked like a very capable No. 3 starter behind Steve Carlton and John Denny. Included in the season-opening rotation in 1984, Hudson hoped to build on the success of his rookie season, but instead took two steps back. Limited by injuries, he made only 30 starts, instead of the 35 to 40 that the Phillies had projected. His ERA ballooned to 4.04, a mark that helped limit his win total to only nine, against 11 losses.
After making one long relief appearance to start the season, Hudson moved into the Yankee rotation and pitched beautifully over the first two months. Responding well to the teaching of Yankee pitching coach Mark Connor, Hudson won his first six decisions and kept his ERA under 3.00. But the good start did not last. Falling into a midseason slump, Hudson lost his spot in the rotation, moved to the bullpen, and then found himself pitching for a spell at Triple-A Columbus. He then returned to the Yankees to finish out the season in the Bronx.
Hudson returned to the Yankees for Spring Training in 1989, but would not break camp with the team. Devastated by injuries to their infield, the Yankees made a trade with the Tigers for veteran utilityman Tom Brookens, a deal which cost them Hudson in return.
Hudson’s tenure in Motown would turn into a disaster. He made a handful of starts for Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson, but pitched so poorly that he continued to be put back into a long relief role. In August, Hudson’s life hit a low point. Struggling through severe depression for several weeks, he drank heavily one night and became intoxicated, got behind the wheel of his mother-in-law’s Mercury Cougar, lost control, and then slammed the car into a telephone pole. The collision left him with a compound fracture of his left leg and a damaged right knee requiring reconstructive surgery. The injuries sidelined Hudson for the rest of the season. He also received one year’s probation for driving under the influence.
Hudson also told Harper that his pitching struggles had contributed to his ever-growing drinking problem. Given his drinking, along with his accident-related injuries, the Tigers released him at the end of the season. When no other team showed interest, Hudson was forced into retirement.
In some ways, the end of his baseball career was the least of Hudson’s problems. Even after the accident, Hudson suffered another series of setbacks when his mother died, and then one of his cousins committed suicide. After that, he and his wife were divorced.
With his life continuing to bottom out, Hudson eventually turned the corner. Determined to improve his situation, he entered rehabilitation and eventually became sober. He also turned to religion, becoming a born-again Christian.
A couple of years later, the lingering effects of the 1994 baseball strike left Hudson contemplating a return. When the strike persisted into the spring of 1995, Hudson received an invite to attend the training camp of the Chicago Cubs. But his contract contained a clause that stipulated he would not be a replacement player if the strike persisted; he would only pitch for the “regulation” Cubs once the strike ended.
Hudson had decided to attempt the comeback in part because of the efforts of a famed heavyweight boxing champion.
“Once I saw George Foreman come back, I knew I still had a chance,” the 35-year-old Hudson told the Chicago Tribune. “Foreman was right at 40 when he started coming back and he won the championship at 45. I'm coming back, too, if the Good Lord wills it.”
The strike did come to an end that spring, but Hudson lacked the fastball that he had shown in the late 1980s and failed to make Chicago’s Opening Day roster. Since that comeback attempt, Hudson has mostly remained out of the public spotlight, except for his connection to one of the featured characters on the E! Network reality television show, WAGS of Atlanta. Hudson’s daughter, Niche, is the wife of former NFL player Andre Caldwell and appeared regularly on the show until its cancellation in 2018.
These days, Charles is living a quiet life, away from the spotlight and away from baseball. There are few publically available images of him in recent years; almost all of the photos are from his playing days in the 1980s and 90s. And perhaps none is better than the photo that Donruss used for its underrated card set some 30 years ago.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum