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October 7, 2010

Talkin' Baseball with Jeff Juden

I’m pretty sure that Jeff Juden has been called plenty throughout his eight year Major League career.

But given his outward appearance (an imposing 6’8” and close to 270 pounds), I am sure one name was never thrown at the hard throwing righty…“Forrest Gump”.

Juden looks nothing like Tom Hanks’ titular character from the 1994 film, and while the only comparisons I could come up with was one being born during the Richard Nixon administration and other had a fictional meeting with the embattled president…it is still kinda easy to draw some similarities.

On the baseball field that is.

Juden played for eight teams in eight years and along the way, crossed paths with some of the game's best, most colorful and controversial players.

He appeared in a World Series Game Seven and is the only pitcher to share something in common with sluggers Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray.

Recently I had a chance to catch up with Juden to talk about his storybook past, present and future.

HOVG: You were the Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year in Massachusetts following your senior year in high school. Two years later (with the Astros), you were taking the bump in Cincinnati...digging in to take on the Reds. Walk me through the feeling of finally getting the call.

JUDEN: Well, I went from playing on a great high school team in Salem, Massachusetts, with the Witches winning our first State Championship in 1989. We had 11 seniors that year with Mike Giardi as well as Doug Canney also being drafted from that team. To the Houston Astros farm system trying to work my way up to the show. I started off well in the Florida State League winning my first 10 starts in 1990. In 1991, I started the year in Jackson, Mississippi. Then got a call up to AAA Tucson where we won the Pacific Coast League Championship for the first time in the franchise's 25-year history.Winning at that time against Jim Bodie’s Calgary (Mariners) team. After losing the first two games in a very cold Calgary, we came back to Tucson and took the last three under skipper Bob Skinner’s command. When he told me I was going to the show on a Friday, I immediately called my mom and dad to let them know. If it wasn’t for all the time they spent loving and supporting me as a kid, I never would have made it. Other then that…I was speechless. They (the Astros) threw me in the fire a couple days later in relief of Chris Gardner on a Sunday afternoon. My legs felt like Jell-o under me when I stood out there for the first time.

HOVG: What was your relationship like with your parents?

JUDEN: My mom was my number one fan. She would always drop me little notes and send me care packages while I was on the road so had what I needed. My dad would get up early and watch "The Baseball Bunch" with Johnny Bench and the (San Diego) Chicken. Then we would be heading down the park so I could practice the lesson of the day.

HOVG: After a few seasons in the Houston organization, you were traded to the Philadelphia Phillies and were surrounded by an interesting cast of characters. Any stories you can share?

JUDEN: Those guys were great! John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Tom Marsh, Larry Anderson, Norm Charlton. Most of them were pretty banged up from the year before and going to the World Series versus the Blue Jays. We spent some time in the training room having a few beers doing a lot of icing of the joints. We had some great comraderie where I did most of the listening. We mostly talked baseball to try and better ourselves out on the field for the following days.

HOVG: Speaking of colorful characters, outside of the group you played with in Philly (Kruk, Dykstra and Darren Daulton), you suited up alongside an interesting lot…future Hall of Famers, players that fell on some pretty hard times and even some that headlined the Mitchell Report. I’m going to throw some names your way and you tell me the first thing that pops into your mind about them.

JUDEN: Ok, go for it.

HOVG: Former battery mate in Houston...Craig Biggio.

JUDEN: A better second baseman then a catcher.

HOVG: Should-be Hall of Famer and teammate in Montreal...Lee Smith.

JUDEN: Hey Jude! “My oldest boy, and my youngest grand daddy.” He would always say to me. A great guy. Real easy going.

HOVG: Another Expos teammate...Vladimir Guerrero.

JUDEN: A powerful man who can hit the ball anywhere they throw it at him.

HOVG: Giants teammate Barry Bonds.

JUDEN: A big kid. I wasn’t too happy with him when he told his dad on me one time. They played the shift on him in the first inning one day when I was pitching. I asked him why he didn’t bunt, steal second and get us a run early. He said he could hit it through them. He hit it hard alright. A line drive right to the right fielder! Then he told his dad on me. Bobby said to him, “son, he just doesn’t understand.” I’m still trying to figure that one out to this day.

HOVG: Do you consider Bonds the home run king…or will Hank Aaron always be the guy in your book?

JUDEN: For me. I liked the legend of the Babe! The other two just happened to hit a few more.

HOVG: Now, I purposely left out Pedro Martinez. I read an interview that you did back in 1998 that mentions a confrontation that you had with the former Cy Young Award winner regarding music on a team flight. What was it all about and why in the world would Martinez take on someone nearly a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier?

JUDEN: He was a smoothie. The media really put a bad spin on that one. I think I gave him too much credit to begin with. Then he tried to turn the power against me. Made it out where I was the one who started it and picking on poor little Pedro. That just isn’t my style.

HOVG: I also read that prior to Game Seven of the 1997 World Series, you walked up to then Indians manager Mike Hargrove and told him "if you want to win this thing, put me out there.” He starts Jaret Wright and the Marlins outlast the Tribe in eleven to take home their first championship. Do you think Hargrove ever kicks himself because of that decision?

JUDEN: That is true. He laughed at me. I was dead serious. I hadn’t lost against the Marlins at that time, up to that point. Hargrove was asking around the club house. So I answered his call. I think I was a career 5-0. Jaret threw one Hell of a game. His outing would have been tough to top. I guess we will never know the answer to that one. All I know is that Hargrove had options.

HOVG: In 1999, you found yourself in New York at the tail end of the Yankees run to the World Series. You saw action in two games…did you get a ring?

JUDEN: No. I guess they couldn’t afford it. I would still like one if they have any spare change left. I have room on my middle finger for it.

HOVG: That pitching staff included Mitchell Report heavies Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte as well as purported drug mule Jason Grimsley…what don’t we know about that team?

JUDEN: All I'll say is...I led the International League in strikeouts and innings pitched. While coming in tied for third in wins that year before getting called up in September. That was a tough rotation to crack.

HOVG: Okay. Enough pitching…let’s talk batting. You share an interesting stat line with Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas and Hall of Famer Eddie Murray…you have all hit home runs off of John Cummings. That being said, you are the only player to hit a grand slam off the former Dodger. How big of a thrill was that?

JUDEN: It is great to be mentioned with those great hitters. Thank you. That game was great! My parents were in the stands to see it. I told Larry Bowa I was going deep that day and he didn’t believe me. It also won a recently widowed woman with four young children $10,000 during the home run inning. It also marked my first win,complete game, mother’s birthday gift and Joe Morgan called it from the booth.

HOVG: Since you hung up the spikes, you’ve taken on the role of “frontman” and guitarist of the Nuke 14 Band. How did the band come about?

JUDEN: I have played the guitar and written songs since the age of 12 and I still do it today. However, the Nuke14 Band is no longer. I am currently trying to put a new band together. If anyone is interested, friend me up on Facebook and let me know. I’m still working on Joaquin Phoenix to become the lead singer with Johnny Depp on guitar and back up vocals. (Laughs) So let me know guys if you're interested in working on the new album with me.

HOVG: Tell me about the style of music you play?

JUDEN: I play Rock and Roll!

HOVG: Who would you consider as your major muscial influences?

JUDEN: I grew up listening to Van Halen, AC/DC, Aerosmith,The Doors…as well as some Iron Maiden and Metallica as well as Ozzy Osbourne. Going off the rails on a crazy train!

HOVG: I had the privilege to see Jack McDowell’s band perform some time ago. Did you ever jam with “Black Jack” while the two of you were teammates in 1998?

JUDEN: Yes we did. Jack also came out and helped me in 2000 with a charity event called “Juden and Friends”. It was done at Bally’s in Vegas in memorium of my late sister Kim who at that time had passed 20 years earlier. Jack’s a great person as well as a great rocker.

HOVG: What’s next for you musically?

JUDEN: I have the next album written. It’s all about finding the right players to play it with me.

Jeff Juden played in the Majors from 1991 to 1999, suiting up for the Houston Astros, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Montreal Expos, Cleveland Indians, Milwaukee Brewers, Anaheim Angels and the New York Yankees. He compiled a 27-32 career record with a 4.81 lifetime ERA.

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