By the end of his senior season, big, poweful righty Jeff Juden was a high school pitching phenom in Salem, MA. He was a high school All-American and was named the Gatorade Massachusetts Baseball Player of the Year. The Houston Astros snapped him up with the 12th overall pick in the 1991 MLB Draft.
Juden’s major league career spanned eight seasons–and eight different teams. His best year was 1997, when he went 11-6 and struck out 136 batters playing for both Montreal and Cleveland where he was a contributing member of the Tribe team that won the American League pennant.
His career, hampered by various injuries, came to an end after a run with the World Champion New York Yankees in 1999, where he was the starting pitcher in the franchise’s last game of the 20th century (his only start for the Bombers, by the way).
In retirement, ‘Jude’ spent time coaching baseball from the Little League level up to and including a year as the pitching coach with the Hannibal Cavemen in the Prospect League during the team’s inaugural season.
Off the diamond, he pursued music. In 2002, he wrote, recorded and co-produced his first album entitled Anything You Want to Be. The album was released publicly in 2012. He still pursues his music career today. He’s also a cancer survivor.
Now 49, he co-hosts the Let’s Rock Sports Podcast Hosted by Jeff Juden
I caught up with him to talk about opening packs of baseball cards at the kitchen table in search of his rookie card and more.
Tony Reid–You were a first round pick by the Houston Astros in 1989 after being a standout in high school. With all that fanfare, when was the first time you were asked for your autograph?
Jeff Juden-Yeah, it was back in the day. I pitched a game in high school and struck out 20 out of 21 batters. After the game, the other team lined up at home plate and started asking me to sign their gloves, their hats, whatever they had, man. People started coming out of the woodwork. Even players on my team got to sign some autographs and thought that was the coolest thing. That was very humbling. It was wild. I got the biggest kick out of everybody else enjoying it.
TR–Being a high school kid, going through all of the physical and emotional changes kids do at that age, to have that level of admiration and excitement around you had to be a crazy, crazy thing, right?
JJ-Yeah it was like they were coming out of the cornfields for me to sign. Where did they all come from? What are they all doing at a high school game? Don’t they know this is Salem High School? I couldn’t figure it out. I was just having fun with my buddies that I grew up with and it was a wild experience.
TR–You were the youngest player in the majors in 1991 for your call up in September of that year. What do you remember about your MLB debut?
JJ– It was a Sunday afternoon there in Cincinnati. We just got done winning a Pacific Coast League Championship with the Tucson Toros. I flew Saturday to get to Cincinnati and I met up with the team. I went out and partied with the guys, they wanted to celebrate. We went to a bar down the street.
Chris Gardner started the game. They told me I might get in in relief. I hadn’t slept in a couple of days. I was there on the bench. They called my name in the second inning and told me Gardner had pulled a hamstring and that I had all the time in the world to go out there and warm up. I couldn’t even find my glove. They just said not to worry and just get down there.
They stopped the game twice because I threw curve balls that went by the catcher and rolled in around the backstop. I was a little shaky to say the least. I gave up four runs. I gave up a home run to Mariano Duncan. They had fireworks going off, man, I hit the deck. I thought I was getting bombed. It was pretty intimidating. I was really nervous, I have to admit.
TR-Your rookie cards hit the market in 1990 in a bunch of products such as Topps and Bowman. Do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a baseball card?
JJ– Yeah my dad and I collected cards growing up. I love hockey. As a kid, I really wanted to be a hockey player. Baseball was just something I did in the summer when I wasn’t playing hockey. We collected a lot of different cards. My dad went out and bought some packs and we sat around the kitchen table. We opened up a few. I was sitting there with my mom, my dad and my little sister. It was a family experience. My old man was the one to open the pack with my card in it. “Here it is. Take a look at this, kid.’ It was pretty surreal to see that being a collector. It was wild. It was cool that I could share it with the family.
TR–When you collected as a kid (in the 1970s and early 80s), did you collect certain players or teams or build sets?
JJ-I collected for the bubble gum, man. I put them away, hoping they would be worth something someday. I really liked the way the gum chewed. It lasted forever. We, as a family, will go through them some day. I have two sons, Frederick who is 18 and Dalton who is 17, two up and comers, keep any eye out for them.
My dad passed a few years ago to pancreatic cancer. We never got the chance to go through the cards and see what we had. I still have them up in a storage area. We liked Guy LaFleur. He loved the Canadiens. We used to go see the Bruins play the Canadiens. He was a Canadiens fan in Boston, so he got beat up a few times. He wanted to go that route when I was ten and twelve years old. I had people dumping beer on my head. It was rough. He loved his hockey and he loved the Canadiens. He always got autographs from the players. They were always good enough to sign for him. He told me ‘Kid, if you ever make it, always be good enough to sign for these people.’ I feel like, as a player, I always interacted really well with the fans and I signed a lot of autographs. I did the best I could.
TR– Is there anything outside of sports that you collect?
JJ-Yeah, man I am just trying to collect knowledge and wisdom. That is pretty much it. I am trying to learn something new every day. A lot of the lessons are in the failures. I am always looking to better myself and help my boys out. I am trying to give back what I can. I have done some coaching along the way. I am a single dad. I focus on my sons and I am trying to get them opportunities. That is my main focus.