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Don Rudolph was a journeyman pitcher in the major leagues but one of the best liked as well. His career in the big leagues never amounted to a lot although his minor league career has some legendary moments.

Baltimore born and bred, Don grew up with several brothers and played several sports. He excelled in baseball as both a hitter and a pitcher and at one point when his pitching career wasn't going well he considered first base and the outfield. As it was he kept pitching.

He made his minor league debut at Jesup of the Georgia State League in 1950 and was impressive right off the bat, pitching 213 innings and posting 13 wins. His second season there is one locals still talk about. He became a local hero and legend when he tossed 285 innings finishing with a 28-8 record. It was more games than he would ever win in the majors.

In 1952 he earned a promotion to the White Sox minor league team when the club bought his contract. He would spend one season with the Sky Sox before going into the US Army in 1952. He only pitched in 25 games that year but it was also the place he met his future wife, Patricia Brownell who starred on the burlesque stage as Patti Waggin.

His return to the Sky Sox in 1954 led him to propose to Patti and in 1955 they were wed. The marriage was kept secret from the big league brass for awhile because they didn't know if a morals claus would take effect. After all Patti was a stripper. She actually appears on the back of his 1959 Topps baseball card.

The 1957 season saw him make his big league debut with the sox and while he only got into 5 games he did get his first major league win. 1958 saw him back in Indianapolis for more seasoning and he finished with 11 wins. The Sox brought him back for the '58 season and again he pitched little but did win his only decision.

On May 1, 1959 Don thought he caught a break. He was traded to Cincinnati but as it turned out in his only National League stint he pitched only 7 innings with no decisions. So it was back to the minor leagues until the Reds lost him in the Rule 5 Draft to Cleveland.

He tossed less than an inning for the Tribe before being shipped off to the new Washington Senators with Steve Hamilton. Don impressed given the chance and finished the 1962 campaign 8-10. It was to be his best ever in the majors.

The opening day nod in 1963 went to the 5'11" left hander and it was a special day. President John F. Kennedy would toss out the opening day ball for the last time. Seven months later he would be dead, felled by an assassin's bullet in Dallas.

Patti was in the crowd taking pictures and got herself glamorized in the local press when her picture was taken for the Washington newspaper. Don started off well but it down hill from there. He lost the game despite pitching well and finished the season 9-17.

It wasn't all Don's fault as the Senators (later to become the Texas Rangers) were the worst team in the American League. They finished with only 56 wins and were 46.5 games behind the first place Yankees.

In 1964 Rudolph was used sparingly pitching only 70 innings and both starting and relieving. He finished 1-3 and at the end of the season the club wanted to send the 32 year old lefty to the minors again. Don was having none of it. He chose to retire to his wife and young daughter in Granada Hills, California, and to run his fledgling California Underground Utilities firm.

Don finished his big league career 18-32 and outside of a few really good games including the shortest game in baseball history to that point, there was nothing spectacular in the big leagues. As a minor leaguer he won around 100 games including his huge year at Jesup. He even hit a home run in the minors.

The next four years he still played some semi-pro baseball and coached in the Granada Hills Youth League, but baseball remained in his blood. He was contemplating a comeback at the ripe old age of 36. It never happened.

On September 12, 1968 Don took the company truck to work. Coming down a steep grade the brakes went out, and the truck rolled over. Just three weeks past his 37th birthday Don Rudolph was dead. He left behind a young wife barely 40 and a 7 year old daughter.

During their heyday together the Rudolph's were among the most liked on both the burlesque and baseball circuits. All the players and dancers we spoke with had only good things to say about the lovely Patti and the practical joking Don. They were only married 13 years but made quite an impression. They both died way too young.



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