Remembering “Red-Hot Rudy” Regalado

Ahh, spring training, when the mixture of hope and baseball withdrawal come together to make unlikely heroes.

And 64 years ago, as the Indians embarked on what turned out to be a history-making season, one rookie became a legend – even if he never equaled that performance again.

Rudolph Valentino Regaldo – he was named after a favorite actor of his mother’s – was signed by legendary Indians scout Cy Slapnicka. He spent the bulk of 1953 with the Class A Reading Indians, but also appeared in 36 games for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. The plan was for him to start 1954 in Circle City, but he asked to make a stop at Indians spring training on the way from his hometown of Los Angeles to Daytona Beach, Florida, where the little Indians trained.

General Manager Hank Greenberg agreed, and Regaldo, a third baseman by training, was thrown into action in an intrasquad game, filling in for Bobby Avila, who was holding out that spring. Regalado, who had demonstrated some offensive prowess in the minor leagues in 1953, hit so well that he acquired the nickname of “Rudy, the Red-Hot Rapper.”

Bettman (Getty Images)

Regalado hit .447 with 11 home runs in spring training, and Greenberg and manager Al Lopez decided he needed to be on the roster, purchasing his contract from Indianapolis. Avila was back into the fold, so Al Rosen was moved from third base to first – shades of another slugger who made a similar move more than 40 years later – to put Regalado at third.

Regalado hit two home runs in the month of May for the Indians – which turned out to be his only two major-league home runs. As spring turned into summer, Regalado’s hot bat cooled. He finished the season with a .250 average in 65 games, but hit .333 in that year’s World Series. His pinch-hit RBI single in Game 4 was the last run scored by an Indians player in the postseason for 41 years.

Regalado played parts of 1955 and 1956 with the Indians – ironically, he came into spring training in 1956 as a potential first baseman, since Rosen had moved back to third base – but spent most of those years in Indianapolis, where he roomed with a North Dakota native who would later demonstrate his own hitting prowess: Roger Maris.

“No regrets,” Regalado said in an interview with Dan Coughlin in 1976. “Al Lopez gave me a chance.”

Regalado turned to television, but not, like so many other ex-players before or since, the broadcast booth. He ended up working as a salesman for XATV, a television station with a transmitter in Tijuana, Mexico, but offices across the border in San Diego (the owner of the station, Emilio Azcarraga Jr., was the millionaire who bankrolled the ill-fated sports newspaper The National in the early 1990s).

Regalado – who earned $6,000 with the Indians in 1954 and then another $6,700 as a World Series bonus – became a millionaire in Southern California between his work in television and real estate investments. He died February 12 at the age of 87 – “called up to God’s major league,” his obituary said.

Photo: Cleveland Memory Project

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