Who Can It Be Now?
Terry Charles Bulling -- known to friends and family as Bud -- was born on December 15, 1952 in Lynwood, California. Bulling went undrafted out of Lynwood High School. As a result, he attended Golden West College (a junior college) in Huntington Beach, California before transferring to Cal State-Los Angeles.
He finished his collegiate baseball career at CSULA and was drafted in the 14th Round of the 1974 June Draft by the Minnesota Twins. He signed with the Twins and was assigned to the Midwest League. He stayed there for the next two seasons. He earned a promotion to Double-A Orlando after a 1976 season in which he hit .310/.463/.426 -- yes, that OBP is correct and came on the strength of a 102 walk/33 strikeout season. Even though Bulling was 2 years older than the average player, that's still a good batting eye.
The next season, in 1977, Bulling was called up midway through the season. The Twins pretty clearly viewed him as a backup catcher candidate, and they did not need much more than that from him. After all, they had 21-year-old All-Star Butch Wynegar on the roster. Indeed, Bulling coming to Minneapolis was purely a function of necessity: backup Glenn Borgmann got injured and placed on the disabled list, so the Twins called up Bulling to watch Wynegar catch.
The next season, however, Borgmann was healthy. Perhaps Bulling's .158/.270/.188 slash line also helped with the decision, but Bulling was sent back to Double-A Orlando. The Twins felt pretty well set at catcher going forward -- not only with Wynegar but also because of the fact Bulling got passed in the organizational set up by Sal Butera -- so, near the end of spring training in 1979, the Twins sold Bulling's contract to the expansion Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners had just begun play as a franchise two seasons earlier, and their catching situation was far less settled. Having cycled through catchers Larry Cox, Bob Stinson, Bill Plummer, Kevin Pasley, and Skip Jutze by the end of 1978, Bulling had to be pleased to go to another organization -- especially one closer to his West Coast upbringing. He joined Triple-A Spokane for the 1979 season and played for the Indians for two seasons.
Finally, in 1981, the Mariners gave Bulling the opportunity to break camp as a major leaguer. He played in the first game of the season, and he platooned at catcher with lefty hitting Jerry Narron. Bulling performed decently in that strike-shortened season, hitting .247/.341/.305 (an OPS+ at 85% of league average) with two homers, 15 RBI, 21 BB, and 20 Ks.
That performance was enough to keep him with the Mariners for the 1982 season, but the Mariners again changed up their catching situation in 1982 -- with switch hitter Rick Sweet joining Bulling and veteran Jim Essian as the three main catchers in Seattle. The team also called up their "catcher of the future" (who didn't last long in Seattle, mind you) Orlando Mercado for a 9-game stint. In other words, for the Mariners, it was chopping and changing once again.
Bulling's hitting slacked off a bit in 1982, dropping to .221/.306/.286 and just 1 homer in 173 plate appearances. Thus, it should not have been a surprise when, in early 1983, the Mariners gave Bulling just 5 at-bats in the first 10 days of the season before sending him down to Triple-A Salt Lake City. He spent the 1983 season in Utah, and that was the end of his career.
Mustache Check: Indeed, Bulling is bedecked with a mustache.
While Bulling caught just 133 games during his entire career, one of them was immortalized on a 1983 Fleer card -- even though Bulling himself did not have his own card in that set. That's because he was the catcher for the Mariners when Gaylord Perry won his 300th career game against the New York Yankees on May 6, 1982.
A Few Minutes with Tony L.
Bud Bulling was not a player who made a big impact on most baseball fans for his playing career. I mean, he was never the sole starter for any major league team on which he played, he was not a great hitter, and he did not have any major episodes that were splashed over the front page of any sports section other than catching Gaylord Perry's 300th win.
After his retirement from baseball, Bulling became a bit more difficult to find. One collector trying to put together the entire 1983 Fleer set with autographs was interviewed on Yahoo in 2009. He cited Bulling as one of the more difficult players to find at that point because he had heard that Bulling was living in an RV at the time. Shortly after the story ran, that collector was contacted by one of Bulling's mother's cousins to help get the autograph. Indeed, Bulling's Facebook page contains only two photos of Bulling: one taken by his computer, and one of Bulling with his mother next to his RV.
Unfortunately, Bud Bulling fought prostate cancer for a long time. On March 8, 2014, he lost that fight. He was survived by his mother Iada and his children Casey, Joshua, and Karissa. Please donate to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to help find a cure for this disease -- guys, we're the ones who get this, so step up and do something.