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'Middle class' Bordick moving on up
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
You have to visit Mechanics Falls, Maine to appreciate Mike Bordick. This is a guy who, when he played for the A's, used to spend the winter in the small mill town off the Little Androscoggin River, in the days before he became the other guy in the American League shortstops gallery.
It is generally conceded that the AL right now might have four potential Hall of Fame shortstops in Omar Vizquel, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter. "It doesn't matter what I do," says Bordick, "I'm still something below middle class among the shortstops in our league. Look at some of these new guys coming along, like (Miguel) Tejada, (Cristian) Guzman and (Deivi) Cruz ..."
The 34-year old Bordick is ever modest, even though he is heading into the final weekend of April leading the AL with 27 RBI. He's never forgotten that he was signed by Oakland in 1986 as an undrafted free agent when scout J.P. Ricciardi (now Oakland's director of player personnel) took scouting director Dick Bogard to a Cape Cod League game and convinced him that Bordick was a better player than a seventh-rounder named Ken Bowen who was asking for what they considered to be a lot of money.
"I was signed to fill out the roster in Medford, Oregon," laughs Bordick, who also remembers what it was like to hit a combined total of 12 home runs in six minor-league seasons.
"I always use Mike Bordick as my example of what a player can make of himself if he works hard, strives for consistency and constantly tries to improve himself year-round," says Cardinals GM Walt Jocketty, who was Oakland's director of player personnel as Bordick trudged through the minor leagues. "He was never considered a prospect on any level, but he kept climbing up and up. Now look at him. And he's the only player who ever thanked me for signing him to a contract. I think it was his second season in the big leagues, and he came to my office (in Phoenix) and said, 'Thank you, Mr. Jocketty.' I'm not sure I gave him a very good contract, at that."
What Bordick could always do was play solid defense. "He makes the routine plays, but he also makes difficult plays look routine," says Tony La Russa, who remains one of Bordick's greatest fans. "He does everything right in terms of positioning, feeding throws to the second baseman, being in the game. He's a great shortstop who never draws attention to himself."
As brilliantly as Vizquel played last season, Bordick's teammates felt he should have won the Gold Glove (Bordick led all shortstops with 511 assists and averaged 3.39 assists per nine innings while Vizquel averaged 2.94). But his accomplishments were lost in an abysmal Orioles season. "He did not bobble a ball all season," says broadcaster Mike Flanagan. "Ask any player. He did not bobble a ball." Since the beginning of the 1998 season, Bordick has made just 16 errors.
Bordick and B.J. Surhoff have become the ballasts for the Orioles, and the club has gotten off to a strong start despite reaching the final weekend of April without a win from Mike Mussina or Scott Erickson. Bordick has even moved from Maine to Baltimore in the offseason, remarkable since there were a few hours in his life when he thought twice about being the player who permanently moved Cal Ripken to third base.
Pat Gillick struck a deal with the free agent Bordick on December 13, 1996, and the next day Bordick was flying from Portland to Baltimore for his press conference. On the layover in Pittsburgh, Bordick's wife bought the Washington Post, where the signing was trashed and he was judged one of the worst shortstops in baseball. Gillick talked Bordick onto the plane and convinced him to go through with the deal.
"There was a time where those who thought I couldn't play looked like they might be right," says Bordick, who hit .236 with seven homers and 27 extra-base hits in his first season with the Orioles. Granted, he did what was expected at shortstop, but look at what's happened since:
Year Avg. Slug. XBH RBI 1997 .236 .318 27 46 1998 .260 .411 43 51 1999 .277 .403 52 77 2000* .365 .703 12 27 (through 21 games)
Mike Bordick on a pace to hit 48 homers and knock in 175 runs? "I'll be lucky to have 50 homers for my career," he laughs. But he knows this is the product of his year-round grind.
"My career really changed when I came to the Orioles and started working with (hitting coach) Rick Down," he says. "He worked with me on a lot of things, basically to become less defensive and more offensive as a hitter. He got me to thinking about opening up the field, not just to bang it up the middle and go to right field. I started looking for the ball inside in certain counts and situations, looking to drive balls. I just began thinking as a hitter, and gradually I developed confidence that I could hit in situations."
Bordick, like many players, got stronger and quicker with offseason training. He dismisses his routine by saying "all players use their offseasons to make themselves better." But that's not necessarily true; it's especially not true of the old-timers who like to think theirs was the golden era.
He is a vital part of this Orioles team, yet because he is still the guy who wintered in Mechanics Falls, he adds something far beyond statistics. One thing Mike Hargrove set out to do with this team was try to change some of its station-to-station mentality on the bases and put Bordick, Brady Anderson, Delino DeShields and Surhoff in order. That created a problem, however. On a team of considerable egos, who would bat ninth? Bordick, coming off his best season in the majors, was happy to move into the ninth spot, essentially becoming the second leadoff hitter. "If it helps us win, I'll bat anywhere," says Bordick. It has helped them win.
La Russa once said of Bordick that of all the everyday players he managed, Bordick was his favorite. Hargrove understands why. What La Russa never anticipated was just how far hard work would take the kid who wasn't good enough to get drafted. "Don't lose perspective," says Bordick. "Compared to these other guys, I'm a middle-class shortstop."
Around the majors
News and notes
"There may not be a team in baseball better stocked with top-of-the-rotation arms," says one NL executive. Kip Wells is on the brink of stardom, and those who saw Jon Garland -- stolen from the Cubs for Matt Karchner -- think he's a No. 2 or 3 starter. Raw 19-year old Jason Stumm is regarded as one of the best prospects around, and Lorenzo Barcelo, the last of the arms that came from the Giants, could reach Chicago this season. Of course, there is also the possibility that they can hit the ball so well that they can contend for the wild card, and if they do, they have those young pitchers to go get a veteran starter, a shortstop or third baseman (to fill the position until Joe Crede is ready). It may be worth it if the Cubs are still struggling.
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