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'Middle class' Bordick moving on up

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April 27

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.

Mike Bordick
Always solid with the glove, Mike Bordick is leading the AL with 27 RBI through April 26.

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

  • The Expos have been calling around looking for a third baseman, which would allow them to move Michael Barrett back behind the plate. Problem is, while there are some very good young third basemen around -- Anaheim's Troy Glaus, Oakland's Eric Chavez, Minnesota's Corey Koskie and Boston's Wilton Veras -- there apparently aren't any available for much less than one of the Expos' good young pitchers. Unless they could get a package from Seattle for Rondell White that would include Carlos Guillen (and he doesn't have traditional third base power), there might not be a match even with the talented White.

    Rusty Greer

  • Taking Rusty Greer out of the Texas lineup is killing the Rangers because it costs them a high on-base percentage and RBI guy at the top of the order who is also an exceptional defender. The fact that Gabe Kapler has sunk doesn't help. So GM Doug Melvin has been offering LHP Matt Perisho and/or RHP Mark Clark for any left-handed-hitting outfielder -- Dave Dellucci, for instance -- but Clark costs $5 million and unfortunately has looked as if he's done.

  • There have been rumblings in New York that the Yankees may soon have to look for a productive left fielder or DH if Ricky Ledee or Shane Spencer don't start hitting. "We have to resist making judgments too quickly," says GM Brian Cashman. "Look around at the time it took for a Matt Stairs or most young players to develop. We have to allow that in New York, as well." ... Cashman is relieved to get Alfonso Soriano back to Columbus where he can get back to relaxing at shortstop; a few off games in spring training on Florida infields and a messy try at third base in New York has caused some to make quick judgments on his future, but as Cashman says, "He's barely played one full season in the U.S." ... Since the Yankees' July priority may still be pitching -- in other words, until they know 37-year-old Roger Clemens and David Cone can regain the consistency necessary -- Cashman and Joe Torre are hesitant to start trading their bullets.

  • There was a lot of pressure in Seattle on Pat Gillick to trade a couple of his young pitchers for any left-handed-hitting outfielder available, like Bobby Higginson. Now, with Jamie Moyer out a month and Freddy Garcia out for what could be two months with a leg fracture, the M's had to turn to Brett Tomko and Robert Ramsay, whom they acquired in the Junior Griffey and Butch Huskey deals. "Tomko really threw well," says one AL scout who saw Tomko's six-inning debut last weekend. "He was right up around 95, and showed a lot more poise than before. He can still be a solid 12-to-15 game winner." ... Some felt Ryan Anderson might come up, but he struggled in his start last weekend. His problem has been command of his slider; lefties got 6 of the 7 hits off Anderson in that game, and the only runs off the Little Unit in his first three starts came on a home run by a lefty. ... Seattle did inquire about Matt Lawton in the spring and were rebuffed. But if the Twins are not sold and Carl Pohlad continues to own the club, Lawton's arbitration worth may zoom over $3.5M and make him too expensive for Minnesota. Terry Ryan cannot wait on Lawton and Brad Radke until after the season as he did Mike Trombley, although in Ryan's defense, he could have signed Trombley had Pohlad not killed the deal.

  • A number of GMs say the Tigers would like to make some deal involving Bobby Higginson and Tony Clark, but that may be easier said than done. Clark is a very intriguing player. "If you get him in June," says one GM, "you know you'll get a lot of production down the stretch." Clark is a lifetime .515 slugger after the All-Star Break, .489 before. But he's had terrible starts two seasons in a row.

  • The most logical pickup for any contender may still be Sterling Hitchcock, who while expensive ($6.5 million), makes every start, gets 7-8 strikeouts over nine innings and gets you into the seventh inning. He's also 3-0, 2.29 with 33 strikeouts in 23.2 innings in the postseason. Toronto remains the most logical contender, because the loaded Jays system has middle infielders and arms to trade. Not to mention Junior Cruz, who still could be trade bait if Vernon Wells is judged ready.

  • Tommy Lasorda has been told he's the U.S. Olympic coach in Sydney this September.

    News and notes

  • One of the major surprises of this week was the dominating performance Cal Eldred of the White Sox put out Monday to beat Mike Mussina. Eldred was 91-94 mph all night, and the life on his fastball was demonstrated by the fact that he twice threw high fastballs by B.J. Surhoff. The White Sox claim Eldred's stuff has been there all season, but that he's been going through the process of trying to relearn how to pitch with good stuff after three years of injuries. Next, the White Sox have to decide whether or not they are close enough to Cleveland to make a run this season; if not, then they have to decide come July whether to sign Eldred and fellow free agent James Baldwin, and if they're not going to keep them, explore deals to the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Angels -- teams that believe they are a pitcher or two away from the postseason.

    "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.

  • Despite all the expectations, Reds GM Jim Bowden isn't panicking over his club's slow start. "Junior, Sean Casey, Dante Bichette and Aaron Boone are going to hit, it's as simple as that," says Bowden. They had their regular lineup together for two games -- both wins -- before Barry Larkin's injury. Bowden knows he eventually is going to have to trade for a starter or two, but dismisses the notion that all the innings thrown by Scott Sullivan, Danny Graves and Scott Williamson last year are catching up to them. "We're not far behind St. Louis," says Bowden, "and remember that in '95 we started 1-8 and won the division, while last year we started 9-14 and almost made it into the playoffs." Perhaps Wednesday's pounding of the Mets is a start.

  • When Robert Fick was accused of making an obscene gesture to the White Sox crowd as he left the field after Saturday's brawl, he got a call from his mother reprimanding him. Fick protested. He did not flash one finger, but three, and it wasn't intended to be obscene.

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