It’s hard to imagine that a single moment in the career of a baseball player could change the path of that entire career. That is, unless, that single moment is an injury.
But hold on. What falls into the category of “injury?” Obviously, physical injuries – broken bones, muscle pulls and the like – would be counted as injuries. But what about psychological injuries? Can a traumatic on-the-field event cause a player to be irrevocably changed?
Call it a sprained psyche.
I think that’s exactly what happened to Alex Gordon, and I think that’s why Gordon has not yet become a successful major league ballplayer.
Flash back to Opening Day, April 2, 2007. Alex Gordon was named the team’s starting third baseman that spring.
Remember those days? It was almost like now, but not exactly – the organization’s hopes for the future hung on super-prospect Alex Gordon, who was one of the best college baseball players of his era. Everyone knew Gordon would be a star.
And here he was, the starting third baseman for the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day, against the Boston Red Sox.
He came to bat – his first major league at-bat –with one out in the first inning against future Hall of Famer Curt Schilling. The score was tied, 1-1. The bases were loaded.
It was Alex Gordon’s chance to become a hero.
But he struck out.
I think that strikeout had a serious effect on Alex Gordon’s mind. And I think it has prevented him from success.
The Royals went on to win that game, but as usual, they were miserable that season. Gordon played in 151 games and batted a paltry .247, although he did club a promising 15 home runs.
What if Alex Gordon had squibbed a single over the third baseman’s head? What if he had laid down a sacrifice bunt to score the go-ahead run? What if he had drilled a three-run double into right center? What if he had hit a grand slam?
Really, what if he had done anything else besides strike out?
It could be worse, I suppose. He could have hit into a double play.
The most recent incarnation of Alex Gordon is as a left fielder. He should be the starter at that position on Opening Day 2011. Opening Day 2007 must seem like a lifetime ago for Gordon, who is still just 27 years old.
Gordon probably has until the All-Star Break. That’s a little over three months. If he can’t prove that he’s an every-day player by then, I think the Alex Gordon experiment in Kansas City is over.
Which brings us back to the bigger point. When Gordon was a prospect, he was really the only legit prospect in the system besides Billy Butler. (If you think about it in those terms, the Royals had a 50% success rate, which ain’t bad.) Now, the team is locked and loaded.
Kansas City Star reporter Bob Dutton held an online chat recently, and he was asked if some of the Royals’ current prospects would flame out.
“Will some guys flop?” he wrote. “Absolutely. But the depth is so good that not ALL of them will flop. Some should be really good.”
If Dutton is right, the Royals are in good shape. And if Gordon can be a part of any future success, all the better. Maybe some of these new prospects, and a winning tradition, can help wipe out the demons of Alex Gordon’s past.
Big thanks to Royals writer Todd Fertig for inspiring this article.
Matt Kelsey is a Royals writer and the associate editor of I-70 Baseball. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.