Tag Archive | "Tom Glavine"

Connecting With The Cardinals: Brian Jordan Interview

In the 1990’s, few players surpassed Brian Jordan in a Cardinal uniform. As a right fielder from 1992-1998, he combined an elite level of athleticism and training with some of the game’s great minds to become one of the best outfielders in the National League.

Brian_Jordan

After being drafted by the Cardinals in the 1988 MLB Draft, his main job of the time was football, where he played three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons as a safety, where he played to such a high level that he made the 1991 Pro Bowl after leading the team in tackles.

After the Cardinals paid him to a new deal that included a sizeable signing bonus to became exclusively a baseball player, he made it to St. Louis in 1992 and began a career that would carry over 15 years and see him become an All-Star in his second professional league as well. He was a central part of the Cardinal rebuilding effort in the mid and late 90’s, with his peak seasons coming in 1996, when he drove in 104 runs for the surprising resurgent Cardinals, who finished a game short of a World Series. In his final year in St. Louis, he hit a career-high 25 home runs and was protection behind Mark McGwire during his record-setting summer.

Despite leaving St. Louis in 1999 for the Atlanta Braves and later the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas Rangers, the impression he left on St. Louis baseball has far from dissipated. He was an essential part the rebuilding effort for the organization that has carried over to the product that takes the field to this day.

On a more individual level, Jordan was a part of a picture that represented much more. As a local teenage fan of the game of the sport of the African-American race, he was a part of a particularly inspiring vision of the Cardinals for me—and I was far from alone. Joining Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey and more on a team that had an identity that inspired many young African-Americans to get behind the Cardinals, and by association, get into and follow the sport as well. While the team has continued to be as successful as ever since that era, that is an element that has all but evaporated from the organization’s image since.

Since his playing days came to an end in 2006, he has gone on to become a part of the Braves broadcasting team, and penned a children’s book on baseball, entitled I Told You I Can Play. However, he still makes the occasional return to St. Louis to remain a part of the Cardinal experience as well.

It was during one such visit during visit during the Cardinals Care Winter Up that Jordan made such a return. Originally I requested just two or three minutes of his time for a few questions on his days with the organization, but quickly the conversation expanded, and it changed from a stop at an elevator to us having a seat to cover a wide range of relevant topics to his experience both on and off the field—and the culture of the sport as a whole.

 

I-70: You were with the Cardinals during a time that the organization was undergoing a lot of changes. Do you have any memories from your time here that jump out in front of others?

Jordan: I always brag about the fans here. Any chance I get to come back to St. Louis is really an honor. I loved playing here and I wish I could have played my whole career here, but unfortunately business is business and I had to move on. But St. Louis is a great city and the environment within the organization is even better. There’s a family environment within the organization; they stick with their guys that come in and play hard and it is a great tradition to have.

 

I-70: What moment or stretch stands out the most to you as a Cardinal?

Jordan: ’96 was definitely a rewarding season, with the winning tradition returning to St. Louis. Being here when Mark McGwire broke all of the records and being a part of all of that was unbelievable too.

 

I-70: You speak about the winning tradition, how was it coming through the Cardinal organization and the all of the figures that you come across being a part of it?

Jordan: Being mentored by Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, those are the type of memories that are treasured away for life. They pretty much taught me the game, so to see an Ozzie sticking with the organization and Willie coming back the way he did was tremendous.

 

I-70: It’s good that you bring them up, because at the time you were coming around, there were a plethora of great black ballplayers in the fold, between Ozzie, Willie, Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton and all the way down to you. How do you feel about the state of having diversity in the game, specifically within the African-American community?

Jordan: Disappointed honestly. I’m doing what I can do to help change that, because that was a part of that too. Even after St. Louis, I played with a lot of great African-American ballplayers, but you’re right, its dwindling down. It’s about the expense of the game and the lack of opportunities for inner city kids, that where the parents don’t have the money to put them with the traveling league ball clubs that are going to showcase them to get them to that next level.

It’s a shame, and unless something is done with former athletes and Major League Baseball stepping in, we’ll continue to see it. Because if you look up, Major League Baseball is becoming global and not only are athletes coming from here, you’ve got the Latin and Japanese players too, and everybody is coming into the fold and opportunities are becoming slimmer and slimmer.

 

I-70: The African-American presence is also a part of the cultural history as well, and that presence can also be a gateway to the past as well, do you agree?

Jordan: Oh definitely. Being in Atlanta now, I always get a chance to talk with Hank Aaron, who fought for our rights to play the game about this. And it’s a shame because number 42 is probably rolling over in his grave right now. Jackie Robinson all that he fought for and withstood for us to see that we aren’t playing anymore. And also, the history is not being taught in schools anymore, so a lot of young kids don’t get to be see it anymore.

 

I-70: Going back into your career a bit further and the ’96 season, Tony (La Russa) said that season stood out the most to him when thinking about his tenure in St. Louis. What was it like after the years of struggle coming through the organization and nearly reaching the World Series?

Jordan: It was a huge turnaround, because you know coming up with Joe Torre, there were a lot of young players and not many veterans to you learn how to win ballgames. Also, there wasn’t the pitching staff in place to win a lot either.

When Tony got here, he changed the whole atmosphere and discipline of the team. Everybody knows that he is really disciplined and he’s in-tune, controls the game and is very strategic in what he does. He brought that to the whole organization and put players in positions to succeed. I think that was the difference and being a part of that for the fans here in St. Louis as well was a major thing.

 

I-70: Was it about buying into his philosophies and having a restart with the ownership turnover and Walt Jocketty joining up as well?

Jordan: A lot of winning attitudes all came in at once. The DeWitts saw it all through and were focused on restoring the tradition of St. Louis baseball and it made all of the difference.

I-70: I believe you are the only player that played for all of the managers that are being inducted into the Hall of Fame at one point or another in their career, as well as played with most of the inductees as well.

Jordan: This may be the first Hall of Fame ceremony that I actually attend too because of that. You’ve got the three managers, but you’ve also got Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine who I played behind, as well as Frank Thomas who I played against in college and into the majors. It’s a tremendous opportunity to see some greatness and all of those guys deserve it.

 

I-70: What was it like to play behind a staff like you had in Atlanta?

Jordan: Outside of playing in St. Louis, as I wanted to do my whole career, playing with the Braves and the best threesome in baseball in Glavine, Smoltz and Maddux….man, what an honor.

Maddux was the one of the greatest pitchers ever to play behind. Didn’t overpower you, but did his homework and his preparation was tremendous. I threw out my first runner at first base from the outfield because Maddux told me I was going to do it before the game (laughing). He picked the game before the game and told me when I was going to do it. Unbelievable, but that’s just how good Greg Maddux was.

 

I-70: Was it just his brain for the game and how he saw it? Being a step ahead of everybody else?

Jordan: He was a step ahead of it, and when you can have control of the ball and put it where you want it constantly, that made him a Hall of Famer.

 

I-70: And with Glavine, I would think the way he delivered the ball on the outside corner that he made sure you had plenty of work as well.

Jordan: He was relentless, because you knew what he was going to throw, but you still couldn’t do anything about it. He never gave in to hitters and he never changed. He stayed the same until the end when he had to change because he wasn’t getting that outside corner like five inches off the plate anymore, but he was incredible.

But he was a professional, that’s the thing to say about my man Glavine. And he went about his business the right way all the time.

 

I-70: It was recently the year anniversary of Stan Musial passing. Do you have special memories that you can recall with him?

Jordan: Another great thing about the Cardinals is that they keep close to the tradition. All the legends and all the great players always come back and share stories with the young kids coming up. For me, he used to come in the locker room and play his harmonica all the time and share his stories in the game of baseball. And those are things that you never forget, and not many people do that. Not many legends come back and share like that, and St. Louis has a rich history of doing that.

 

I-70: I imagine coming through the system you worked with George Kissell a lot as well.

Jordan: Oh man! Another guy that if you talk about greatness? George Kissell was relentless. He stayed on every young player and made us better. And I was raw; a young football player trying to learn this game, but he took me under his wing. I had great respect for him and the knowledge that he had for the game.

 

I-70: Obviously with your football background having the physical tools for the game was never a problem. But you said recently on the MLB Network that it wasn’t until your 13th season you felt like you understood the game. Do you think that foundation in this system cut that learning curve so you had the longevity that you did?

Jordan: Absolutely. I didn’t play a lot of minor league games and they were the reason why, because they corrected those weaknesses and fixed them early and I was able to work them and make adjustments.

When I have guys like George Kissell, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee mentoring me along the way, that eventually I would get it. And as the years went on I continued to learn and I turned my raw ability into learning the game. And I wish it all could have clicked 13 years ago (laughing), and there’s no telling what kind of career I could have had.

 

I-70: Well, it was a pretty impressive one all the same. Wrapping up, is there anything that you’d express to the Cardinal community that you started out with now, after all of these years from that start?

Jordan: St. Louis is the best. I’ve always been a Cardinal and that hasn’t changed and I’d really like to thank the fans for that.

 

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Royals Fans Need To Embrace A Chance

We have all been embarrassed by our own family. Whether it’s an overzealous parent, a misbehaving kid, a drunken uncle, or a senile grandparent…we all know the feeling. It’s uncomfortable because we love our family and we understand them better than anyone. It’s also uncomfortable because it usually happens in public, in front of people that don’t love or understand the offending party. That’s exactly how I’ve felt on Twitter the past 24 hours.

I get it, I really do. Wil Myers is going to be Dale Murphy, at least. Just like Alex Gordon was George Brett (I wrote that), Eric Hosmer was Albert Pujols (me again), and Luke Hochevar was a right handed Tom Glavine (okay, no one really said that). Baseball loves prospects and nowhere is that more true than in Kansas City. There are several reasons for that, not the least of which is the fact that prospects are seemingly all we ever have.

Another reason is that we have an incredible network of bloggers in this town that have a great grasp on talent evaluation and advanced metrics. This reason gets overlooked because for the most part these bloggers are looked down upon. They’re seen as cynical, all-knowing nerds that eat pop tarts in their parent’s basement. I’m obviously not in the business of disparaging bloggers, and I love reading what they write. I truly believe we have one of the most knowledgeable networks of baseball bloggers in MLB. That being said, their reaction to the Kansas City Royals’ trade for James Shields has been embarrassing.

For 25 years now we’ve watched and bemoaned the fact that the Royals are always on the opposite side of this trade. Even as recently as two years ago we were trading away Zack Greinke for a wheel barrow full of prospects and jokes about this franchise as a farm club for the rest of MLB remained alive and well. Well, that farm club has been extremely productive recently and we find ourselves with an abundance of position players with potential and nary a pitcher.

The obvious answer in a small market like Kansas City is to turn those prospects into the missing piece(s) for your ball club. Dayton Moore did just that…and he’s being crucified for it. Now I know my community of bloggers and I know that they value being right more than just about anything else. The whole pursuit of advanced statistics is just a pursuit to see who can find the truest “right”. Unfortunately, Dayton Moore has been wrong so many times that in second guessing him, we now always think we’re right. Here are the three main arguments, and my problems with them.

James Shields is not an ace. This is the one that’s gotten me most fired up this week, but it’s also the easiest to debate. After all, what is an “ace”? There is no standard definition. You could say that it’s the #1 starter for a major league team, but that would mean that Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar have both been aces. You could say that it’s an exclusive club of Cy Young winners I suppose, but that seems too stringent. I don’t really care how you choose to define it, Shields is an ace. John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press thinks so. So does Jeff Passan at Yahoo! Sports. Whether he fits your definition of ace or not, there’s no denying he’s one of the 20 best pitchers in baseball, meaning for the first time since Greinke left our ace would also be an ace on several other teams.

We gave up too much. Wil Myers may be a Hall of Famer…but the odds are against it. Jake Odorizzi may turn into James Shields, but no one is predicting that. The Rays are going to fix Mike Montgomery…well we sure couldn’t. The fact that all of these things are still possibilities is precisely because none of these players have done anything at the major league level. We may one day come to find that we did give too much, but it’s ridiculous to presume you know that now. How many times have we been on the flip side of this? How many times have we complained that we’re always giving up something real for something hoped for? We got the real side this time guys, get excited!

We can’t compete with the Tigers even after this move. This may be the most reasonable of the arguments, but it still irks me. If you truly believe this (of course I don’t) then nothing Dayton Moore does matters. The Royals weren’t going to compete with Wil Myers, no matter how awesome he is, and the current pitching staff. Jake Odorizzi could have maybe been a #3 starter, Mike Montgomery was going nowhere fast in this organization. I’ve heard several say we should have picked up Anibal Sanchez and kept Myers. That works except Sanchez is MUCH more expensive, may not even want to play in KC, and IS NOWHERE CLOSE TO THE PITCHER JAMES SHIELDS IS!

The fact is we gave up a lot of potential for two starting pitchers. One of those starting pitchers ranks ninth in WAR over the last two seasons (slightly ahead of Zack Greinke) and struck out 15 batters while walking NONE in the last game he started. This same pitcher has postseason experience, eats up innings like Prince Fielder eats bratwursts, and seems genuinely happy to be a Royal. We also go a guy that just turned 27 that is markedly better than Luke Hochevar will ever be.

The other fact is we reacted as if Dayton Moore had just traded Ed Hearn for David Cone. While some national pundits are praising Moore for taking a chance…While baseball executives are saying they liked the deal for the Royals…we threw a hissy fit for everyone to see. We diminished Shields’ possible impact to the point of saying that Wil Myers would have made as much of an impact as Shields will….in 2013!

I’ve often said that Kansas City is a great baseball town, and that if we built a winner we would support them as well as any city in America. Well, David Glass has spent the money. Dayton Moore has put his job on the line. Are we going to sit around and complain about losing a prospect or get excited about our new ace? There’s been plenty of time to complain and second guess. We’ve been right plenty of those times too. Now it’s time to support our new pitcher, support our new contender, and go win a damn division!

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The Bruce Chen All-Stars

Today I read an interesting article from Matt Snyder about the careers of Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel.

Moyer, of course, is the 49 year-old pitcher trying to make yet another improbable comeback, this time with the San Francisco Giants. Vizquel is the 45 year-old SS trying to catch on with the Blue Jays. Both have shown incredible endurance to hang on in this game far longer than most, and as a result, they’ve played with a fairly incredible roster of Major League stars. It got me to thinking about Royals journeyman pitcher Bruce Chen. While Chen isn’t nearly as old as the two mentioned in the article, he’s nearly as well traveled, having played on 10 Major League clubs in his 13 year career. So I thought it would be fun to put together a similar list for Chen. So I present to you the Bruce Chen All-Stars:

Lineup:

Craig Biggio OF

Roberto Alomar 2B

Ken Griffey, Jr OF

Mark Texieira 1B

Manny Ramirez OF

David Ortiz DH

Chipper Jones 3B

Mike Piazza C

Barry Larkin SS

Rotation: Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling

Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Billy Wagner, John Franco, Jose Mesa, Joakim Soria

Bench:  Jeff Bagwell, Vladimir Guerrero, Jimmy Rollins, Tim Raines, Lance Berkman

Manager: Bobby Cox

Wow that’s quite a list of teammates for a guy that’s rarely broken 90 mph. Pretty incredible to think that Chen has essentially played with a team full of Hall of Famers over his less than remarkable career. I bring this up for entertainment purposes obviously, but also to remind folks what a cockroach Chen has been. There are plenty of people wanting to write him off after he’s started spring training like Hiram Davies.  I say not so fast. For one thing, like I mentioned on I70 baseball radio a few weeks ago, Chen is not the type of pitcher that can throw one (or even two) pitches and get through an outing unscathed. He relies on trickery and if he’s working on something, he may not have that luxury. Perhaps more importantly, this is a 34 year old pitcher that’s played with everyone from Tim Raines to Jarrod Dyson. You don’t worry about Spring Training stats with someone of his experience level. Chen knows what he needs to do to get ready, and he’ll be ready in April.

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P1ay1ng Wi7h Numb3r5

I like playing with numbers sometimes, so let me run these past you to chew on:

  • 3rd all-time in the most measurable category for his position (saves), sandwiched between future & current Hall of Famers.
  • 4 times, he finished in the top 25 in MVP voting, including a top ten finish
  • 7-time All-Star
  • Set a then NL record with 47 saves in 1991
  • Finished 2nd in the 1991 Cy Young award voting, behind Tom Glavine
  • 3-time Rolaids Releif Man of the Year (NL twice, AL once)
Since 1964, only 5 men have held the career saves record for longer than one year. Two are in the HOF (Hoyt Wilhelm & Rollie Fingers). You’ve probably heard of the three that aren’t: Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, and Lee Smith. If you’re like me, as soon as you read that you thought, “Wait a minute, Mo & The (other) Hoff are sure-fire Hall of Famers.”

Lee Smith pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1990 to 1993

So, why isn’t Lee Smith as “sure fire” as the others?

Scouted by one of the top 100 (by nearly everyone’s count) baseball men of all time, Buck O’Neil, Smith’s career as a top closer is strewn with accolades that are sure to impress anyone. Anyone, apparently, except for at least 331 members of the BBWAA who have HOF voting privileges. Lee received just 45.3% of the votes last year, falling short of the 75% required for HOF induction. 2012 will mark his 10th year of eligibility on the ballot.Facts surrounding the career Lee Arthur Smith:

  • He held the career saves record from 1993 to 2006, when HOFfman passed him (see what I did there?)
  • From 1983 to 1995 (13 seasons), he saved fewer than 29 games exactly once (1989)
  • From 1985 to 1990 (6 straight seasons), he averaged >1K/IP (HOF Gossage’s max, 4)
  • He recorded his first save in 1981, at the time the MLB record for career saves was 272
  • He recorded his last save in 1997, at which time the record was his, at 478
  • Since his departure from the game, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, and Bruce Sutter have all been elected to the Hall of Fame

Current Hall of Famer closers include: Gossage, Fingers, Sutter, Wilhelm, and Eckersley. For the sake of argument, I’ll toss Hoffman and Rivera into the mix of guys with whom I’ll compare Lee’s numbers.

Career Saves:

  1. Rivera (603, and counting),
  2. Hoffman (601)
  3. Smith (478)
  4. Eckersley (390)
  5. Fingers (341)
  6. Gossage (310)
  7. Sutter (300)
  8. Wilhelm (227, ten behind Ugueth Urbina)

Career Games Finished:

  1. Rivera (883)
  2. Hoffman (856)
  3. Smith (802)
  4. Fingers (709)
  5. Gossage (681)
  6. Wilhelm (651)
  7. Eckersley (577)
  8. Sutter (512)

Obviously, the numbers I’ve put before you today don’t tell the whole story. We all know that you can usually present numbers in such a way to make them tell the story you want them to tell. You have to dig a little deeper to get the entire story. Consider that the very role of closer is something that’s relatively new, in terms of comparing to other “positions” like shortstop or left fielder. That’s a factor in comparing these men to each other.

Does the fact that Sutter needed only 512 games finished to collect 300 saves (.586) speak to how lights-out he must’ve been when taking the mound? It certainly tells part of that story. Isn’t it interesting that Hoyt Wilhelm finished 651 games, but complied only 237 career saves (.364)? If that doesn’t make you think a little bit, I’m not sure what would–he’s in Cooperstown, for crying out loud! Check out some of the rankings and compare career numbers of closers, and I assure you you’ll find some very interesting things!

My point is that if you don’t think Lee Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame, maybe you’re looking at a different set of numbers than I am. And just so it doesn’t go unsaid, Lee Smith was absolutely among the most dominant men at his position for a sustained period of time during his era. (I know some folks out there, that’s a big factor for HOF consideration.)

The question should not be, “Does Lee Smith belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame?”. After spending time with the cubs, Red Sox, Cardinals, Yankees, Orioles, Angels, Reds, and Expos, the only question should be, “Which hat will he be wearing in his plaque?”.

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