"I was gonna play in the frickin’ World Series."
Following an icon is a difficult task in and of itself. When that legend is just moving a few yards over to the right, it makes things even harder.
Mike Bordick not only faced that situation in 1997 when he signed a free agent deal with the Orioles, he actually embraced the challenge of replacing Cal Ripken, who would be shifting over to third base.
Bordick, one of the most sure-handed shortstops to ever play the position, joins us for this week’s Spitballin’.
After leading the University of Maine to multiple NCAA World Series appearances as a star shortstop, Bordick surprisingly went undrafted. He didn’t let that deter him as he signed a free agent contract with the A’s and just four years later, was playing alongside The Bash Brothers, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson in the 1990 World Series.
While Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra were redefining the shortstop position as offensive monsters, Bordick established himself as the steadiest shortstop of the lot.
How steady was he? When he hung up his cleats in 2003, he was the all-time fielding percentage leader among retired shortstops.
Bordick played 14 years in the Major Leagues, mostly with the A’s and Orioles and endeared himself to fans with his hard-working approach and consistent performance.
In addition, if you thought this edition of Spitballin’ would pass without mention of Bordick playing a key role on the great 2000 Mets team, you haven’t read the column before.
Take “E6” out of your vocabulary as we go Spitballin’ with Mr. Reliable, Mike Bordick.
“Mike Hargrove came over to manage the Orioles a few years later. He said, “We had Armando’s pitches.” That’s part of the game, nothing illegal.”
Thanks for joining us, Mr. Bordick. You have an incredible story putting together the career you did despite not even being drafted. But first, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into playing baseball?
Actually, I loved all sports and to be honest, football was my passion. Back then, when baseball season was done, you put your glove in the closet and picked up a football. Then after that, it was basketball season. Unfortunately, I didn’t really grow and was 5’11”, 165 in high school. It was a good thing I knew how to play baseball.
You had a great career at the University of Maine. Can you talk about your experience there?
I played for the legendary John Winkin and he took Maine to the College World Series five out of six years. We went my sophomore year which I thought was our best team, then we went back my junior year.
It was a different format back then, but I think we represented New England and college baseball pretty well. It was always a Cinderella story when the University of Maine showed up in Omaha.
How did you make the jump from Maine to the Oakland A’s?
After my junior year I expected to get drafted because I had been approached about it, but didn’t. I had the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod League and was teammates with Craig Biggio on the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. We were both scuffling to get up over the Mendoza Line the first few weeks. It was tough with the wooden bats and it was a long collegiate year, so we were just getting hammered by the top college arms in the country.
I happened to put in a good weekend of baseball. I made a couple of nice plays and at the end of the game, JP Ricciardi, who was a regional scout for the A’s at the time, came over and asked if I had any interest in signing. I told him I did, but had to talk to some people, so he gave me a 24-hour window. I talked to the right people because they told me to get my college paid for too. I told him I’d sign, and off I went.
OAKLAND - JUNE 14 : Mike Bordick #14 of the Oakland Athletics leaps over Geno Petralli #12 of the Texas Rangers as he slides to second base during a game at Oakland - Alameda County Coliseum on June 14,1992 in Oakland, California. (Photo by: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
It’s pretty crazy that you went from being an undrafted guy 1986 to the World Series by 1990. What was it like to be called up to a team like the 1990 A’s?
It was definitely one of those “pinch yourself” moments, as was every day I was in the Majors. The beauty of that organization was that it was touted as the best in the game at the time and they lived up to that. The continuity was so important.
From the minors up to the Majors, guys were being taught the same and they had a good philosophy and understanding of the players. They had collegiate guys that they had to push and if you couldn’t make it in a few years, you were gone. They didn’t keep guys around long. I had opportunities and made the most of them.
You made your debut in early 1990 then came back up at the end of the year. Can you take us through that first year?
I had a great coach that was with me in the minors and he ended up getting promoted to the Big Leagues. I think he gave me a seal of endorsement. This was during the lockout in 1990 and when we came back, they expanded the rosters by two people. So, my former manager, Tommy Reynolds was the third base coach and he said I’d catch the ball for them.
I started off spelling some of the established guys like Walt Weiss and Mike Gallego and I was getting a taste in the Big Leagues. I went back down but then was a September callup. The A’s were going to the postseason and I was asked if I could go down to Arizona to make a hitting tape with Rick Burleson in the Instructional League, who was the hitting coordinator.
In the ALCS against the Red Sox, Walt Weiss got taken out at second base and got hurt. We won the series but were down an infielder. They called me down in the Instructional League and said, “Get back up here!” I was gonna play in the frickin’ World Series.
Mike Bordick in the booth.
That’s an unbelievable call to get. What kind of pressure did you face with so little Major League experience?
There are a couple of different ways to describe it. I was as nervous as I have ever been and probably as alive as I’ve ever been. It was really incredible. The first World Series game I got into we were in Riverfront Stadium and it was cold as heck. I was way down at the end of the dugout with a huge A’s jacket on huddled up trying to stay warm and watching the game.
Next thing I know, I faintly hear my name from down at the end of the dugout. The trainer comes down and goes, “Bordick, if [Ron] Hassey gets a hit, you’re playing short.” Hassey had pinch hit for Mike Gallego, so I had to go in and play defense. It was terrible on my part because I wasn’t ready. For the life of me though, I just couldn’t imagine myself going into a World Series game.
I stood up to start stretching and as soon as I unbuttoned my top button, I hear, “crack,” and there’s the ball blooping over the infield. I was like, “Holy shit!” I grabbed my helmet and looked at [Tony] LaRussa like, “Are you sure you want me to go out there?” He nodded and I ran to first.
Isn’t that amazing how fast that can happen? From sitting there bundled up to playing in the World Series in seconds and late in a tie game too! How did you do out there with no preparation?
I hadn’t even run a sprint and I’ll be damned if I’m going to call timeout to run down the right field line. I’m standing there and I look at Dave McKay, our first base coach, and he goes through the situation. I took a lead and looked at who was pitching, and it was Rob Dibble. I thought, “Oh my God! He could throw a pickoff at like 120 MPH!” I had about a one-foot lead. Harold Baines struck out and I thought, “Oh my gosh! Now I have to go play shortstop”
I got about two warmup throws and was just kind of looking around getting my bearings. The first batter up was Eric Davis and what do you think he does? Ground ball right to me. To this day, I think it’s the greatest play I ever made. It might have just been a routine three-hopper on the turf, but how I made that throw, I just will never know.
It was pretty exciting. I got in three games. Didn’t get an at bat, but I got to play defense. That’s something nobody can ever take from me.
Mike Bordick lunges for A's Miguel Tejada grounder but can't come up with it in the 2nd inning as Oakland opens a series with Baltimore at Network Associates Coliseum Monday June 19, 2000.(Contra Costa Times/Jon McNally)(Digital First Media Group/Contra Costa Times via Getty Images)
What an incredible story. Think of how many all-time greats never got to play in a World Series. You made the 2000 All-Star Game. The other American League shortstops in that game were named Jeter, A-Rod and Nomar. What does it feel like to be recognized with those guys as one of the best in the league?
It was very humbling to be out there with them. I think anybody that plays, especially shortstop, you always pay attention to your position and I always admired every single one of those guys.
Nomar had that unique flair and an incredible bat. A-Rod was out of that Cal Ripken mold, the big guy playing short with incredible power and a cannon for an arm. Jeter, well he was just Derek Jeter when he walked onto the field. You could tell he had that aura about him.
I remember turning around to Derek Jeter and saying, “Derek, you’re my favorite one out of all these guys.” It was true. What I respected about him was the way he played the game and how fundamentally sound he was. He could make the great plays, but he got his eyes as low as anybody and got a nice wide base and made every single play. He’s the kind of shortstop that managers want out there, regardless of how good he was with the bat. He knew exactly where to be and what to do all the time.
Was there any pressure playing in the All-Star Game?
The All-Star Game was so relaxed, and I had such a great time. Every player, even an average player, has their moments. In 2000, everything came together for me. Offensively I had one of my best years. I was feeling great out in the field too. I felt really grateful to be at the All-Star Game. My daughter came down with me and my wife. I got to bring her out on the field.
I didn’t even think I was going to get to play. The funny thing is, when I did get in, it wasn’t even to play defense. They sent me up to pinch hit and, man, I hammered the ball. I was facing Kevin Brown and he was throwing cheese. I said man, I know he’s gonna throw me a heater and I geared up for it first pitch. I don’t even think they were back from commercial yet, so nobody saw it. Off the bat I thought, “I might have just hit a home run.”
We were playing in Atlanta which had a big outfield. Super Jim Edmonds was out in centerfield and he ran it down. I had to make a u-turn back to the dugout. I just had so much fun playing in the game and with those guys. I even have a picture with them so I could prove that I was there.
What was it like coming over to the Orioles to take over for Cal Ripken, who was switching to third?
I’m glad you asked the question that way. Usually I get, “What the hell were you thinking going to the Orioles to play shortstop?” When Tony LaRussa left the A’s, there was an edge that was lost. Every time I took the field when LaRussa was there, it was like the battle for the ring. So, I was missing that.
I was watching the Orioles in ’96. I saw them get Pat Gillick. Davey Johnson was their manager. Then looking at their lineup and pitching, I was just like, “Man, these guys are gonna be the next dynasty.” All of a sudden, Gillick calls me up and was like, “We’re interested in you coming over here to play shortstop.” I was like, “What?”
Did you talk to Cal before signing?
Well, they told me the position change was going to happen whether I came there or not. My family wanted to come back to the East Coast, but I had to talk to Cal about it. I felt so uncomfortable about this. I didn’t see it as needing his blessing, but I wanted to see what he was thinking.
I don’t care who you are, when somebody tells you that you’re not going to be playing your position anymore, you don’t just give it up. Even me, at the end of my career they said I was going to be a utility guy. I was like, “Bullcrap. I don’t believe you.” Everyone has that and I know Cal felt that.
But he told me to do what was right for my family. Selfishly, I looked at it as I wanted to win a ring and I thought that was a great opportunity. It was also about family stability too. That was the first time I was offered a multi-year contract and I had a young family. I made the move and we still live in Baltimore to this day.
That first year in Baltimore, you had some team. Four Hall of Famers with Ripken, Mussina, Alomar and Baines. Plus Palmeiro, Jimmy Key, Randy Myers and Armando Benitez. That was an incredible team.
We didn’t win the World Series, but looking back, we were the best team in baseball. I still feel like that. It’s weird how things go around, but Mike Hargrove came over to manage the Orioles a few years later. He said, “We had Armando’s pitches.” That’s part of the game, nothing illegal. You pick up these little things, something like a tilt of the glove when he’s gonna throw a slider. They didn’t miss those two sliders they got.
World Series - New York Yankess v New York Mets - Game Three<br /> FLUSHING, NY - OCTOBER 24: Mike Bordick of the New York Mets fields during Game Three of the World Series against the New York Yankees on October 24, 2000 at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)
You had one of the great defensive seasons in Major League history in 2002. You handled 570 chances at shortstop and made just one error. You also set the record for most consecutive errorless games. Can you take us through that year?
In 2002 the game just kind of slowed down for me. Whatever number of groundballs I had taken for 30 years, could be a million, could be two million, but whatever the number, I got to that point and the game slowed down. I had taken so many grounders, seen so many angles off the bat, judged the speed of so many grounders and understood pursuit angles and game situations. The game was instinctive. I didn’t have to think; I just reacted.
What were you thinking as the errorless streak was going on?
There were a couple of balls that could have been errors to be honest. Somewhere around game 50 we were down in Houston and BJ Ryan was pitching. A guy hit a soft-one hopper up the middle and I tried to get the short hop and the ball hit the end of my glove and a couple runs ended up scoring. They gave him a hit.
First of all, BJ Ryan was a young kid, and he didn’t need those earned runs on him. I went to our PR guy and asked to get that changed. But they wouldn’t change it because their guy wanted the hit and two RBIs.
I was on game 110 of the streak and, I’m not kidding, the same exact ball was hit, and the same exact thing happened. Right off the end of my glove. The scorekeeper gave me an error. The infielders all looked at me, then looked up at the score board and were saying, “That’s a hit!” I said, “No, no, that’s an error for sure. It should have been an error 60 games ago.”
You were inducted into the Orioles Hall of Fame almost ten years ago to the day. What did that mean to you?
I think the Orioles Hall of Fame is an incredible honor. Am I deserving of being in the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame? I don’t know about that. I think people appreciate the challenge of replacing the legendary Cal Ripken.
In Baltimore, they set a precedent a long time ago called The Oriole Way. You play the game professionally; you show up to the field everyday and you want to try to get better for yourself and for your team. You’re unselfish, bring your lunchbox to work and try to win a championship. That’s the approach I took everyday and I think people appreciated that. It’s humbling and such an honor.
It really is, especially when you look around and see guys like Cal Ripken, Brooks and Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray in there with you.
I love the Oriole greats. I absolutely love them. I love Brooks Robinson. I love Boog Powell. These guys that really brought the Orioles to life in the 1960s and ‘70s. Guys like Jim Palmer. They are just down-to-earth, humble, professional, just the best people you’ll ever want to meet. Every day I can say I’m part of the Orioles, I think about those guys and it’s very special to be a part of that.
You only played 56 games with them, but I’m a Mets fan so I have to ask about your experience with in 2000.
That was so incredible to be a part of. I always wanted to experience everything the game had to offer and being traded was part of it. Unfortunately, the Orioles didn’t live up to expectations even though we had a great team. The Orioles started selling off guys and the beauty about being a trade deadline guy is typically, you’re going to a team competing for the postseason.
What were your thoughts about the Mets coming over to a new league and new team?
The Mets were on the fringe of the playoffs, but they got on an incredible roll. They had so many classy Big League guys. Robin Ventura was smooth as butter. Edgardo Alfonzo was great at second. They were all silky smooth in the infield and we had Piazza behind the plate. He would hit those home runs and make those faces.
The pitching staff was ridiculous. Al Leiter was flipping cutters in there left and right, breaking bats all over the place. Mike Hampton was just awesome. Rick Reed stepped up a lot.
That is such a fun team in Mets history and that run was amazing.
They had so many great characters on that team and the fans loved them. Benny Agbayani in left and Jay Payton was flying around the outfield like crazy. They had young guys, but good veterans on the bench too. Guys like Todd Pratt and Super Joe McEwing. Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook out in the bullpen. Derek Bell in right. What amazing characters.
I loved those guys, and that team was absolutely awesome. To watch that team come together and go on that run was pretty cool. My greatest memory was that I hit a home run in my first at bat. The irony of it was it was against the Cardinals and Tony LaRussa was their manager.
And let me tell you something, Shea Stadium was absolutely incredible. That place was like we were having an earthquake every big play. It was unbelievable and I loved it.
This has been such an awesome interview and I appreciate you sharing your incredible stories. My final questions is an open-ended one. What final thoughts about baseball would you like to leave our readers with?
Baseball right now has been going through some changes. Good or bad, the verdict is still out. I’ve been an announcer for the past ten years and I have seen how the game has transitioned. I think they’re starting to understand that baseball needs to be a game of situations. It can’t just be a game of swing as hard as you can and throw the ball as hard as you can.
Fans deserve to see what baseball really is. It’s a game of outwitting your opponent and studying defenses. You gotta hit the other way and that kind of stuff. I think you’re gonna start seeing that more and more. They’re deadening the ball this year, so we might be on the other side of that curve.
I love analytics and think it’s in the game to stay. Anything you can use to help players see how they can get better is a good thing. But I think the game in and of itself is played the best when there’s strategy involved. You also get to see different types of players. I don’t think it should be limited to the one-dimensional guys.