The kid couldn't hit much and didn't have enough speed to steal bases, two compelling reasons to ignore him. But there was something in the way he played that made Oakland Athletics scout J. P. Ricciardi believe the young shortstop might have a future in professional baseball.
Twenty-six teams picked a total of 982 players in the June 1986 draft, and the kid was not among them. But, as Ricciardi watched him play a month later in the Cape Cod League, the scout thought that maybe if the kid continued to develop, if he could hit just a bit, he could become a utility infielder in the majors.
Ricciardi offered the shortstop a small bonus, take it or leave it, and he took it. Today the kid, Mike Bordick, is expected to work out in an Orioles uniform for the first time in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as he prepares to replace perhaps the greatest shortstop in the history of the game, Cal Ripken.
That year, 1986, was Ricciardi's first as a professional area scout for Oakland, covering New England, New York and New Jersey, and he had seen Bordick play seven or eight times for one of the region's best college teams, the University of Maine.
Ricciardi, a former minor-league infielder himself, liked Bordick's instincts. The kid, Ricciardi thought, was mentally tough and played hard. He never lost his concentration, he anticipated well and he made defensive adjustments. He played hard, and though he was just 5 feet 10 and 160 pounds, he held his ground whenever a runner barreled into second base on a double-play attempt.
Even so, as Ricciardi turned in a list of potential draft choices to Oakland, he ranked Bordick 15th on a list of the region's top 25 players.
Ricciardi wasn't even sure the kid wanted to play pro ball. Before the draft, Ricciardi called Bordick, a junior with a year of eligibility left, and asked whether he was interested in signing; Bordick sounded scared. "It was like he was worried he could lose his NCAA scholarship money," Ricciardi remembered. "I said, 'Hey, Mike, don't feel like you have to talk to me.' After a few minutes, I let him go."
Bordick acknowledges his fear: "I felt like I was betraying my university."
So Bordick went undrafted, and in late June he was asked to play on Cape Cod in a summer league loaded with prospects. It so happened that a shortstop Oakland had drafted, Ken Bowen, also was playing there that summer.
The team's negotiations with Bowen were not going well, and Oakland scouting director Dick Bogard flew to Massachusetts to see Bowen. Ricciardi met him, and mentioned that while Bogard was in the area, he ought to look at this other kid, Bordick.
Bogard talked to Bowen, and, discouraged, asked Ricciardi what it would take to sign Bordick. "Fifteen thousand," Ricciardi said.
"You've got my blessing," Bogard said, and the next morning, Ricciardi called Bordick and offered him a job.
There were no negotiations. Bordick asked for a day to mull over his decision, and he called friends and family. "I went bonkers," said his father, Michael, who was retired from the Air Force. "I was so excited for him. He asked me, 'Do you think I ought to go back and finish college?' I said, 'Well, you can go to school and finish up any time and get your degree, but you only have one shot at this. This is your dream. I'd like to see you graduate from college, but this has been your dream, and a lot of people don't have their dream come true.' "
Bordick signed, unaware that Oakland projected him as a utility infielder in the minors. He had no idea that only one in seven drafted players make it to the majors; he was sure he would be in the big leagues in a couple of years. That's what he wanted, and his father taught him that if you wanted something badly enough, you could sacrifice and work hard and make it happen.
Learning the game cold
And Mike Bordick had sacrificed and worked hard, there was no question about that.
He played baseball religiously as a kid, growing up in New York and Maine, and threw stones, hundreds and hundreds, his father remembered. If Bordick was walking along a street or near a railroad track, he would absent-mindedly pick up a stone and take aim at the nearest telephone pole. Bordick wasn't big, but he had a terrific throwing arm and could numb the hand of a friend in a simple game of catch. He and his brother, Mark, 4 years younger, competed in everything, Wiffle ball, basketball and football.
But Mike loved baseball, pushing himself, maintaining an unusual discipline. He would rise at 5: 30 a.m. to prepare for school, and then after classes and practice, he would come home and study and be in bed by 8 p.m. "He felt like he needed his rest," Michael Bordick said. "He felt like he needed that to perform the way he did in sports, and for school."
Already, Bordick was aware that, growing up in Maine, his opportunities to play baseball were few. Because spring really didn't come until late April or early May, Hampden Academy played just 12 games. The kids would begin throwing inside in late February or early March, fielding grounders that skittered sharply across the gym floor. When games began, often played on frozen fields and in bitter cold, they feared the awful sting of hitting the pitch off the end of an aluminum bat.
Bordick enrolled at the University of Maine, where his coach, John Winkin, constantly reminded players that they must strive to do everything correctly. Bordick absorbed it all. Years later, he would feel fortunate for having such good instruction. He was sound fundamentally, and he could not have succeeded any other way.
'He's doing OK'
After Bordick began playing in the minors in 1986, J. P. Ricciardi, the scout who had signed the shortstop, would ask how the kid was doing, and he would hear measured praise: He's doing OK, he's holding his own, but we're not sure if he's going to be able to handle Double-A next year.
When Bordick went to Double-A, they would say, He's doing OK, he's holding his own, but we're not sure if he's going to be able to handle Triple-A next year.
It wasn't until Bordick reported to spring training in 1987 that he understood the odds he faced. "It was kind of an awakening," Bordick said. "It seemed like there were thousands and thousands of guys with green and gold jerseys on, and they looked exactly like I did. They had exactly the same goal, making it to the majors."
He made Single-A Modesto as a utility infielder, but his manager, Tommie Reynolds, found a way to use him in 133 games. He started 1988 as the utility infielder for Reynolds at Double-A Huntsville and got into 132 games. Bordick sensed that Reynolds had confidence in him, "and I think that really helped me believe in myself," Bordick said.
Bordick hit .240 with one homer for Triple-A Tacoma in 1989 and wasn't invited to major-league camp the next spring. But when Oakland manager Tony La Russa needed extras in exhibition play, Bordick's good fortune continued: Like Ricciardi, La Russa was a former middle infielder. Like Ricciardi, La Russa could appreciate Bordick's instincts. La Russa took to him immediately, and today, he says Bordick is his "favorite player of all time."
Making the most of breaks
A lockout delayed the start of spring training in 1990, and teams began the season with expanded rosters. La Russa kept Bordick as a utility infielder before returning him to the minors at the end of April. Bordick returned in September, playing sparingly as Oakland wrapped up its third straight division title.
La Russa inserted Bordick at second base in one of his first appearances, and Boston Red Sox right fielder Dwight Evans, a big, aggressive player, came in hard to break up a double play. Evans hit Bordick with a cross-body block, a veteran player sending a message to the rookie. Bordick stayed on the bag, absorbed the blow and nearly completed the double play. La Russa would later remember how fans at Fenway Park respectfully cheered Bordick as he came off the field.
Bordick reported to Arizona after the regular season to play in the instructional league. Oakland's everyday shortstop, Walt Weiss, was injured during the playoffs, and because Bordick had been playing and remained sharp, he replaced Weiss on the World Series roster.
He didn't know whether he would play. But in the 10th inning of Game 2, La Russa yelled down to him: Bordick, if (Ron) Hassey gets on, you're running.
"I was scared to death," Bordick said. "I didn't even know if I had a helmet. Hassey singled, and so I went out there."
Michael Bordick, his father, was in the stands. "My memory of fTC that? No. 46 running out onto the field, my son," he said, his voice beginning to crack. "That was my son. You'd better believe was proud."
Bordick took the field in the bottom of the 10th, and Eric Davis, one of the fastest players in the game, led off with a ground ball to short. Bordick had made this play thousands of times, but this particular instance, as the ball reached his glove, he had no idea how he was going to get the ball to first. "I was praying I could get the ball over there," Bordick recalled.
"He blistered him," said Michael Bordick, the pride clear in his voice.
A respected major-leaguer
Bordick established himself in the majors the next year, playing as he had at Maine, on Cape Cod, in Modesto and in Huntsville, catching everything, making plays, hitting enough.
If J. P. Ricciardi asked around now, this is what he would hear about the kid who wasn't drafted.
"Bordy is one of those guys you have to watch every day," said former Oakland pitcher Dave Stewart. "When you see how intense he is on a daily basis, and how consistent he is, you'll see what I mean."
Billy Beane, Oakland's assistant GM and a former teammate of Bordick's, said, "If you could ever create the sort of player you'd want in the clubhouse and on the field, how he carries himself, he's the guy who'd be your model. He is a nonrisk. He's going to do everything defensively that you expect of him, and you know he's going to want to play. Mike's close in personality to Kirby Puckett -- his personality is infectious, and neither one is really boisterous. People just like playing with him.
"I'll say this: Mike's a late bloomer physically. He's an overachiever, but he's a pretty darn good athlete. Those strong legs, they didn't just happen."
Stewart said: "It's going to be good for Cal to see that he's not just giving up his position to a slouch. He's giving it up to a guy who'll play it with as much dignity as Cal ever did."
Mike Coutts, an assistant coach with Maine, played with Bordick during the summers, and never, he says, did he imagine that Bordick would be an everyday shortstop in the majors. Never.
"He could throw, and he could play defense," Coutts said. "That guy who signed him, J. P. Ricciardi, he saw something in Mike, but I don't think there was anything there that would lead you to believe he would go as far as he has. He's the product of hard work, motivation, guts and a little bit of character. All the stuff you need."
Mike Bordick file
Age: 31. Height: 5-11. Weight: 175. Bats: Right. Throws: Right. Career highlights: Played three years at University of Maine and in two College World Series. Made major-league debut with Oakland in 1990. Became Athletics' starting shortstop on July 2, 1991, when Walt Weiss was injured. Had best offensive season in 1992, batting .300 and leading Oakland in hits (151) and multiple-hit games (41). Split time between second base and shortstop in 1992 but spent all of 1993 as starting shortstop. Finished 1993 second in fielding among shortstops (.982). In 1995, batted .379 with three homers and eight RBIs vs. Orioles. Set career high in RBIs (54) last season. Free agent signed three-year contract with Orioles in December 1996, enabling club to move Cal Ripken to third base.
Yr., Team .............. Avg, AB, R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI
'84, U. of Maine ....... .201, 139, 28, 28, 5, 1, 0, 16
'85, U. of Maine ....... .274, 164, 43, 45, 8, 2, 1, 26
'86, U. of Maine ....... .364, 247, 69, 90, 13, 2, 4, 43
Medford (A) ............ .257, 187, 30, 48, 3, 1, 0, 19
'87, Modesto (A) ....... .268, 497, 73, 133, 17, 0, 3, 75
'88, Huntsville (AA) ... .270, 481, 48, 130, 13, 2, 0, 38
'89, Tacoma (AAA) ...... .240, 487, 55, 117, 17, 1, 1, 43
'90, Tacoma (AAA) ...... .227, 348, 49, 79, 16, 1, 2, 30
Oakland ................ .071, 14, 0, 1, 0, 0, 0, 0
'91, Tacoma (AAA) ...... .272, 81, 15, 22, 4, 1, 2, 14
Oakland ................ .238, 235, 21, 56, 5, 1, 0, 21
'92, Oakland ........... .300, 504, 62, 151, 19, 4, 3, 48
'93, Oakland ........... .249, 546, 60, 136, 21, 2, 3, 48
'94, Oakland ........... .253, 391, 38, 99, 18, 4, 2, 37
'95, Modesto (A) ....... .000, 2, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0
Oakland ................ .264, 428, 46, 113, 13, 0, 8, 44
'96, Oakland ........... .240, 525, 46, 126, 18, 4, 5, 54
ML totals .............. .258, 2643, 273, 682, 94, 15, 21, 252
Pub Date: 2/12/97