FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Mike Bordick is coming off the best season of a nine-year career and is in the best shape of his life.
So why is the Orioles shortstop experiencing a mid-career crisis?
The answer has nothing to do with performance, health or attitude and everything to do with age and his obvious desire to remain with the Orioles beyond the upcoming season. A pending free agent, Bordick senses his future may be most closely tied to the team's near-term success.
"Nothing has been discussed or negotiated" with the Orioles, Bordick said without inflection yesterday. "They have a lot of things on their minds."
Bordick, 34, has told the Orioles of his desire to remain in Baltimore and the Orioles have responded favorably to discussing the possibility of a shared future. Bordick and his wife, Monica, are raising their three children in Ruxton and have made little secret of their love of the city.
Once Cal Ripken's skittish successor at shortstop, Bordick has grown into a clubhouse and civic mainstay who would love to finish his career in orange and black.
"I think everybody would love to play here," he said. "Baltimore is such a great baseball city. Hopefully, we'll have success and prove this is a winning team so they'll want us back. I want to be a big part of that."
Ripken, Charles Johnson, Mike Mussina and Will Clark also are entering the final season of multi-year contracts, but Bordick understands his situation may be unique.
He would dive into the next free-agent market at 35, an advanced age for a shortstop. Seattle Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez will also be available at a price at least comparable to the nine-year, $117 million extension reportedly offered Derek Jeter by the New York Yankees. The Orioles, who often react reflexively to George Steinbrenner's every hiccup, may ponder Rodriguez.
Bordick refers to his as "a tough situation. Not many teams want a shot at a 35-year-old shortstop. Fortunately, I feel good about myself. I've kept myself in pretty good shape and I feel good about playing the game."
Known primarily for defense, Bordick hit .277 with 10 home runs and 77 RBIs while appearing in a staggering 160 games last season. His evolution has not gone unnoticed.
"He's a much more offensive-minded player now than he used to be," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, whose rise to American League manager coincided with Bordick's rise as the Oakland Athletics' starting shortstop in 1991. "I think he's stronger. Obviously, he's more experienced. One thing that hasn't changed is his reliability."
Said Bordick: "They say players don't really hit their prime until they're 30. Maybe I'm a late bloomer."
Bordick has devoted the past two winters to a rigorous off-season conditioning program supervised by strength-and-conditioning coach Tim Bishop.
The regimen, which left fielder and fellow conditioning zealot B. J. Surhoff once described as intentionally "impossible," left Bordick with more stamina and improved quickness.
Last year, in his ninth major-league season, Bordick set a career-high with 14 stolen bases, the number he cites with satisfaction.
"In my mind, I felt I could do a little bit more," he said. "I definitely built some strength and I definitely built some speed last year. Baseball is so mental. If you feel good about yourself it's going to change your approach and how you look at things. I certainly felt good coming into last year."
When Bordick signed a four-year contract as a middle-tier free agent in December 1996, his average $3 million salary was considered steep (even internally) for a player who had never captured a Gold Glove, never hit 10 home runs and only once driven in 50 runs or batted more than .264 in a season.
Now his take-home is about average within this well-heeled team. In the last two seasons, Bordick has hit 23 home runs and averaged 64 RBIs. Last season's 93 runs obliterated his previous career best, 62 -- at least partly due to a promotion to the No. 2 spot in the order.
Typically, Bordick cites outside influences for his success -- Brady Anderson enjoyed the best season of any American League leadoff hitter; No. 3 hitter Surhoff was named a first-time All-Star prior to his selection as the team's Most Valuable Player.
"That was probably the best spot in the lineup," said Bordick, a No. 9 hitter for most of 1998. "I was just in an ideal spot. I had a lot of opportunities."
Such explanations don't explain a defensive season that made him a deserving, albeit largely anonymous, candidate for a Gold Glove. Bordick accomplished the remarkable double feat of leading the league in both fielding percentage (.989) and total chances (797, or almost five per game played).
In balloting that featured a Gold Glove for the Rangers' Rafael Palmeiro despite his appearance in only 28 games at first base, American League managers and coaches selected the Cleveland Indians' more spectacular but less consistent Omar Vizquel.
Pub Date: 2/27/00