Orioles fans are a weird bunch. Take a stroll along Eutaw and you’ll see the outrageous likes of Carne Cabeza and the Nightmare Bird. Even the ever-so tame super fan, Romeo, is bound to catch a few glances with his orange mohawk. Ballpark attractions aside, what’s even more head scratching is their infatuation with scrappy, super defensive, fundamentally sound infielders. One look at Twitter during reign of Ryan Flaherty should clue you in to what’s going on. I can’t even point fingers, I made a tribute video to Mr. RE3PECT that actually made him look like a decent ball player. Today, however, let’s change our vantage point and look away from the diamond towards the press boxes and focus on The Man That Replaced Cal.
Former Oakland Athletics’ Mike Bordick signed with the Orioles in December of 1993. He was a bit older and hit like it, but he had the glove of a 20-year-old. There was one problem though, Shortstop was Cal Ripken Jr.’s position. The local boy, fan-favorite, soon-to-be Hall of Famer, had slowed down with old age. He wasn’t the same young buck who won the World Series in 1983. He’s now a man who can still anticipate the ball off the bat, but his body can’t. Well, what do you do if you’re the Orioles? You give him the Shortstop’s Death. You move him to Third Base.
“I had a few reservations,” Bordick said about taking over at shortstop. “Obviously, this is a very unique situation. I consider it a tremendous challenge and something I’m very excited about, and obviously a little nervous about.”
Bordick knew he had to win the fans over. He knew they weren’t going to roll over for some nobody coming in from California. This is Baltimore, you have to earn the right to play here. Well, Bordick did what he knew how to do, he played with a chip on his shoulder.
Bordick played college ball at the University of Maine, one of the better programs in the northeast for baseball. He would go undrafted and have to play amateur ball in Cape Cod. Never mind that only one in seven drafted players make it the majors, he was going to make it. The A’s signed him to a minor league contract. But all his managers only saw him a utility infielder, a role that would never get him to the majors. But did that bother Bordick? Not in the slightest.
In 1987, still grinding at Double-A, Bordick took to the field for some exhibition games at Spring Training. Lucky for him, Tony La Russa, a former middle infielder, was the A’s manager and it takes a middle infielder to really appreciate the craft. To La Russa, Bordick was an artist. Bordick is La Russa’s “favorite player of all-time.”
To really hammer the point home, former teammate of Mike Bordick, current A’s GM Billy Beane, had this to say, “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.”
That’s the only type of player that could come in, take over Cal’s position, not completely blow you away, and have very few people, if anyone, bat an eye.
During his first stint with the O’s, Bordick was an average hitter but with a glove in his hand, he posted three straight seasons of 2.0+ dWAR. He’d do it again in 2001 during his second stint with the O’s after his return from being traded to the Mets. “If we had nine Mike Bordicks, we would be in contention today.” Then O’s VP of Baseball Ops Syd Thrift said of Bordick’s trade to the Mets.
Nowadays, you’ll find still find Bordick kicking up dirt between Second and Third as a Defensive Consultant and as Minor League Special Assignment Instructor for the Orioles. More prominently, you’ll see him in the Booth giving Color Commentary on MASN.
One anecdote I found that seems to sum up Bordick is this: In 2000, after Bordick was traded to the Mets, O’s Hitting Coach Terry Crowley was a bit miffed, as he would have to reset his watch since Bordick was the first one in every day to hit the batting cage.
Now that’s a blue collar and Baltimore as you can get.