While on football sideline, Jordan tackles baseball

May 01, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Talk about putting off important decisions. Brian Jordan has waited nearly 10 years before trying to choose between playing football and baseball. Through high school at Milford Mill in western Baltimore County. Through college at Richmond.

But after three seasons playing free safety for the Atlanta Falcons and now in his rookie year as an outfielder for the St.

Louis Cardinals, Jordan will have to decide on which playing field his future can be found. He is looking forward to that day.

"I kind of want to have to make a decision, simply because it's tough on the body," Jordan said last week while the Cardinals were in New York playing the Mets. "I want to have a vacation at some point."

Jordan, 25, is employed only by the Cardinals and is making a major-league base rookie salary of $109,000. His one-year contract with the Falcons, for a reported $185,000, ran out at the end of the 1991 season, and he is an unrestricted free agent.

Meanwhile, the Falcons and Cardinals wait, each trying to exert subtle and not-so-subtle pressure on Jordan to sever ties with the other. Contract negotiations with Atlanta are at a standstill, which his baseball employers say is a positive sign.

"It all comes down to how well he performs in baseball," said Jim Hay, vice president and chief financial officer of the Falcons. "It's the same with Deion [Sanders]. We would welcome both of them back. We want them playing football, but on the other hand, you have to admire what they are trying to accomplish."

More quietly than Sanders, Jordan has accomplished quite a lot in a relatively short period. After a little more than 400 at-bats in the minor leagues, Jordan was called up by St. Louis when first baseman Andres Galarraga was injured April 7. He had a sparkling debut, with a double and four RBI against the Mets, and was hitting .250 through 12 games.

"I think I'm surprising a lot of people," Jordan said before a recent 0-for-18 slump dipped his average below .200, and before Wednesday's 2-for-5 performance against the San Francisco Giants, which included his first major-league home run, brought him back to .203. (His average slipped to .197 yesterday when he went 0-for-2 against San Francisco.)

Those familiar with his situation in St. Louis say that Jordan's quick call-up came about partly because of the team's injuries, ,, and partly because of his status as a professional football player. His insertion into the lineup has been a tryout of sorts.

Despite the slump, Jordan apparently has made a positive impression on his teammates and manager. Said veteran shortstop Ozzie Smith: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that someone playing two sports is a special person."

Joe Torre likes Jordan's aggressiveness at the plate.

"He's still not ready; he's still not what he's going to be," Torre said. "But he's really battled. It's really his professionalism, the way he goes about it, that I like. He goes up there with an attitude, with almost an inner conceit. That comes from being successful in another sport."

Jordan said that what makes him successful in football has to be channeled more in baseball. He seemed as proud of his first big-league walk as he did of his first hit, because it showed patience.

When a fastball by Bret Saberhagen backed him off the plate, Jordan gave a long, hard stare in the direction of the Mets pitcher. "My football instincts came out," he said. "I almost wanted to go out there and fight him. I got so angry that I started swinging at bad pitches. I've got to keep the football part of me inside."

It's something that Bo Jackson battled before his dual career was ended by a serious hip injury on the football field. It's something that Sanders, his Falcons teammate, is seemingly in the process of overcoming as his baseball career takes off with the Atlanta Braves.

But Jordan is still in a learning process. Balancing the careers has not affected him in football -- he led NFL defensive backs in tackles two years ago and was a second alternate in the Pro Bowl last season -- but has limited his growth in baseball. He played in only 55 games his first three seasons in the minors, and 61 last year with the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds.

"I try to give 100 percent all the time," Jordan said. "Right now I'm just concentrating on baseball. But I think I can play both."

Asked if Jackson's injury has changed his perspective, Jordan said, "You can't think about that. You can get hurt walking down the street. What happened to Bo was a freak thing. It's going to take awhile to get football out of my system."

Said Jim Steiner, one of two of Jordan's agents: "He's most comfortable [with football] because he's been there longer. He loves the contact and the action. But the business decision, not the emotional decision, will be to play baseball."

Jordan's family is divided about his future. His wife, Pam, is a big football fan, and his mother, Betty, a Baltimore school teacher, would prefer he stick to baseball. His father, Alvin, who is retired, would like to see the youngest of his three children play both.

Unlike Sanders, Jordan pursues his dream of a two-sport career quietly. No helicopter rides between baseball games and football training sessions. No brash remarks. While he isn't as established as Sanders, there's also a big difference in their personalities.

"He's flamboyant, I'm low-key," Jordan said. "You don't usually get the exposure when you're low-key. But I'm confident that I can be successful in whatever I do."

Said Torre: "Brian Jordan is a big part of our plans. . . . But you never know how this is going to end up."

For now, Jordan awaits an offer from the Cardinals. Though he expected one already, he is not worried. He has waited a long time before making this decision, and he can wait a little longer.

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