Baseball or football? Brian Jordan's field of options

July 27, 1995|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Sun Staff Writer

The training camps are open, marked by their isolation and sweltering heat. Grown men sweat and grunt, straining against the weather and each other.

The distinctive sounds of bodies colliding and shoulder pads cracking permeate the air.

And Brian Jordan is beginning to get that old itch, the one that guides him into the National Football League.

His hitting is currently confined to the baseball diamond, where his career has taken a sharp upswing -- to the point where St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Jorgensen says that the Baltimore native has "proven he can play with the best" in the National League. He is hitting .291 with 13 homers, 49 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.

But Jordan can't help himself. He couldn't resist the urge to drop in on the St. Louis Rams' preseason workouts.

This is the problem that always faces the athlete with superior talent in more than one sport. Which way to turn? Or -- as was Jordan's situation for three years, ending in the 1991 football season -- why not try to conquer both worlds?

The decision will be delayed for several months at least. Jordan is playing in the renewal year of an exclusive baseball contract with the Cardinals and cannot play football until October at the earliest.

But, there is little doubt that, at age 28, he is sitting on a negotiating gold mine.

In baseball, he will be eligible for arbitration (and a multimillion-dollar contract) after establishing himself as a full-time outfielder and budding star this season. In football, he is an unrestricted free agent who could take his skills to any team in the NFL.

"You might say Brian's rounding the far turn and is in great position to win the race," said Jordan's St. Louis-based agent, Jim Steiner.

"I could be going back [to football]. I miss the game," Jordan said recently in Philadelphia. "My options are wide-open. It all depends on what happens, and it's going to be interesting."

For three seasons, Jordan played safety for the Atlanta Falcons, where one of his teammates was another player who often has had to choose, Deion Sanders.

In 1992, Jordan, a Milford Mill High graduate, was named as an alternate on the Pro Bowl team, so he had made an indelible mark on football, prompting a renewed desire to do the same in baseball.

Jordan was All-Metro in football and baseball at Milford Mill in 1984. He scored 21 touchdowns and ran for 1,014 yards for the football team and hit .479 with 40 stolen bases in baseball, then excelled in both sports at the University of Richmond.

Drafted in 1989 by the Buffalo Bills, he was released and signed by the Falcons. The Cardinals took him in the supplemental round of the 1988 baseball draft.

"Baltimore was going to draft me [in baseball] if I was still &L around," said Jordan. "But St. Louis picked just ahead of them, and I just missed the connection."

Jordan's mother isn't surprised by her son's success.

"All three of our kids were more or less natural athletes," said Jordan's mother, Betty. "But with Brian, we knew something special was there when he was about 8 or 9 and playing football for Randallstown Optimist.

"Then, when he also wanted to play Little League baseball, we thought then that he might want to pursue sports as a career."

Mrs. Jordan said that although she never has been enthusiastic about her son's playing football because of the injury risk, "he has been hurt more playing baseball. He plays so hard that his daddy [Alvin] says he should wear pads in baseball, too."

Jordan said that baseball is tougher because of its grueling, everyday schedule and the lack of time between games to recover from injuries.

His only major injury playing football was to an ankle in the Senior Bowl. In baseball, he has hurt wrists, ribs and shoulders by banging into walls or trying for diving catches.

"I think the reason for that is that I wasn't playing every day. I'm the type who needs to do that," said Jordan. "When you're only playing once or twice a week, you tend to try too hard to make an impression.

"As a regular, I've learned how to pace myself and pick and choose when to dive or hit the wall."

The nagging wounds and a surplus of outfielders undermined Jordan's early major-league efforts. He had 594 at-bats (the equivalent of one full year) in his first three Cardinals seasons, batting .261 with 20 homers, 81 RBIs and 17 steals.

Now, he is a fixture in the outfield, usually in right, and, with teammate Ray Lankford (14 homers, 22 steals), is threatening to become the first Cardinal since Stan Musial in 1948 to lead the team in homers and steals.

"I feel like this is really my rookie season," said Jordan, who homered twice and knocked in the winning run in the 11th inning in Tuesday's victory over the Mets. "They're finally letting me play all the time. I know they expected Lankford to do it, but they didn't really know what to expect from me."

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