B. Jordan has top spot on 'what-if' list

July 01, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

NEW YORK - Brady Anderson would have moved to left field. Albert Belle would have signed with another club. Rafael Palmeiro might have stayed with the Orioles.

That is the domino effect that could have occurred if Baltimore native Brian Jordan had signed with the Orioles instead of the Atlanta Braves in November 1998.

"It changes history," said Frank Wren, the Orioles' former general manager. "It changes the whole dynamic of our club a year ago, the whole dynamic of the team going forward. He was a key player, a key part of what we were trying to accomplish."

But the Orioles didn't get him.

Jordan, 33, signed with the Braves largely because he wanted to live in Atlanta with his wife and two children. He also was disturbed by the uncertainty surrounding the Orioles, and the club's insistence that he accept deferred money with no interest as part of his deal.

The Orioles offered Jordan a five-year, $40 million contract. The Braves matched those terms without asking him to defer money. And within days after Jordan agreed to play right field for Atlanta, the face of the Orioles changed dramatically.

Rebuffed by Jordan, a Milford Mill High graduate with a shining personality, the Orioles opted for the glowering countenance of Belle, whom they signed to a club-record, five-year, $65 million contract.

Palmeiro, coming off the five greatest offensive seasons in Orioles history, considered the Belle deal a final affront and bolted for Texas. Anderson remained in center field, even though it no longer is his best position.

All because Brian Jordan wouldn't come home.

"When I first came over, I kidded with him," said Wren, who joined the Braves as an assistant GM after the Orioles fired him last October. "I said, `I thought we had you.' He said, `You about did. But my family living in Atlanta made it awfully appealing."

As Braves general manager John Schuerholz put it, "We had our hometown element, too."

Jordan, of course, made the right decision, even though he would have played center field in Baltimore, his preferred position. He set a career high with 115 RBIs and matched his career high with 100 runs scored last season. The Orioles crashed, and the Braves reached the World Series.

This season is turning out to be more of the same. Jordan is batting .299 with 13 homers and 49 RBIs after opening the season on the disabled list. The Orioles are 9 1/2 games back in a weak division. The Braves have the best record in the National League.

"It was a tough choice," Jordan recalled before going 3-for-5 with a double and three-run homer last night in Atlanta's 11-8 loss to the New York Mets. "It was a chance to go back home, which deep down in my heart I really wanted to do. But it was about where my family was.

"At the time, I was living in Atlanta. I already had a home. All my kids were in school. It was just tough to pack and be away from the family again when you have an opportunity to play in the same place your family had set their roots.

"I love Baltimore. I miss Baltimore. But it was about winning, too. At the time, I felt the Orioles were in transition. The Atlanta Braves were an established organization. They had all their chips in place. I had a great opportunity to win. And the bottom line is everybody wants to win.`

Could Jordan have helped transform the Orioles into a contender these past two seasons? Probably not. But he would have made the team faster and more athletic, two goals that club officials are still trying to achieve.

Jordan also would have made the Orioles more likable, especially if he came as a package with Palmeiro. His price was $25 million below Belle's. The Orioles could have spent the extra money on Palmeiro and a pitcher. Jordan lobbied the Orioles to sign Palmeiro during his visit to Camden Yards.

It all seems so long ago. Jordan smiled as he recalled his visit, the elaborate video production, the live introduction by public-address announcer Dave Magowan, the fantasy home-run call by Orioles play-by-play man Jim Hunter, the taped messages from Jordan's friends, teachers and coaches at Milford Mill.

"Everybody wanted me to come back home. I was kind of eager to come home," said Jordan, whose parents live in Randallstown. "The Orioles really did it up when I came to visit. They went out of their way. They did a great job. I would have loved to have been the hometown boy coming back home. It would have been a great story."

But it wasn't meant to be.

"I thought we had a glimmer of hope," Wren said. "In talking to his representative, Jim Turner, I thought we were still in it, even up to the final morning."

It was the outcome the Orioles feared, the outcome that always seemed most likely. After he made his decision, Jordan reached out to Wren, almost apologetic.

"He was a great guy about it," Jordan said. "That's why he was the first guy I told when I made the decision. Usually, guys just leave GMs hanging. But I had my agent call him and let him know. He was such a great guy about it, I felt obligated."

Family came first. Family was the deciding factor. But if there's a lesson in all of this, it's that perhaps the Orioles should ease their stance on deferred money with no interest. Anderson, Belle and others accepted such a condition. But for potential free agent Mike Mussina, it's believed to be a stumbling block.

"It was an issue," said Jordan. "I feel like, I'm a college graduate [Jordan attended the University of Richmond]. The money I earn, I want to be able to invest myself. To defer my money without interest is not a good deal to me. I want to keep my money and invest it for the future of my family."

Whatever, Jordan is a Brave.

The dominoes fell, but not in the way the Orioles imagined.

"It turned out great for me," Jordan said. "I just brought my leadership qualities here."

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