Forgive Brian Jordan if he feels as if he has been shortchanged
in the fame department. He is a professional athlete who has
excelled in two sports and is convinced that nobody has ever
heard of him. Either one of him.
This relative anonymity helps to explain why, on a Sunday
afternoon in December, Jordan is grumbling at the television in
his Stone Mountain, Ga., living room as he watches the entire
Atlanta Falcon secondary chase an opposing receiver into the end
zone. "How do you leave a guy that wide open?" Jordan asks.
"Brian Jordan would never have let that happen. But who's Brian
It should be noted here that Jordan played safety for the
Falcons from 1989 through '91, before he started playing the
outfield for the St. Louis Cardinals in '92. Four months ago he
nearly closed a deal that would have turned him into a football
Under a self-imposed deadline Jordan resolved his athletic
future last Sept. 22. He was near the end of a breakthrough
baseball season in which he would hit .296 with 22 home runs, 81
RBIs and 24 stolen bases. He was playing on a one-year contract,
and throughout the summer he had been screening videotapes of
his days as a ferocious defensive back with the Falcons. In late
July he had even visited the St. Louis Rams' training camp,
fueling speculation that he might shuttle between two sports in
the same city the way his friend and former teammate Deion
Sanders once did in Atlanta. On his first day back on the
diamond after visiting the Rams, Jordan hit two home runs
against the New York Mets.
January 22, 1996
In early September, when the Cards' initial offer of a new
three-year contract worth $7.3 million was not to Jordan's
liking, his football agent, Jim Steiner, informed every NFL team
that Jordan was putting himself on the market. Several clubs
expressed interest, including the Rams, but the Oakland Raiders
made the most enticing offer: $1.25 million prorated for the
remaining games of the '95 season. Jordan's wife, Pam, mentioned
how she preferred living without him for just the 16 games of a
football season rather than the 162-game baseball schedule. His
mother, Betty, voted for baseball because there was less risk of
injury. His dad, Alvin, advised his son, "Show the world that
you're the best at both sports. Take in all that glory."
With Pam and his two children, Brianna, 4, and Bryson, 1, in
mind, Jordan decided he didn't want to play sports year-round.
But it would be up to the Cardinals, who had until Sept. 22 to
make him a convincing contract proposal, to determine which
sport he played. Less than two hours before St. Louis's game in
Houston that night, Cardinal general manager Walt Jocketty
ushered Jordan into an office in the Astrodome. He offered
Jordan a three-year contract worth $10 million, including
incentives, to play baseball exclusively. Jordan signed the
agreement immediately. He was so distracted by the sudden
development that he was caught stealing twice that night.
Jordan says that if the Cards had not come through, he would
have accepted an offer the next morning to become a safety with
the Raiders and possibly would not have returned to baseball.
Instead, it is his football career that is effectively over.
"People wonder how I could turn down playing both sports, but
I'm a family man, and I had to do what I thought was best for my
wife and kids," Jordan says. "It was the hardest decision I've
ever made, but I didn't want to devote my whole life to sports.
You live a lot longer in baseball. I know. When I played
football I tried to knock people's heads off."
Just then, Jordan's graphic summation is interrupted by a
television commercial, featuring Sanders, now with the Dallas
Cowboys, and a pizza. In the commercial, Cowboy owner Jerry
Jones turns to Sanders and asks, "What's it gonna be, Deion,
football or baseball?"
"Both," Deion replies.
Jordan scoops Brianna into his lap and grins.
There were dozens of nights during his first three major league
seasons when Jordan tossed and turned until dawn, wondering why
he had a signed a three-year, $2.3 million baseball contract
that forbade him to play football. He spent most of those
seasons, beginning in 1992, as the Cardinals' fourth outfielder,
often sitting in the dugout and asking himself, What am I doing
here? Other times he wasn't even in the majors at all. "It was
like an April Fools' joke," Jordan says now. "How can you pay me
all that money to give up a sport in which I was becoming a star
and then never give me a chance? I blamed the Cardinal
organization at that time. I felt cheated, as if I was wasting
those three years. I thought, Why don't they just trade me?"
"Brian would get up out of bed in the middle of the night, pick
up a bat and start looking at himself in the mirror," Pam says.
"He must have changed his stance 50 times. It got so bad he was
asking me, 'Does this look right, honey?'"
Former Cardinal scouting director Fred McAlister remembers the
afternoon in April 1988 when he first spotted Jordan playing for
the University of Richmond. It was an exhibition against the
Triple A Richmond Braves. Jordan cracked a home run, a double
and a single and stole a base. "He did everything a scout dreams
of," McAlister says. "I thought to myself, If I could sign this
guy, I'd jump off the Gateway Arch."
Two months later the Cardinals selected Jordan in the amateur
draft, but he returned to college for his senior year and gained
All-Yankee Conference recognition in football. Then, in April
1989, Jordan was chosen in the seventh round of the NFL draft by
the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was deep at defensive back and tried
to slip him through waivers after the final roster cut, with the
intention of re-signing him. But the Falcons grabbed Jordan off
the waiver wire, and he wound up in the same defensive backfield
as Sanders. "Brian was a hell of a football player,'' says
Sanders, who played outfield for the Cincinnati Reds and the San
Francisco Giants last year and who is currently a baseball free
agent. "I used to say to Brian, 'I'm tackling nobody today, I'm
sending them all to you,' and he'd make every damn stop."
Jordan finished third in the NFL in tackles in '90 and the
following season was a Pro Bowl alternate, dabbling all the
while in baseball each summer in the Cardinal farm system. After
the '91 football season, Atlanta wanted to re-sign Jordan, but
the Falcons thought his salary demands were out of line. Miffed
by Atlanta's stance, Jordan signed to play for the Cardinals
exclusively. "It's funny, but being a two-sport athlete
sometimes kept me from actually playing two sports," Jordan
says. "But it did help me earn better money."
In April 1992, 13 games into his major league career, Jordan
found himself facing two-time Cy Young Award winner Bret
Saberhagen--then of the New York Mets--for the first time. After
Jordan grounded out in his first at bat and singled in his
second, Saberhagen's first pitch to him in the seventh inning
zipped beneath Jordan's chin and flipped him on his back. Jordan
was fuming as he hacked at a second delivery up in his eyes. The
next two pitches continued up the ladder, and Jordan finally
struck out on a fastball over his head. "I got so ticked off I
wanted to charge the mound and knock Saberhagen out cold," he
remembers. "I was playing baseball like a football player.
Before long you could have thrown a beach ball up there, and I
would have missed it."
By July he was back in the minors. Jordan became so frustrated
when he was demoted after just 33 at bats that he vowed he would
not report to Triple A Louisville. He told his baseball agent,
Jim Turner, to tear up his contract. Give the money back. Do
whatever it would take for him to play football again. "He would
often get discouraged in the minors, working his buns off to put
up good numbers, but always feeling the time passing by," says
Johnny Lewis, a Cardinal minor league hitting coordinator who
became Jordan's mentor. "Sometimes you had to talk Brian in off
Jordan's major league totals after three years were 594 at bats,
a .258 average, 20 home runs, 81 RBIs and 17 steals--all of which
adds up to one good season. But then St. Louis traded outfielder
Mark Whiten in April 1995, opening up a full-time job in
rightfield for Jordan.
After having struggled mightily with the breaking ball, Jordan
had to learn to make adjustments at the plate, and last season
he proved he could play baseball like a baseball player. For
instance, with two outs, two on and the Cards trailing by one
run in the ninth inning of an Aug. 21 game against the Reds, he
came up against reliever Mike Jackson, who had held him to one
hit in five at bats lifetime. Jordan fell behind 0 and 2 before
laying off a nasty slider high and tight. He then cracked
Jackson's next slider for a game-winning homer.
Similarly, Jordan had exorcised another demon 11 days earlier.
He had struck out three times in his first two games against Los
Angeles Dodger rookie sensation Hideo Nomo, he of the wicked
forkball. Out of respect for the Japanese pitcher, Jordan asked
a clubhouse boy in L.A. to get Nomo's autograph on a ball before
the game on Aug. 10. The kid came back saying Nomo had refused
to sign. Says Jordan, "I turned to [St. Louis shortstop] Ozzie
Smith and said, 'Can you believe this guy, this rookie, wouldn't
sign my ball? I'll get him.'"
Jordan crushed the second pitch he saw from Nomo into the
leftfield seats. When Jordan returned to the dugout he asked
Smith, "You think he'll sign my ball now?"
At the same time Jordan was improving at the plate, he was also
developing into the Cardinals' best defensive outfielder. In a
game against the Houston Astros, Jordan made a running
shoestring catch near the rightfield foul line, wheeled and
threw out the speedy Derek Bell at the plate for a double play
that saved a 2-1 victory. He committed just one error in 131
games last year. This season he hopes to play in the All-Star
Game, win a Gold Glove and perhaps accomplish something that
even Rogers Hornsby and Stan Musial never did: become the first
30-30 man in the 104-year history of the Cardinals.
"Maybe, in '96," says Jordan, "people will start to figure out
who I am."
Remember, as an athlete who left behind a stellar career in one
sport to meet the challenge of his second love, baseball, Brian
Jordan wasn't even the most famous Jordan to try that. But never
mind Michael Jordan.
Brian Jordan is a homebody on football Sundays now, and on this
particular afternoon he watches the Falcons lose to Carolina.
Then the Rams lose to the Washington Redskins, and the Raiders
lose to the Seattle Seahawks. The once promising seasons of
those NFL teams that courted Jordan have crumbled. "Maybe I
could've made the difference for one of these teams," Jordan
muses. "I can't help but think I could've helped one of them
reach the Super Bowl."
"When he was on the football field, that was his heaven," Pam
says. "Baseball is more of a challenge to him. But deep down,
when it's all over and done, he wants to have conquered both. He
wants people to know who Brian Jordan is."
Sanders believes that his buddy will never receive the same
recognition as his prime-time, two-sport predecessors. "Bo was
the first one, so he had that marketability. And I was the
second, but I had my own style that made me different," Sanders
says. "I think Brian's just Brian. He's just a good dude."
"I know that when my baseball career is over, I will have proven
myself in both sports, but my personality will always make me
the invisible two-sport athlete. I understand what's most
important to me," Jordan says, with a nod to Brianna, who traps
him in an affectionate half nelson. "So what if Brian Jordan is
always in the shadow of Bo and Deion and Michael?"
Brian Jordan can live with that. Both Brian Jordans.