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In The Wiz's Footsteps Rey Ordonez already fields like Ozzie, but will he hit as well?

June 22, 1998
June 22, 1998

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June 22, 1998

Pro Basketball

In The Wiz's Footsteps Rey Ordonez already fields like Ozzie, but will he hit as well?

Let's get the obvious part out of the way: You've never seen
anything like it.

This is an article from the June 22, 1998 issue

Shortstop Rey Ordonez (right) of the Mets, whether redirecting
the inertial flow of his body in midair like Michael Jordan or
starting a flawless throw to first with his back still to the
plate, will make you, or me, or somebody who's been in baseball
for four decades, say the same thing: "I've never seen anything
like it."

The 25-year-old Ordonez excites, astounds, reminds you of Dennis
Rodman going for a rebound one moment and Jerry Rice going for a
pass the next--and last year had a slugging percentage less than
that of Expos reliever Anthony Telford. The conflict between the
majesty of an Ordonez bare-handed grab and his inability to
deliver doubles and triples at bat must eventually be addressed.

The danger, of course, is that the Mets might be tempted by the
quick fix. Implausible as it sounds, the Cardinals were widely
questioned for trading Garry Templeton to the Padres straight up
for Ozzie Smith (below) after the 1981 season. Smith was a
fielding wonder, but in his first three seasons in the majors he
hit .233, and he had more extra-base hits than errors in only
one of those seasons. And even that qualifies as an offensive
explosion compared with Ordonez, who in the middle of his third
season is batting a career .239 and is nowhere near Smith's
totals in extra-base hits (60 to 35) or stolen bases (85 to 15).

But as time proved San Diego wrong for not sticking with Smith,
so might it yet prove the Mets right for sticking with Ordonez.
"He can hit .270," says New York batting instructor Tom Robson.
"Obviously he has great hand-to-eye coordination and amazing
wrists. But somebody told him never to hit fly balls, only to
hit grounders and run. They left out this whole issue of line
drives." Robson has been trying to get Ordonez to "sequentially
translate energy to the bat head," baseballspeak for putting
your whole body into the swing, not just your wrists. "Right now
his whole approach is different than last year's," Robson says.
"He's starting to feel it."

Perhaps more critical still, he's starting to ask about it.
"He's warmed up to the process," Robson says. "His English
wasn't that good. Now it's better. He comes to me after every at
bat now and asks, 'How was that?' Think about learning a
different language and then trying to learn your job in that
language."

There is hope. Last Saturday night in Miami, Ordonez did exactly
what Robson wanted him to do, sequentially translating his
energy into the leftfield corner to give him his eighth double
of the year, igniting a seven-run rally and matching his total
of nine extra-base hits for all of '97. Ordonez can use Smith as
both a barometer and an inspiration: In the 16 seasons following
that .233 start, Smith batted .269, amassed 2,044 hits and drove
in 50 or more runs nine times. Smith improved his hitting enough
to get into the Hall of Fame, and perhaps Ordonez can as well.

His play in the field is already Cooperstown caliber. "The
average guy takes maybe 20 hits away a season," manager Bobby
Valentine muses as Ordonez cavorts during infield practice. "He
takes away 50. When he doesn't play for three days, it's hard to
believe how many balls in that span become numbers on the
scoreboard."

But ultimately it will be the numbers Ordonez puts on the
scoreboard, not the ones he keeps off it, that will determine
his future.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG [Ozzie Smith in game] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO [Rey Ordonez in game]
"He's a highlight film player," says one general manager, "but can he be consistent?"