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Might Makes Right With a powerful bat and a multitude of other talents, budding Cardinals slugger J.D. Drew, once a pariah and a symbol of greed, has begun to convert the nonbelievers

Dec. 07, 1998
Dec. 07, 1998

Table of Contents
Dec. 7, 1998

Faces In The Crowd

Might Makes Right With a powerful bat and a multitude of other talents, budding Cardinals slugger J.D. Drew, once a pariah and a symbol of greed, has begun to convert the nonbelievers

There are reasons to despise J.D. Drew. For one, he hunts
dove--quail and deer, too. Anyone who thinks hunting is a cruel,
cold-blooded act can detest Drew for that. You have every right
to. Another thing: He passes up autograph requests. Not often,
mind you, but if he's in a rush, he won't sign. Some people
abhor him for that.

This is an article from the Dec. 7, 1998 issue

Drew is not perfect, or even close. He comes off a tad preachy
at times. Once in a while he burps. His favorite movie is Days
of Thunder. (We won't even get into his love of Beverly Hills
90210.) During the recently completed Arizona Fall League
season, where the games are long and dull and attended by three
people, he secretly wished to be elsewhere--anywhere but in that
outfield of sun-bleached grass. So you can loathe him for his
hidden desire to duck out of the instructional league, where he
hit only .248. Hate him, if you must, for any or all of these
reasons.

Just one thing: Do not hate J.D. Drew for the money. Not
anymore. Now that you know his vices; now that he is standing
humbly in front of you, asking in his Southern drawl how your
kids are doing, wondering if your wife's O.K., inquiring about
your church and your pastor and everything God's given you--how
can you possibly hate him now? Yeah, Drew is another rich
athlete protected by a hard-bargaining agent. There is no
denying that. But more than anything else, Drew, the 23-year-old
St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, is humble. "As humble a person,"
says Jonathan Johnson, Drew's former Florida State teammate, "as
you'll ever find."

What in the world would make anyone call Drew, who snubbed a
$3.1 million offer from the Philadelphia Phillies before ever
playing a professional baseball game, humble? Sure he's humble.
Just like Bernie Williams. Or Donald Trump.

Try this. Drew, the pride of Hahira (pop. 1,353), Ga., says he
has never had sex, drunk alcohol or smoked a cigarette. He has
attended one dance and no proms. He badly wants to meet a nice
woman, but efforts by friends to set him up with someone who
shares his strict Southern Baptist convictions routinely fall
flat. "My friends really understand my beliefs," Drew says, "so
they'll ask a girl lots of questions before they introduce her
to me. It always ends up, 'Well, I'd like to set you up, but
he'd never go out with you for these reasons.' In the Bible it
says you shouldn't be with nonbelievers. Hopefully one day I'll
find a good Christian girl."

During his three years at Florida State--a school that anointed
Spuds McKenzie its unofficial mascot--Drew went to a single
party. "I was a freshman," he recalls, "and I was dragged to a
club to oblige some guys on the team. It turned out to be all
crazy and loud and too crowded. I was miserable and left after
45 minutes."

That night, as he does most every night, Drew went home, read
the Bible and then slumped to his knees in prayer. God has his
plans for people, Drew believes, good plans for those who fear
him most. Drew, it surely was decided, would become a baseball
player. A stinking rich baseball player.

"God has given me this ability for a very clear purpose," says
Drew. "I believe the ultimate purpose--my ultimate purpose--is
that he's using me as a podium for outreach. By the way I play
the game I hope to lead others to Christ." Drew, speaking
without much hesitation, then hesitates. "That's why I feel like
some people, mostly people who've assumed stuff, don't really
know who I am."

Here is what we do know. Drew, whom Cardinals general manager
Walt Jocketty calls "a rare talent," is a lefthanded hitting
five-tool player with Griffey-like potential. "With his extension
and his swing, he shouldn't be either a .330 hitter with 15 home
runs or a .230 hitter with 45," says Cardinals manager Tony La
Russa. "He should hit for power and average." On the bases Drew
has 40-steal capability, and La Russa considers him capable of
playing all three outfield positions.

With a good spring training, he could wind up starting in the
St. Louis outfield on Opening Day. But he was ripped by the
media, major leaguers and fans after the Phillies made him the
second pick in the June 1997 draft and were told by his agent,
Scott Boras, that he would sign for no less than--can I hear you
say Jee-sus!--$11 million. Boras informed Philadelphia G.M. Ed
Wade that Drew was a very determined young man, a person who
would stand up for certain beliefs. "I was made aware of my
market value before the draft," says Drew, who rejected Philly's
offer instantly, "and it was something I was very up-front and
honest about. There are no hard feelings against the Phillies,
but I felt very adamant."

For some strange reason this didn't sit too well with the City
of Brotherly Love. A college kid demanding $11 million? Who the
hell is J.D. Drew? Curt Schilling, the hard-throwing Phillies
ace righthander, recommended that upon reaching the bigs Drew be
issued a helmet with earflaps on both sides. Future Cardinals
teammate Mark McGwire suggested a $250,000 cap for draft picks.
Brian Jordan, another St. Louis star at the time, called Drew's
demands "outrageous." Even on the Internet there is a Web site
called The Top Ten Reasons to Hate J.D. Drew...and other ways to
have fun at his expense!

"The way people reacted, I'm sure J.D. was a little surprised,"
says Johnson, a Texas Rangers farmhand who also played with Drew
on the Peoria Javelinas in the fall league. "But there's
something to be said for convictions. J.D. knew he could sign
with the Phillies or wait another year and get $3 million more.
People ripped him, but who wouldn't have done the same?"

So Drew played half the '97 season with the St. Paul Saints of
the independent Northern League. In 44 games he smoked pitchers
for a .341 average, 18 home runs and 50 RBIs. "I wasn't making
much--about $700 a month--at St. Paul," he says. "Being there
was what I believed to be right." By not signing with the
Phillies, Drew made himself eligible to reenter the draft, and
last June he was selected fifth, by the Cardinals. After playing
another 30 games with the Saints (batting .386 with nine
homers), Drew signed a four-year contract with St. Louis for $7
million (including a $3 million signing bonus); with incentives
Drew could earn $8.5 million. He was assigned to the Double A
Arkansas Travelers, and in his debut, a July 4 road game against
the Wichita Wranglers, Drew was greeted by hecklers and a
stadium P.A. system that blared Dire Straits' Money for Nothing,
the Steve Miller Band's Take the Money and Run and the Beatles'
Money (That's What I Want) when he walked from the dugout to
home plate. Drew didn't care. After hitting .328 in 19 games
with the Travelers, he was promoted to the Triple A Memphis
Redbirds and hit .316 in 26 games. On Sept. 7, Drew was summoned
to the office of Gaylen Pitts, the Memphis manager, who told him
he had been called up to the Show.

When Drew walked through the Cardinals' clubhouse at Busch
Stadium the next day, passing players whose gazes were fixed on
the new kid with the bad rep, "I was a little nervous," he
admits. So what happened? "Nothing," he says. "Absolutely
nothing." McGwire came over during batting practice and welcomed
Drew. Jordan, Ron Gant, Ray Lankford, Delino DeShields and Bobby
Witt did the same. "I was a little concerned how he'd be
received," says La Russa, "but if you think about it, there
aren't many major leaguers not saying, 'I deserve more.' I think
the guys understood."

In his first major league at bat, against Chicago Cubs
righthander Steve Trachsel, Drew did what humble rookies are
supposed to. He struck out looking. "It was a changeup," he
says, "and to tell you the truth, I wasn't upset. I was so
nervous, I just wanted to get it done with."

Over the next three weeks Drew flat lucked out. Had his much
anticipated arrival in the majors come at some other time or with
most other teams, he would have been hounded by reporters and
fans. In St. Louis in September, however, there was this little
ol' home run chase going on. "I had a two-home-run game [against
the Pittsburgh Pirates, on Sept. 15], and the same day McGwire
homered, and nobody cared about me," says Drew. "It was great."

In Little Rock and Memphis, the teams had held press conferences
upon his arrival. One night in Arkansas, Drew was still busy
talking to reporters after the stadium lights had been shut off.
"In St. Louis I would shower as quickly as I could, leave the
clubhouse and have nobody stop me," he says. "Sometimes I didn't
have to answer questions at all."

Ever since he had left Florida State--through all the
negotiations and catcalls and long bus trips--Drew had been
searching for serenity, the kind of peaceful existence he had
experienced as a boy in Hahira, where he was always in school or
playing sports or hunting deer or attending church every
Wednesday and Sunday. Drew's parents, David and Libby, were
strict with their three boys (Tim, 19, is a pitcher in the
Cleveland Indians' system and Stephen, 15, plays shortstop on
his high school team) and kept their lives uncomplicated. That's
how Drew likes things: as simple as possible. With the
Cardinals, things were simple. In 14 games he batted .417 with
five home runs and 13 RBIs. The fans did not boo him. The media
went easy. "From everything I saw," says his father, "he found a
comfortable place to call home."

While Drew rents a town house in Tallahassee, Fla., he still
considers Hahira home. During the winter he will play sports in
the front yard, attend church and, if things get really dull,
pop on the TV and see what's doing in Beverly Hills. "Stephen
and I love to hunt, so that should be fun," he says. "It's been
a draining year for me with everything that's gone on and
everywhere I've been. I just need to rest."

There is ease in Drew's voice. He has no posse awaiting. He did
not buy a Lexus. He is not talking Jesus today and snorting lines
tomorrow. He is a simple kid with lots of money playing a game he
is very good at. There are plenty of reasons to dislike him. Now
try and find a good one.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY V.J. LOVERO FALL GUY Following up on his impressive major league debut, Drew honed his stroke in Arizona. [J.D. Drew swinging in batting cage]COLOR PHOTO: ELSA HASCH/ALLSPORT [J.D. Drew congratulating Mark McGwire]COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRA NORTHERN EXPOSURE Biding his time in St. Paul, Drew stuck to his convictions and landed a contract he deemed righteous. [J.D. Drew after swinging bat]

A Great '98

Here are the statistics put up by J.D. Drew in an odyssey last
season that took him from the low minors to the big leagues,
where he became a September teammate of Mark McGwire.

TEAM (LEAGUE) GAMES BATTING AVG. HRS RBIS

St. Paul Saints (Northern) 30 .386 9 33
Arkansas Travelers (AA Texas) 19 .328 5 11
Memphis Redbirds
(AAA Pacific Coast) 26 .316 2 13
St. Louis Cardinals (National) 14 .417 5 13

"I was aware of my market value before the draft. It was
something I was very up-front and honest about, very adamant."