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Cliff Notes His body healthy at last and his mind clear--at least most of the time--Cliff Floyd is having a career year for the resurgent Marlins

Aug. 20, 2001
Aug. 20, 2001

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Aug. 20, 2001

Cliff Notes His body healthy at last and his mind clear--at least most of the time--Cliff Floyd is having a career year for the resurgent Marlins

The ballplayer's mother and former wife were talking on the phone
the other day, repeating a familiar conversation. "He's doing it
again," said Alex Floyd, the ex-wife.

This is an article from the Aug. 20, 2001 issue Original Layout

"I know he is, baby," said the mother, Olivia Floyd. "I hate it
too."

Alex, a model, lives in South Florida, where Cliff Floyd plays
leftfield for the Marlins. Olivia, a retired factory worker,
lives outside Chicago. When the two women watch their favorite
ballplayer on TV, they see what the rest of us do not: the inner
workings of the mind of a man who has been batting in the ritzy
neighborhood of .340 this season. He doesn't go hitless
often--through Sunday he'd hit in all but 21 of his 105 starts
this year--but when he does, the mother and the ex-wife are
analyzing the problem before the earpieces on their phones are
even warm.

"Why does he do that, Ma?" Alex asked rhetorically.

"I've told him and I'll tell him again: 'Clifford, you're
thinking too much,'" Olivia said. "But does he listen? No."

Actually, he does. Floyd talks to his mother and former wife
several times a week, and "they pick up on things I don't," he
says. "I'm always trying to get my mind at peace. I know that I
hit my best when everything is chill."

On Aug. 3 Floyd played both games of a Friday doubleheader in St.
Louis against the Cardinals and went 1 for 8. The lefthanded
hitter's right Achilles tendon, always tender, was particularly
bothersome that evening. His eight-year career has been impeded
by injuries, one after another. Now everyone was talking about
his health again. His manager, Tony Perez, didn't let him bat
during the next two games against the Cardinals. Floyd was deeply
frustrated. The following Monday, when the Marlins were playing
in the Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown, the 28-year-old Floyd
was at a medical facility in Fort Lauderdale enduring the loud
hammering of yet another MRI, this one on his right foot and
ankle.

The news, on this occasion, was good: The doctors found
tendinitis in his right heel, but nothing more. The inflammation
could be surgically repaired with relative ease in the
off-season. In the meantime, Floyd was told, he had nothing to
worry about. He was told to run as hard as he likes (and he runs
very hard and very fast; he has 13 steals in 16 attempts). The
next day Floyd went 3 for 3 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
His mind was at peace. Everything was chill.

You would be hard-pressed to find another ballplayer who uses the
counseling services of his mother and his ex-wife. A divorced
woman who describes her ex-husband as her closest friend, as Alex
Floyd does, is a rare thing too. "There's something special about
Cliff," Alex says. "Everyone who knows him feels the same way. I
know we will be in each other's lives for as long as we live."
Their two-year marriage ended last October, but someday they
might remarry. They both say that.

If it happens, it won't be in the near future. "Right now, I'm
not ready to be married," says Floyd. "I'm not mature enough to
be married. I'm too comfortable being alone, and I'm too focused
on baseball to be married." Part of Floyd's considerable charm is
his boyish candor. "I don't want to be like, 'Let me fake
sleeping so she'll leave me alone,'" he says. "My wife deserves
better than that. My wife deserves the kind of devotion I see in
my parents."

Cliff's father, Cornelius Clifford (C.C.) Floyd, played high
school baseball in Chicago in the 1960s and in the Marines. He's
retired, but for years he worked a double shift at the U.S. Steel
plant in Chicago so that his family could afford to live in a
working-class suburb, Markham, where schoolboy baseball was taken
more seriously than in the city. The father's understanding of
the game is considerable. Olivia Floyd is in charge of Cliff's
metaphysical state. C.C. is in charge of the boy's stroke.

This season, after consulting with his hitting-coach father,
Floyd has switched from a 34-ounce bat to one that's 31 ounces.
He has also narrowed his batting stance by four or five inches
and has raised his hands about four inches, to create a feeling
of tension and anticipation. Then as the pitcher releases the
ball, Floyd drops his hands dramatically, exhales and relaxes. At
that moment Floyd achieves a state of hitting nirvana he calls
chill. "He used to say 'chill out,' but now he just talks about
'chill,'" says Olivia. In that state of relaxation, Floyd can
bash lefties and righties both (at week's end he was hitting .331
against southpaws and .341 against righthanders), smoke
curveballs and fastballs on an equal-opportunity basis, and
wallop high pitches nearly as well as low ones, looking smooth
all the while.

But then Floyd could always hit. In 1991, coming out of Thornwood
High, near Markham, he was drafted in the first round by the
Montreal Expos. Dave Dombrowski was the Expos' boy general
manager at the time. In 1997, as the Marlins' G.M., he engineered
the trade that brought Floyd to Florida. "We loved him 10 years
ago," says Dombrowski, now one of baseball's wise old men at 45.
"We thought he was going to be a star. He's reaching the heights
we always thought he would. The only thing that's held him back
is his health." Says Perez, "What he needs now is at bats. The
more at bats he gets, the better he'll get."

Since being called up for the first time, in 1993, Floyd has had
only one season with more than 500 at bats--1998, when he had 588
and hit .282 with 22 homers and 90 RBIs. Last year, despite a
month on the disabled list with a torn medial meniscus in his
left knee, Floyd batted .300 with 22 homers and 91 RBIs in only
420 at bats. This year he is finally showing what he can do when
his body is sound and his mind is clear. Through Sunday, Floyd
was batting .338, with 28 home runs and 90 RBIs. More important,
he's a big part of the success of the Marlins, who were still
hanging around in the National League East pennant race, six
games behind the first-place Philadelphia Phillies. Says C.C.,
"I've always told him, 'Barry Bonds plays every day. When you
finally get to play every day, you might not be right in his
league, but you'll be in his room.'"

When he's with his parents, Cliff is Cliffie, or Clifford, or
Baby or Big Boy. (He's 6'4" and weighs 235 pounds.) In the
Marlins' clubhouse, where he is beloved, his teammates sometimes
call him Glass, because his body, though immense and powerful, is
fragile. There's his chronically inflamed right Achilles tendon.
There's his left hamstring, which is prone to pulls. There's his
left knee, which has been operated on twice. Then there's his
left wrist. The fact that Floyd even has a working left wrist is
a miracle of modern medicine.

On May 15, 1995, the Expos were playing the New York Mets at Shea
Stadium. Floyd, who throws with his right hand, was playing
first. As he attempted to make a sweeping tag on Mets catcher
Todd Hundley, who was bearing down on first, Floyd shattered his
left wrist, breaking or dislocating six bones and tearing
ligaments. Bones were sticking out of him like pins in a voodoo
doll. The sight was so gruesome that when replays were shown on
TV, they came with a warning.

Floyd may be fragile, but he's tough: Surgeons put his hand back
together, and four months later he was playing baseball again.
Since then, two significant things have happened. Floyd has moved
to the outfield pretty much full time, and Hundley has become a
close friend. The catcher, who shares an agent with Floyd, was in
Floyd's wedding party. "Clifford's always been like that," Olivia
says. "He makes friends wherever he goes."

Well, almost everywhere. In late May, Floyd, a line drive hitter
and a line drive talker, called Bobby Valentine of the Mets the
"stupidest manager in baseball." They were squabbling over such
fine points of baseball protocol as beanballs (the Mets had
plunked Floyd) and evil-eye dugout stares (Floyd's retaliation
against Valentine). The two exchanged a volley of pithy quotes in
the newspapers. Their tiff even spilled over to the All-Star
Game, because Valentine managed the National League team. The
skipper left Floyd dangling for a while but finally selected him
for his squad after righthander Rick Reed, then with the Mets,
bowed out with an injury.

"Mike Piazza says to me at the All-Star Game, 'Bobby doesn't mean
any harm,'" says Floyd. "I accept that. I forgive stuff. I go
on--as long as things work out in life." (They did: Valentine sent
Floyd a framed lineup card from the game, a gesture that
indicated the two had buried the hatchet.)

Floyd flew his parents to Seattle for the All-Star Game, where,
as his father had more or less predicted, he found himself in the
same room as Barry Bonds. At least, they shared a clubhouse for a
night. "I'm looking at Barry Bonds's numbers and I'm thinking, I
ain't done nothing in this game, not yet," Floyd says. "I read
this story where Barry says you've got to learn to play with
injuries, and that's what I'm learning to do."

In early August, when the Marlins had a day off between a series
in Cincinnati and a series against the Brewers, Floyd spent two
nights at his parents' house. Later this month, when the Marlins
play the Cubs at Wrigley, Floyd will visit again. He lives in
South Florida and owns a house there, but Chicago remains the
center of his universe. His boyhood team was the White Sox, and
his hero was Harold Baines. "Hey, BAIN-ZEE!" Floyd would yell
during batting practice. Baines would casually lift his left hand
and toss off a little wave. Little Cliff thought Baines was the
coolest thing going. He's been emulating him ever since.

Floyd's parents no longer live in Markham. Shortly after signing
a four-year, $19 million contract with the cash-strapped Marlins
before the start of the 1999 season, Cliff was visiting his folks
when they all heard gunfire. Floyd immediately told his parents,
"It's time for you to move out."

"But there's no return fire," his mother said. "Probably somebody
just firing into the air." Then they smelled gun smoke. It was
close. "You're moving out," Cliff said.

He bought his parents a sparkling new $300,000 home--big enough
for his 16-year-old brother, Julius, and his 16-year-old sister,
Shanta, as well--in Hazel Crest, a few miles and a world away from
Markham. He moved his mother's mother, too, into a house in
Lynwood, a suburb of Chicago.

When the Marlins play in the Midwest, the Floyds go on the road
with their Clifford. One night in Milwaukee, after a poor at bat
by her son, Olivia said to the folks in her row, "He's thinking
too much tonight." The way his mother saw it, Clifford was
thinking about the pitcher, the umpire, the score, Alex, his
parents, a teammate who'd failed to run the bases hard the
previous night, all manner of things. She expects her son to get
a hit every time up.

His father takes a more realistic view. He knows for a hitter to
fail only two times in three is a huge accomplishment. As Olivia
was examining the mental health of her son from the second deck
of Miller Park, C.C. was dispensing his life philosophy between
bites of nachos smothered in cheese and a big swig from a cold
one: "This is what I like to do: eat, look at the ball game,
drink beer. You cannot have a better life than that."

For himself Cliff would alter his father's vision of perfection
only slightly: eat, play ball, drink beer and don't think too
much. When you're healthy and your mind is clear, chill is
attainable. In his first 23 at bats after that Aug. 6 MRI, Floyd
had eight hits, a .348 average. You cannot have a better hitting
life than that.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB ROSATOCOLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACECOLOR PHOTO: TODD ROSENBERG Family matters Cliff gets plenty of support from his parents, with Olivia tending to the metaphysical and C.C. minding his stroke.

What Might've Been

With Cliff Floyd having already surpassed last season's totals in
hits, runs and homers, he appears to be in the midst of an
offensive explosion. A closer look reveals how impressive his
production might have been during his career had injuries not
limited his at bats. Here's how Floyd, who's on pace for his most
at bats since 1998, might have fared had he gotten about that
many every year.
HOME RUNS STOLEN
AT BATS RUNS RUNS BATTED IN BASES

1996 Actual 227 29 6 26 7
Projected 600 77 16 69 19
1997 Actual 137 23 6 19 6
Projected 600 101 26 83 26
1998 Actual 588 85 22 90 27
1999 Actual 251 37 11 49 5
Projected 600 88 26 117 12
2000 Actual 420 75 22 91 24
Projected 600 107 31 130 34
2001 Actual 408 99 28 90 13
Projected 600 146 41 132 19

You'd be hard-pressed to find another player who thrives on the
counseling of his mother and his ex-wife.