The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 61-70
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 55: BRIAN JORDAN
Imagine Walt Jocketty’s relief when the NFL’s Buffalo Bills cut Brian Jordan during training camp in 1989.
The Cardinals general manager had made Jordan the 30th overall pick of the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft. He was the quintessential five-tool player with a combination of speed, power and defense the organization compared to the Pittsburgh Pirates’ young star Barry Bonds.
Ironically, those were the same set of skills that led the Bills to make Jordan, a defensive back from the University of Richmond, their seventh-round pick of the 1989 NFL Draft. When Buffalo turned him loose the following August, thus sparing him the risk of injury, Jocketty must have been elated.
The relief was temporary, though. The very next day the Atlanta Falcons swooped in to give Jordan another shot at pro football.
This time he made the team and played four games in the NFL with 30 minor league games in the Cardinals organization already under his belt. By 1991 — a broken foot and injured wrist later — he was the Falcons’ leading tackler and an alternate on the NFC Pro Bowl team.
Apart from the health risks, Jocketty and the Cardinals had another problem — Jordan was ready to cut back to one sport and his football career, to that point, was going much better. The Falcons were playing their starting strong safety $140,000 a year. Meanwhile, he was getting paid about $1,800 per month to ride a bus between baseball games in the low minors.
The Cardinals decided that Jordan was a talent worth protecting and so, with all of 561 minor league at bats to his credit, they gave him a three-year contract worth $2.3 million plus a $1.7 million bonus to keep him off the football field.
Two days later, at home against the New York Mets in the second game of the season, the Cardinals first baseman Andres Galarraga was hit on the hand by a Wally Whitehurst pitch and sent to the disabled list. Pressed into his major league debut on April 8, Jordan went 2-for-5 with a double and 4 RBIs.
Otherwise, that three-year deal was a bust for the Cardinals. Injuries and the prolonged players strike of 1994 prevented Jordan from playing more than 67 games in a season. But, playing on a one-year deal in 1995, he finally had his breakout by batting .296 with 22 home runs and 81 RBIs.
With an NFL contract with the Oakland Raiders in hand the next offseason, Jordan again had negotiating leverage on Jocketty and the Redbirds. This time, it cost them $10 million over three years, but Jordan blossomed.
In 1996, Tony LaRussa’s first as the St. Louis manager, Jordan slashed .310/.349/.483 with 17 home runs, 104 RBIs and 82 runs scored. He also batted .422 with runners in scoring position and gave St. Louis 2.2 defensive Wins Above Replacement in right field.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, went from 62 wins the year before to 88 victories and their first division championship in nine years.
Jordan came up big in Game 3 of the divisional playoff series against the San Diego Padres. St. Louis was leading the series two games to none, but tied 5-5 in the eighth inning of the third game in San Diego. With Ron Gant on first base and Padres closer Trevor Hoffman on the mound, Jordan broke the tie with a no-doubt home run to left.
He also hit a game-winning solo home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series Game 4 against the Atlanta Braves. The blast gave the Cardinals a three games-to-one lead in the series, but Atlanta rallied to win the pennant.
A bulging disc limited Jordan to just 47 games in 1997, but the following year was arguably his best.
Overshadowed by Mark McGwire’s record-breaking 70 home runs, Jordan quietly slashed .316/.368/.534, all career highs. He also hit 25 home runs, drove in 91 and scored 100 more.
Among his dual-sports contemporaries, Jordan was the superior baseball player. Bo Jackson was worth 8.3 Wins Above Replacement in 694 big-league games and Deion Sanders was 5.5 WAR in 641. In 643 games with the Cardinals, Jordan was worth 20.1 WAR.
But his contract with St. Louis was up again. This time the Cardinals lost him, not to the NFL, but to the Braves, who paid Jordan $21.3 million before trading him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1992-1998
.291/.339/.474 with Cardinals | avg. 21 HR/yr | 20.1 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.97