Pat Jordan was a bonus baby for the Braves in the late '50s and early '60s. He threw gas, but never made it to the majors; eventually, he became an accomplished journalist. His first memoir, "A False Spring" is considered a baseball classic. I think that the sequel, "A Nice Tuesday," is a better book, even if it is more about Jordan's personal life than it is about baseball.
Jordan still writes for The New York Times magazine, and it is always a treat to read his work, especially if it is about a pitcher. Before "A False Spring" was released in 1974, Jordan published a collection of stories he had written for Sports Illustrated called, "The Suitors of Spring." All of the articles in this collection are about pitchers, including the likes of Tom Seaver, Bo Belinksky, Bruce Kison, Steve Dalkowski and Sudden Sam McDowell.
I buried myelf in the book last night after suffering through the Yankees game, hoping to take my mind off the pain of the here-and-now. Jordan describes McDowell and Dalkowski as young men who were possessed by their talented; Seaver, on the other hand, was a late-bloomer with less natural talent. Of course, Seaver became on the great pitchers of all time. Dalkowski never made it passed triple A and McDowell never became the great pitcher he was expected to become.
Here is a healthy excerpt from the article on Sudden Sam, "A Talent for Refusing Greatness:"
Like many extremely talented people, Sam McDowell does not judge his accomplishments by conventional standards. His challenges, and their eventual resolution, are very private affairs independent of either the approval or disapproval of anyone else.
..."The only thing I get satisfaction from," he says, "is accomplishing something I'm not supposed to be able to do. I live for challenges, and once I overcome them I have to go on to something new."
...It is obvious that McDowell takes great delight in watching his pitches behave even when he's only warming up. And he admits to often concentrating so much on his individual pitches and their perfection that he loses sight of everything else. His individual pitches then become his goal rather than simply the means of attaining some larger goal--a victory, for instance.
"I try and break things down to their simplest element," he says, "and sometimes I guess I do it to an extreme. For instance, a game to me is just a series of individual challenges--Me against Reggie Jackson or Me againt Don Mincher. If I find I can get a guy out with a fastball it takes all the challenge away, so next time I throw him all curveballs. If I don't have a challenge I create one. It makes the game interesting."
..."No, I wouldn't say Sudden is the toughest pitcher I ever faced," says Reggie Jackson. "Now, don't get me wrong. I like Sudden and I think he's got the greatest fastball, curveball, slider and change-up of any pitcher I ever saw. I call him 'Instant Heat.' But still, I don't mind facing him. That's not because I hit him so easy, either, because I don't. It's just that Sudden simplifies things out there. He makes it like it used to be when we were kids. You know he's going to challenge you, his strength against yours, and either you beat him or he beats you. And if you do beat him with a home run or something, hell, it don't bother him that much. He's not greedy. He lets you have a little, too. And he won't throw at you, either, because he's too nice a guy. He knows that with his fastball he could kill you if he ever hit you. You see, baseball's still a game to Sudden, the way it should be to all of us. Hell, I'd pay to see him pitch because I know he enjoys himself so much. Do you know he's got 12 differenet moves to first base? That's a fact! When he was going for his 1500th strikeout he was trying so hard he fell down on a pitch to me. I took it for a third strike. I loved that, though. That's why I look forward to facing him even if I don't hit him a helluva lot. But someday I will. Me and Sudden will be around for a long time, and one of these days I'm going to connect with one of his sudden pitches and watch out! But still, I have to say that Sam McDowell isn't the toughest pitcher I ever faced. As a matter of fact, I think he'd be tougher if he had less ability. Sounds crazy, huh? But it's true. Sudden's just go too much stuff."
I don't think that Jeff Weaver is nearly as gifted as McDowell was, and perhaps he isn't even as interesting a person. But I thought about Weaver after reading this article last night, because he's a pitcher with great stuff who hasn't been able to put it together. Of course, you can replace Jeff Weaver with your favorite talent who hasn't lived up to expectations. The point is, all the talent in the world doesn't mean spit if you don't thrive as a competitor.
Anyhow, there isn't a baseball writer I enjoy more than Pat Jordan. Next time you happen upon one of his books, pick it up and give him a try.