As a career, says the man who wrote the story for us that begins on page 50, "writing is second best; baseball is best." And that is all right with us, because if Pat Jordan didn't prefer baseball to writing he almost certainly would never have been able to write this particular story.
Pat's affection for baseball began even before he himself began to throw fastballs as an 8-year-old pitcher in Little League. Four years later his accomplishments (two no-hitters and four one-hitters) led to a mention in a New York sportswriter's column and an appearance on Mel Allen's pregame Yankee television show. "I brought my glove," Jordan remembers. "Stupid, but I thought they would want me to throw. I wanted the Yankees to see how fast I was at 12 so they would already start thinking about signing me. But the only one who pitched for the Yankees that day was Vic Raschi."
The bird dogs about whom Jordan writes first began to sniff around when he was a sophomore in high school in Fairfield, Conn. At about that time the young would-be major-leaguer decided to hire a former minor league catcher named Bill Onuska to give him the benefits of some professional expertise.
"I offered him $10 a week to work out with me," Jordan remembers. "After the first 10 minutes he gave me the $10 back. 'Don't do anything different,' he said. 'Don't change anything.' "
Soon afterward Jordan was picked up by the Braves' organization, which paid him a $40,000 bonus and sent him off to its Class D farm club in McCook, Neb. "McCook shocked me," the Connecticut city boy says. "People wore cowboy boots and fringed jackets—and they weren't hippies. When I first got off the plane at North Platte I really thought I'd gone back in time. There were cowboys and Indians—real ones—walking around all over. They were part of the county fair, but I didn't know that."
After McCook, Jordan moved up to Davenport in the Midwest League, then went to Bradenton in the winter league. This was a high mark in Jordan's career, partly because old Ben Geraghty was his manager and Joe Torre was his catcher. But that spring (1961) his fastball faded, and he dropped from Class AA Austin to Class D. "All the way to Palatka, Fla., which is just the way it sounds," Jordan says. "Palatka's claim to fame was a paper mill that woke you up at 6 a.m. and made the whole town smell like burning rubber."
It was all too much. Jordan quit, went back to Fairfield University and began working the late shift learning to become a writer on a newspaper. But, he says, "I never stopped thinking I'd rather be playing ball."
"Baseball," says Writer Pat Jordan today, "is the purest sport. It's the only sport you can't diagram before you go out and play. It's the only one where a poor team can't win because of a good coach, where all that matters is the players you have. Baseball is spontaneous. And pitching is the purest part of baseball. It's just you against the batter."
Some writers might see an analogy here, but it wouldn't apply to Pat Jordan. At the typewriter, his fastball zips past before even the heaviest-hitting editor can put any wood—or lead—on it.