Today’s post is the beginning of a weekly retrospective I will be doing every Thursday throughout the season, highlighting old Cardinals,
I came of age as a St. Louis Cardinals fan in the mid 1990s when the team was in a sort of transitional phase. Tony LaRussa had just come aboard and was taking the reigns of his first National League club after the team had stumbled for a 4th place finish in a strike shortened ’95 season. LaRussa had made changes, some controversial, and had implemented his own superb coaching staffs to turn around the most decorated club in National League history. LaRussa’s magic worked, as it so often did, and the Birds ended up in the 1996 NLCS which is where I can pinpoint the beginning of my lifelong fandom: the moment Brian Jordan, blasted a solo home run in the 8th inning to give the Cardinals a 4-3 lead and move them to within one win of their first pennant in 10 seasons.
Of course, most of us remember how that series ended up, with the Cardinals coughing up a 3-1 series lead, culminating in a 15-0 Atlanta Braves blow-out win in Game 7. Nevertheless, that was the moment that Brian Jordan really put himself on the map for the whole country. He had already established himself as a story of interest, having been an NFL defensive back who was selected to the Pro Bowl Team as a member of the Atlanta Falcons before making his big league debut for the Cardinals in 1992. BJ broke out in ’95 with a .296/22/81 season before establishing himself as one of the premier players in the National League with a ’96 season that included a .310 batting average and 104 RBI. After an injury plagued ’97 season, Jordan re-established himself batting in front of Mark McGwire during his record setting 70 home run season in 1998. BJ parlayed a .316/25/91 season into a $21mm dollar contract with Atlanta, bringing him back to the same city he was an all-pro football player in. Jordan enjoyed four very productive seasons as a Brave before bouncing around to between The Los Angeles Dodgers, The Texas Rangers, and back to Atlanta before hanging them up for good after the 2006 season.
I don’t know where to start with what I loved about Jordan. He was constantly smiling. He played all three outfield positions. He gave a ton of interviews and signed autographs before every single home game. He wore flashy gold earrings and a flat-billed hat. He made batting practice into a show in the days before McGwire and Albert Pujols would regularly launch laser beams into the bleachers at Old Busch Stadium. With his cut-off-sleeve Cardinals batting practice jersey and bulging biceps, BJ would warm up by casually swinging four or five Louisville Sluggers outside the cage before it was his turn to hit. When I was 11 I got to talk to Jordan one-on-one before a Cardinals game that my dad was a guest of honor at. He was engaging and funny, but had to cut our conversation short when a group of 20-something blonde bombshells starting screaming for him and held up a big sign with his name on it. I couldn’t even be mad at him when he looked at me and said “Gotta go!” with a wink and a smirk.
These days, Jordan still enjoys his celebrity in Atlanta as a TV pregame show host and also co-hosts a local radio show. Just like when he started he’s a two-industry star. Jordan helped bring the Cardinals back to relevance after almost a decade of futility. I’ll always remember him as my original favorite Cardinal.