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In the Wiz's Footsteps
Keith Olbermann
June 22, 1998
Rey Ordo�ez already fields like Ozzie, but will he hit as well?
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June 22, 1998

In The Wiz's Footsteps

Rey Ordo�ez already fields like Ozzie, but will he hit as well?

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Let's get the obvious part out of the way: You've never seen anything like it.

Shortstop Rey Ordo�ez (right) of the Mets, whether redirecting the inertial flow of his body in midair like Michael Jordan or starting a flawless throw to first with his back still to the plate, will make you, or me, or somebody who's been in baseball for four decades, say the same tiling: "I've never seen anything like it."

The 25-year-old Ordo�ez excites, astounds, reminds you of Dennis Rodman going for a rebound one moment and Jerry Rice going for a pass the next—and last year had a slugging percentage less than that of Expos reliever Anthony Telford. The conflict between the majesty of an Ordo�ez bare-handed grab and his inability to deliver doubles and triples at bat must eventually be addressed.

The danger, of course, is that the Mets might be tempted by the quick fix. Implausible as it sounds, the Cardinals were widely questioned for trading Garry Templeton to the Padres straight up for Ozzie Smith (below) after the 1981 season. Smith was a fielding wonder, but in his first three seasons in the majors he hit .233, and he had more extra-base hits than errors in only one of those seasons. And even that qualifies as an offensive explosion compared with Ordo�ez, who in the middle of his third season is batting a career .239 and is nowhere near Smith's totals in extra-base hits (60 to 35) or stolen bases (85 to 15).

But as time proved San Diego wrong for not sticking with Smith, so might it yet prove the Mets right for sticking with Ordo�ez. "He can hit .270," says New York batting instructor Tom Robson. "Obviously he has great hand-to-eye coordination and amazing wrists. But somebody told him never to hit fly balls, only to hit grounders and run. They left out this whole issue of line drives." Robson has been trying to get Ordo�ez to "sequentially translate energy to the bat head," baseball-speak for putting your whole body into the swing, not just your wrists. "Right now his whole approach is different than last year's," Robson says. "He's starting to feel it."

Perhaps more critical still, he's starting to ask about it. "He's warmed up to the process," Robson says. "His English wasn't that good. Now it's better. He comes to me after every at bat now and asks, 'How was that?' Think about learning a different language and then trying to learn your job in that language."

There is hope. Last Saturday night in Miami, Ordo�ez did exactly what Robson wanted him to do, sequentially translating his energy into the leftfield corner to give him his eighth double of the year, igniting a seven-run rally and matching his total of nine extra-base hits for all of '97. Ordo�ez can use Smith as both a barometer and an inspiration: In the 16 seasons following that .233 start, Smith batted .269, amassed 2,044 hits and drove in 50 or more runs nine times. Smith improved his hitting enough to get into the Hall of Fame, and perhaps Ordo�ez can as well.

His play in the field is already Cooperstown caliber. "The average guy takes maybe 20 hits away a season," manager Bobby Valentine muses as Ordo�ez cavorts during infield practice. "He takes away 50. When he doesn't play for three days, it's hard to believe how many balls in that span become numbers on the scoreboard."

But ultimately it will be the numbers Ordo�ez puts on the scoreboard, not the ones he keeps off it, that will determine his future.