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Might Makes Right
Jeff Pearlman
December 07, 1998
With a powerful bat and a multitude of other talents, budding Cardinals slugger J.D. Drew, once a pariah and a symbol of greed, has begun to convert the nonbelievers
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December 07, 1998

Might Makes Right

With a powerful bat and a multitude of other talents, budding Cardinals slugger J.D. Drew, once a pariah and a symbol of greed, has begun to convert the nonbelievers

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A Great '98

Here are the statistics put up by J.D. Drew in an odyssey last season that took him from the low minors to the big leagues, where he became a September teammate of Mark McGwire.

TEAM (LEAGUE)

GAMES

BATTING AVG.

HRS

RBIS

St. Paul Saints (Northern)

30

.386

9

33

Arkansas Travelers (AA Texas)

19

.328

5

11

Memphis Redbirds (AAA Pacific Coast)

26

.316

2

13

St. Louis Cardinals (National)

14

.417

5

13

There are reasons to despise J.D. Drew. For one, he hunts dove—quail and deer, too. Anyone who thinks hunting is a cruel, cold-blooded act can detest Drew for that. You have every right to. Another thing: He passes up autograph requests. Not often, mind you, but if he's in a rush, he won't sign. Some people abhor him for that.

Drew is not perfect, or even close. He comes off a tad preachy at times. Once in a while he burps. His favorite movie is Days of Thunder. (We won't even get into his love of Beverly Hills 90210.) During the recently completed Arizona Fall League season, where the games are long and dull and attended by three people, he secretly wished to be elsewhere—anywhere but in that outfield of sun-bleached grass. So you can loathe him for his hidden desire to duck out of the instructional league, where he hit only .248. Hate him, if you must, for any or all of these reasons.

Just one thing: Do not hate J.D. Drew for the money. Not anymore. Now that you know his vices; now that he is standing humbly in front of you, asking in his Southern drawl how your kids are doing, wondering if your wife's O.K., inquiring about your church and your pastor and everything God's given you—how can you possibly hate him now? Yeah, Drew is another rich athlete protected by a hard-bargaining agent. There is no denying that. But more than anything else, Drew, the 23-year-old St. Louis Cardinals outfielder, is humble. "As humble a person," says Jonathan Johnson, Drew's former Florida State teammate, "as you'll ever find."

What in the world would make anyone call Drew, who snubbed a $3.1 million offer from the Philadelphia Phillies before ever playing a professional baseball game, humble? Sure he's humble. Just like Bernie Williams. Or Donald Trump.

Try this. Drew, the pride of Hahira (pop. 1,353), Ga., says he has never had sex, drunk alcohol or smoked a cigarette. He has attended one dance and no proms. He badly wants to meet a nice woman, but efforts by friends to set him up with someone who shares his strict Southern Baptist convictions routinely fall flat. "My friends really understand my beliefs," Drew says, "so they'll ask a girl lots of questions before they introduce her to me. It always ends up, 'Well, I'd like to set you up, but he'd never go out with you for these reasons.' In the Bible it says you shouldn't be with nonbelievers. Hopefully one day I'll find a good Christian girl."

During his three years at Florida State—a school that anointed Spuds McKenzie its unofficial mascot—Drew went to a single party. "I was a freshman," he recalls, "and I was dragged to a club to oblige some guys on the team. It turned out to be all crazy and loud and too crowded. I was miserable and left after 45 minutes."

That night, as he does most every night, Drew went home, read the Bible and then slumped to his knees in prayer. God has his plans for people, Drew believes, good plans for those who fear him most. Drew, it surely was decided, would become a baseball player. A stinking rich baseball player.

"God has given me this ability for a very clear purpose," says Drew. "I believe the ultimate purpose—my ultimate purpose—is that he's using me as a podium for outreach. By the way I play the game I hope to lead others to Christ." Drew, speaking without much hesitation, then hesitates. "That's why I feel like some people, mostly people who've assumed stuff, don't really know who I am."

Here is what we do know. Drew, whom Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty calls "a rare talent," is a lefthanded hitting five-tool player with Griffey-like potential. "With his extension and his swing, he shouldn't be either a .330 hitter with 15 home runs or a .230 hitter with 45," says Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. "He should hit for power and average." On the bases Drew has 40-steal capability, and La Russa considers him capable of playing all three outfield positions.

With a good spring training, he could wind up starting in the St. Louis outfield on Opening Day. But he was ripped by the media, major leaguers and fans after the Phillies made him the second pick in the June 1997 draft and were told by his agent, Scott Boras, that he would sign for no less than—can I hear you say Jee-sus!—$11 million. Boras informed Philadelphia G.M. Ed Wade that Drew was a very determined young man, a person who would stand up for certain beliefs. "I was made aware of my market value before the draft," says Drew, who rejected Philly's offer instantly, "and it was something I was very upfront and honest about. There are no hard feelings against the Phillies, but I felt very adamant."

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