Thursday, May 26, 2016

Thursday Throwback - Mike Mordecai

By self (self) [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Atlanta had a lot of players come up in the early-to-mid 90's who played a variety of roles. Some were superstars; others were average fill-ins. Outside of 1995, Mike Mordecai was just a guy for the Braves. His biggest hit would come much later in his career well after the Braves had moved on.

Born 12 days before Christmas in 1967, the Alabama native became a star at Hewitt-Trussville High School in the mid-80's. The Pirates selected him in the 33rd round of 1986, but Mordecai balked on signing and honored his commitment to South Alabama University. Twice, he would be an All-American and was a routine fixture on the All-Sun Belt teams while he was with the Jacquars. On June 5, 1989, the Atlanta Braves made him their sixth round pick. Five days later, he signed his first professional contract. '89's draft only produced a handful of major leaguers for the Braves and Mordecai's selection was over-shadowed by the guy the Braves selected in the previous round - Ryan Klesko.

One word to describe Mordecai in the minors was "steady." He was steadily unremarkable in his climb up the ladder. Baseball still valued defense over offense from middle infielders at the time, which aided Mordecai's rise. He also played the infield corners, some outfield, and even embraced his utility role by doing some emergency catching with Richmond in 1993.

1994 marked the third year Mordecai would play at Richmond. It also marked the year he started to show something with the bat. He slashed .280/.340/.461 with 14 homeruns after hitting 15 dingers combined since signing with the Braves in 1989. He also swiped 14 bases and picked up 25 doubles. His year with Richmond would be sandwiched around a brief run with the big league team in mid-May as an injury fill-in. Three times he was used as a defensive replacement, but on May 10, the Braves had him pinch-hit for Rafael Belliard down 8-1. He flied out, but his day wasn't close to being over. In the ninth, the Braves opened the inning with five consecutive singles to cut into the Phillies lead. They would get a hell of a lot closer when Mordecai added to the rally with his first big-league hit: a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch. to get the Braves within a run. Later in the inning, Atlanta would tie the game. In the 15th inning, with two outs and Deion Sanders 90 feet away from home, Mike Stanton bunted him home for the walkoff. Yeah, 15-inning games just get weird.

Once the 1994 Strike was settled, Mordecai became a "last guy on the bench" for the 1995 Braves. With Belliard hogging much of the playing time behind Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser, there wasn't many at-bats to be had for Mordecai, but he was productive when used (.280/.353/.480 over 87 PA). That includes a 7-for-29 performance as a pinch hitter with his only pinch-hit homer of his career - a solo shot off Randy Myers in a losing effort at Wrigley. Mordecai stuck around for the postseason and had a go-around RBI single in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the NLDS against the Rockies. He would play in six more games that postseason, going 2-for-7 with 2 K and a sacrifice.

Mordecai's offensive numbers would slip the next two seasons from their 1995 levels. Combined, he hit just .212/.267/.291 over 211 PA. With arbitration on the horizon, Atlanta chose to cut costs and non-tendered Mordecai after the 1997 season. He would land in Montrael and over the next four seasons, he was a regular 10th man for the squad, playing all over the infield with a brief cameo in right and at catcher.

He was in his fifth season with the Expos when he was included in a seven-player trade that sent the utility infielder to the Marlins with Graeme Lloyd and Carl Pavano while Cliff Floyd returned to Montreal. His biggest knock with the Marlins and of his career came the next year. After a bad season at the plate, Mordecai was kept around for October baseball and led off the top of the 8th of Game 6 of the NLCS with a flyout. The Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series. And then...some of the most inexplicable things to ever happen on a ballfield took place. With a runner on, Luis Castillo lifted a flyball toward the left field foul territory seats. Moises Alou leaped for the ball, but Steve Bartman reached for it and deflected it away. And then...things got weird. A walk, a single, an error on a potential double play, a double, an intentional walk, and a sacrifice fly. After another intentional walk, the bases were loaded for the guy who began the inning. The Marlins had plated four runs since Mordecai last came to the plate. They added three more on a double by the utility infielder. Florida won the game 8-3 and would go on to beat the Cubs the next night to reach the postseason and force the city of Chicago to blame a fan for doing the same thing all fans do.

It was Mordecai's most meaningful hit. It was also probably his last important one. He slashed just .226/.278/.298 the following year with the Marlins and retired to take a job as a manager at the rookie level squad for the Marlins. Later that year in September, he un-retired to come back long enough to reach ten years of service. After going 0-for-2, he retired for good at the end of 2005. He worked a variety of jobs in baseball after that from coaching positions ranging from the majors-to-high school. More recently, he has settled into minor league instruction position for the Blue Jays.

Recent Thursday Throwbacks...
David Ross (2009-12)
Ryan Langerhans (2002-03, 2005-07)
Special - Rafael Furcal's Near-Signing (2008)
...or view ALL of them.

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