Ten years ago, Bill Bordley just said no.
The All-CIF standout at Bishop Montgomery and All-Pac-10 pitcher at USC was that most coveted of baseball properties in 1978--a left-hander whose fastball was consistently in the 94- to 95-m.p.h. range.
But as the prize prospect of the coming January, 1979, major league draft, Bordley decided to play by his own rules, a risky ploy in a situation where the draftee has little leverage.
It was the start of a bumpy baseball saga that ended quietly several years ago, with Bordley answering another unusual calling.
In the spring of 1978, Bordley was merely a USC sophomore with a 26-2 two-year record and a faithful following of slavering pro scouts. By that fall he was also a young man with what he saw as family responsibilities: His father, Art, was facing open-heart surgery, and a brother, Art Jr., was in critical condition after an auto accident. As the nation's hottest amateur pitcher, Bordley correctly saw himself as in a position to command a hefty signing bonus that would help ease the family's mounting medical bills.
So the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder dropped out of USC and declared himself available for the coming winter draft. There was one rub: Bordley wanted to stay close to home, and the Cincinnati Reds had the first pick. The Angels had the third pick. So Bordley wrote letters to the teams with the top picks, and even met with representatives of the Reds. When he told them he wanted $200,000 and an immediate major league contract, Bordley says, the Reds--who were stripping their star-studded roster--blanched and said they weren't interested anyway. The Angels were ready to accommodate him.
Come draft day, the Reds selected Bordley. And Bordley said no way. The two sides met. Bordley said he would go back to USC before signing with Cincinnati. He said their reply was a nasty "Have fun in school," and they walked out.
But as Bordley was prepared to enroll at USC again, baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called and told him to await an announcement. A few days later Kuhn, mindful of Bordley's special circumstances, voided the Reds' selection, fined the Angels for tampering and told Bordley to list five teams he would be willing to play for. Those names were placed in a hat, and the winner was the San Francisco Giants.
And they lived happily every after . . . except that Bordley pitched in a grand total of 8 games for the Giants, had a career record of 2-3, and retired in 1983 after a series of elbow surgeries that left his fastball a memory.
With Bordley at the ripe old age of 25, the only thing he had really ever wanted to do was taken away, and an unlimited future was suddenly the past.
But Bordley, unlike many of his peers, decided life wasn't over just because his fastball was laid to rest.
He went back to USC, got top grades on the way to a business finance degree and began looking for a new career. For two years he helped his old coach, Rod Dedeaux, at USC but wouldn't take a salary that Dedeaux offered. "When I went back to SC, I felt they'd been very good to me," Bordley said. "Rod was a super guy. He came into my life when I was 18, and it was a very positive association. He's a special person."
And, Bordley added, although he enjoyed coaching, it was time to discover life after baseball.
With his finance degree in hand, Bordley tried to conjure up a job that wouldn't tie him down. "I was really dreading the 8-to-5 routine," he said. So he came up with a plan. A secret plan. A Secret Service plan, to be specific.
He applied to the Secret Service, then took a job with a financial firm in the San Francisco area while the government checked him out. That took the better part of two years--actually, longer than it took Bordley to jump from USC to the major leagues. But last March Bordley got the job that suits him--to a T, in fact. He became a T-Man.
He's in Washington, D.C., now for training and will be there through the presidential election. Afterward, he'll be assigned to the Secret Service's Los Angeles office, where his duties will include Treasury forgery investigations and protection of retired President Reagan and visiting dignitaries.
"A friend's brother was in it and enjoyed it," Bordley said of his initial interest in the Secret Service. "The investigations, things like that, were attractive. You're out in the field; you're not behind a desk all the time."
Bordley said his name is still recognized when he is in Los Angeles or San Francisco. Most other places, he's another name in the Baseball Encyclopedia, another coulda-been-a-contenduh. He has no need to see "Bordley 1, Free Agent Draft 0" on his resume.
"I don't know that I really felt like a trailblazer," he said of challenging the selection process. "The discrepancy is tremendous--I was on top of the world; some teams were willing to pay me a quarter-million dollars; others were in the $60,000-to-$70,000 range. There were things said from the Cincinnati people . . . that they wouldn't draft me. They didn't even offer what I wanted. Then they did 180 degrees to the opposite. That was the final straw--I wasn't going to sign with Cincinnati. Commissioner Kuhn allowed me to pick five teams. They had to agree to give me a major league contract and at least a $100,000-plus bonus. At 20, life wasn't too bad."
Bordley reported to the Giants' Triple-A team in Phoenix in 1979 and didn't set the world on fire: 8-11, a 4.56 earned-run average. The Giants sent him back to Phoenix in 1980. Again, his numbers weren't imposing--4-8 with a 5.35 ERA--but the Giants liked his poise and had a major investment in his arm. When Ed Halicki went on the disabled list in June, they called him up. In a delicious bit of irony, he made his starting debut against Cincinnati and beat fellow Trojan Tom Seaver and the Reds. After the game he told reporters the match-up "really wasn't as big a deal as everyone made it out to be."
But in retrospect it was; that turned out to be 50% of his career victories. Bordley was inexplicably losing something off his fastball even in Phoenix, and by the time he was pitching for the Giants his elbow was constantly ballooning--looking even worse than it felt, he said.
That led to the first surgery by Dr. Frank Jobe in Los Angeles. Jobe warned him: "I hope it holds. There's a lot of damage in there." It didn't, so in 1981 Jobe performed a Tommy John-type surgery, transplanting a ligament from Bordley's leg into the elbow. He missed the whole season.
Bordley tried to pitch in 1982 but was a whisper of what he'd once been. Again, he spent the season on the disabled list. "You're always the optimist. After the second surgery I did extensive rehabilitation and was in the best shape of my life," he remembers. "But when you go out there and pitch and realize I was throwing as hard as I ever did; it just wasn't getting there--I would have to change my whole way of pitching. It's a whole different frame of mind. Ever since I was a kid everything was built around the fastball.
"The last time I really threw hard was the middle of 1978. They drafted me based on my fastball. I went from 94, 95 (miles per hour) to 87, 88. After surgery I couldn't get the ball much past 85. The Giants were good to me; they kept me on the major league roster the whole time. I was gonna go until they told me not to go anymore. They did. It was a decision on their part . . . and it was the right decision. I couldn't get major league batters out at that point. In '83 I went to spring training with Atlanta. Mike Marshall and Greg Brock (of the Dodgers) hit homers off me. That was my sayonara. "
Bordley said it's a shock to realize your career is over, "but the last 7 or 8 months was all like that. The way in which my career ended, it was difficult going to the park. It was a struggle. The mental drain of that year I don't miss. I loved the competing part, the adrenaline rush, the camaraderie. That last year . . . made for a dreadful time."
Bordley has apparently made a smooth transition from the sporting life to a new and unusual career. He said he roots for the Giants but doesn't follow the game closely. Few of his teammates from as recently as 1982 are still playing, only one (Bob Brenly) with the Giants.
"No use crying over spilled milk," he said with apparent good humor. "You get done at 27, you've gotta decide, 'What am I gonna do with my life?' I was fortunate. I could afford to take two years and finish my degree."