FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. When Brook Fordyce left Baltimore for his home in Florida following last season’s final game, the Orioles catcher couldn’t keep himself from agonizing over what had been a disappointing year. But only for a day or two.
“At first, I did try to beat myself up thinking about what I could have done,” Fordyce said. “But it was over with. Don’t ponder on what you did, because whatever you did didn’t work last year. Throw that away, and plan for a new year.”
To say Fordyce’s 2001 season was a disappointment would be sugar coating the situation. It was, quite simply, a disaster from the start.
A season-ending batting average of .209. A total of 19 RBI in 95 games. A .322 slugging percentage, .268 on-base percentage and .088 batting average with runners in scoring position. Ten errors behind the plate and a .983 fielding percentage that ranked last in the American League. And only 21 runners caught stealing in 110 attempts.
This from a guy who wowed the Orioles so much upon being acquired from the Chicago White Sox in July 2000 that the team signed him to a three-year contract extension and anointed him its catcher of the future.
But that was then, and this is now, and the Brook Fordyce who batted .322 over 53 games in 2000 and won over Baltimore’s pitchers with his game management is now the Brook Fordyce who finds himself fighting for playing time.
“I actually thought I did everything right last year, I just struggled,” he said. “It’s hard for me to look back and say it was just one thing. It was a variety of things when you struggle that bad.”
It’s not as if Fordyce, 31, traditionally has had so much trouble at the plate. A career .282 hitter entering last season, he got off to a horrible start, going 17 games before collecting his first RBI.
Fordyce’s batting average stood at a paltry .195 as late as Aug.3 before he went on a six-game hitting streak to raise his average to a season-high .223. All the while, he couldn’t keep his offensive struggles from affecting him behind the plate.
Ultimately, Fordyce’s starts became few and far between, as Orioles manager Mike Hargrove gave the majority of playing time down the stretch to rookies Fernando Lunar and Geronimo Gil.
And as Baltimore begins preparing for the 2002 season, Fordyce is no longer assured of playing every day. Hargrove says the competition between Fordyce, Lunar and Gil is open, with only two roster spots likely available.
“I don’t anticipate [carrying three catchers],” Hargrove said. “I would rather not do it.”
Lunar, 24, who always has been a solid defensive player, made significant strides with the bat last year. Gil, 26, acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in last July’s Mike Trombley trade, has only 17 games of big-league experience, but impressed the coaching staff with his surprisingly strong bat and game-calling abilities.
Given his contract status, Fordyce isn’t in danger of losing his job altogether, but with a solid spring, either Lunar or Gil could wrestle away the everyday catching duties from the veteran.
To his credit, Fordyce one of the most well-liked players in the clubhouse has no problem with his job up for grabs.
“That’s how it should be after the year I had,” he said. “You can’t just say OK, Brook, go and do what you did last year and you get the job. I have to come here and compete for a job. I’m all for it. I have a lot to prove to myself, and when I do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
And to his credit, Hargrove still has faith in Fordyce.
“I don’t think he’ll hit .200 again,” Hargrove said. “If he does, I’ll probably have a funeral because he’ll kill himself.”