Former Major League player Tom Jordan celebrated his 99th birthday on Wednesday. Today, he looks like an aging Gary Cooper. Jordan can recall the best of the best in baseball history. He ought to because he either played with or against the best players in the early years of baseball, or he managed them. Some of the players were Ty Cobb, Connie Mack, Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Bob Feller, Satchel Paige and Ted Williams to name a few.
Each day he wakes up and goes to work in his garden for two hours a day. He attributes his long life to not worrying about the stresses of everyday life — and for not smoking or being a drinker. As a farmer, he takes pride in the garden he cultivates daily — he raises squash, cantaloupe, watermelons and okra. He still is strong enough to dig post holes, use a grubbing hoe and cut weeds.
The thing about Jordan is that when you shake his hand, it is still firm and hard like a man half his age. His mind is sharp as he recalls knowing Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker. Jordan says they all sat in the Cleveland Indians dugout for two hours during a game in 1946. Ruth at the time was sick. In Cleveland, one of his teammates was Bob Feller for a year. Feller played in the Major Leagues at 17. He also counted Bill Veeck as a personal friend until his death.
“In my opinion,” Jordan said, “Feller was probably the greatest pitcher ever. Veeck was just a big promoter, he was really good for baseball. A lot of the owners didn’t think so. He was a really nice person.”
Jordan didn’t like being in the big city of Chicago and Cleveland and the only time he enjoyed being in the Major Leagues was when he was at the ballpark. Often after games players would scatter and go their separate ways and you wouldn’t see them until it was time to play again.
“I just didn’t enjoy playing in the Major Leagues,” Jordan said. “I guess I was just lonesome.
Jordan can recall a groundbreaking strategy that may seem new today but has been used before. He noted that he was playing in the game in which Indians manager Lou Boudreau applied the shift to Ted Williams and it was the first time it was ever used.
Jordan also faced Joe DiMaggio and compared him to Williams. Jordan felt if he could only choose one, it would have been Williams.
“Williams was a lot better hitter than DiMaggio,” Jordan said. “Williams was the best hitter I’ve seen. Two of the best pitchers ever were Warren Spahn and Bob Feller. Spahn won (363-245) games. Spahn never won a game in the Major Leagues until he was 27 years old.”
Jordan compared baseball of today and his era to the Model T Ford and the Cadillac. One of the differences is the speed of the game. When he played he could get a game over within one hour and thirty minutes. He believes that the specialty with the relief pitchers is one of the reasons the games are so long.
Jordan played for Casey Stengel in Milwaukee and thought he was more of a clown than a manager.
At home when baseball is on, he watches games with his son, Tom Jordan, Jr. and his grandson, Ty Jordan. All of them sit around and second-guess strategy the way he used to be questioned as a manager in the Minor Leagues.
How he got his start in baseball
Jordan is from Lawton, Oklahoma, and he got his start in baseball when his brother, Jared, went down to Abbeyville, Louisiana and played there for two years. In the next season, he went to Class C League, Single-A and Double-A, then Triple-A the next season. His family moved to Roswell in 1938.
Jordan played starting out as an outfielder before moving to catcher. Jordan either managed in the Minor Leagues for 18 years from (1938-1957). He spent the entire 1946 season in the Majors with the Chicago White Sox and the Cleveland Indians. With the Indians that season, he hit his lone home run off 20-game winner Boo Ferriss in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Jordan would play in 39 Major League games over his three-year career, (Chicago White Sox (1944; 1946) Cleveland Indians (1946) and the St. Louis Browns (1948).
Jordan was traded by the Chicago White Sox on July 4, 1946, to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later. On July 15, the Indians sent Frankie Hayes to complete the trade. Jordan’s big league career would conclude with him going 23-for-96 at the plate with four doubles and two triples with his lone homer and one stolen base. In Jordan’s debut, he played against the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 4, 1944, and went 1-for-2 with a single off of Stubby Overmire in a 12-2 loss at Comiskey Park.
Legend has it that when Jordan was behind the plate catching, his arm was so strong that he could throw a runner out trying to steal second base from the crouch position and that his eyes rivaled that of Ted Williams as he hit over .300 nine out of 11 years in the Minor Leagues.
His best season was when he batted .407 with 28 homers in 136 games for the Artesia Numexers of the Class C Longhorns League in 1955. He also hit with power at the plate with 44 homers in 1950. Jordan played until he was 37 years old and finished up his Minor League career at the age of 37, with 267 homers and a batting average of .336.
Jordan treated everyone equal
As a manager, Jordan didn’t believe in bunting. Jordan recalls that he never played with or managed an African-American or Hispanic until he managed in Albuquerque with Hal Simpson and Joe Pierre. Jordan felt like the minority ballplayers were ordinary players trying to make it to the Major Leagues like all of the other athletes. Another highlight of his managing career was winning the Minor League championship with the Dukes in ‘53.
“I had several minorities on our teams,” Jordan said. “I really enjoyed having them, they were a lot of fun and really good ballplayers. There was only one minority that I didn’t like, but none of the others liked him either, so I wasn’t alone. I wound up good friends with all of them.”
Some of the teams he managed were the Roswell Rockets (1950); Austin Pioneers (1951 and ‘52); Albuquerque Dukes (1953 and ‘54) and the Artesia Numexers (1955).
Jordan honored by St. Louis Browns Historical Society
Recently in July, Tom was honored by the St. Louis Browns Historical Society as the second-oldest living Major League baseball player in July. Jordan started playing baseball at the age of 18 and worked his way up through tier farm system for six seasons, before getting his shot in the big leagues in 1944. His last at-bat was with the Browns in 1948. Jordan is the oldest St. Louis Brown, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox still living.
“I’m pretty well honored,” Jordan said, “that they would go to the trouble of flying four people (Tom Jr., Shelia Jordan and Ty Jordan) up there.”
While with the Browns, Jordan recalls seeing a Satchel Paige, when Paige was with the Indians.
Jordan also noted that he saw Paige play baseball in his first season playing baseball in 1938 when Paige was with the Kansas City Monarchs throwing his fastball during a game.
The St. Louis Browns were a Major League Baseball team that originated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the Milwaukee Brewers, a chartered member of the American League, the Brewers moved to St. Louis, Missouri, after 1901 — the franchise spent more than five decades in St. Louis. After the 1953 season, the team relocated to Baltimore, Maryland, where they have become the Baltimore Orioles.
Jordan moved to manager in the Minor Leagues in 1950 because he could make $300 more managing in the Minors than he could playing in the Major Leagues.
“I was supposed to go to Cleveland to play in 1947,” Jordan said. “I had a farm here and it was one of the better farms in New Mexico. I had about 400 acres. At that time, you could buy land here for $100 an acre. After two to three years, it would pay for itself. I and Jared had three different farms at the time and my wife, Lorene had a couple of little kids at the time and I decided not to go back to Cleveland.”
Loves of his life
The three loves of Jordan’s life were playing baseball, farming and his family. One of the best memories of his life was seeing his son Tommy Jordan Jr. play in the Little League World Series. Tom Sr. went to watch his son play in a game and was mad because every time his son was up, the opponent walked him. Sr. wanted his son to go on a road trip with him for the five days. Tom Jr. told his dad that they would win the Little League World Series — to which Sr. said, bull, that ain’t gong into happen.
To his surprise, Lions-Hondo won the Little League series.
“In my opinion,” Jordan said, “he was the best Little League pitcher ever. The thing he (Tom Jr. ) had was perfect control. He could throw a curveball. It was the biggest thrills I ever had when he hit a home run in the final game and Roswell won the Little League World Series.”
Jordan chose Roswell because his grandparents (Pirtle) settled on a farm on East McGaffey with the rest of the families moving here as well. Jordan believes the Pecos Valley land is one of the best farming lands in the world.
“This is the only place in the world,” Jordan said, “where they have Artesian water where it replenishes itself. Other places they pump it out and it’s gone, but here you pump it out and water comes from somewhere and replaces itself.”
One of Jordan’s favorite memories was playing baseball in Roswell when he would hit a home run and fans were sticking money through the fence for him to grab. Some games he made $138 dollars with Glover Packing Co., giving him a 20-pound ham, eggs and bread for excelling on the diamond. Jordan also knew Joe Bauman.
Many in the Roswell community have forgotten what this local legend has done in athletics and in the community, but Jordan remembers is like it was yesterday.