MLB’s new security chief understands danger — and baseball

John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST - Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos, left, talks to the media in November, with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, a few days after being rescued from kidnappers in his home country of Venezuela.

NEW YORK – It’s actually a boring job for the most part, being Major League Baseball’s vice president for security. A lot of chasing after counterfeiters and licensing violators. A lot of crafting of memos and standardizing of procedure across all 30 teams. But for dramatic purposes, let’s imagine the job is always like it was the night of Nov. 9, when Bill Bordley, on the job for just 3 1 / 2 weeks, got a call telling him that a Washington Nationals player, catcher Wilson Ramos, had been kidnapped at gunpoint in Venezuela.

Over the tension-packed 48 hours that followed, Bordley worked his old embassy contacts for information, monitored the situation through MLB’s department of investigations and, like the rest of baseball, breathed a sigh of relief when Ramos was rescued, unharmed, two days after being abducted.

“I told my wife [when the job started] that things would be slow until the players get to spring training,” Bordley, 53, said. “But it’s been anything but slow.”

For that matter, being a Secret Service agent, as Bordley was for 20 years, is also a mostly boring gig. For the majority of those 20 years, he worked in far-flung offices, investigating electronic crimes, identity theft and Internet fraud, and administering polygraphs. They don’t make many thrillers about that.

So once again, for dramatic purposes, let’s pretend the job was always as intense and full of intrigue as the 5 1 / 2 years he spent on President Clinton’s protection detail — when, by solemn vow, he would have taken a bullet for the leader of the free world, when, for a time, he headed the team assigned to first daughter Chelsea Clinton during her Stanford years, and when, one day in late 1995 or early 1996, he denied entrance to the Oval Office to a raven-haired young lady who did not have the proper credential.

Yes, the young lady was Monica Lewinsky, and yes, as Bordley himself would be quoted in Sect. IV (A) of the Report of the Independent Counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives, the president eventually interceded and told Bordley it was okay for her to come in. According to the report, Bordley noted that she exited the Oval Office an hour later.

“When that incident happened, I was relatively new to the detail,” Bordley said one afternoon this month over lunch a couple of blocks from MLB’s Park Avenue headquarters. “They tell you anyone who gets anywhere near the Oval Office obviously has to be credentialed and have a pass. And this person, she did not have it on. I thought someone was playing a joke on me, trying to test me — the new guy. I stopped her.”

And so it was that William C. Bordley became the only ex-big leaguer to be quoted in the Starr Report.

Playing career derailed

That’s right — before he was a Secret Service agent, and long, long before he was MLB’s chief of security, Bill Bordley was a major league pitcher.

Truth be told, his big league career, totaling eight appearances for the San Francisco Giants in 1980, was mostly forgettable — three losses, three elbow surgeries, two wins.

But for — what else? — dramatic purposes, let’s pretend Bordley’s career was always as exhilarating as it was on June 30, 1980, when the highly touted lefty made his big league debut at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park against the Cincinnati Reds, starting and pitching six innings in an 8-4 win.

“I still remember the night before my debut, going against the Big Red Machine — George Foster and Ken Griffey [Sr.] and [Johnny] Bench, and pitching against [Tom] Seaver,” Bordley said. “It was not a pleasant night’s sleep.”

The brevity of Bordley’s career — derailed by arm injuries that robbed him of velocity and often swelled his elbow to the size of a grapefruit — was especially disappointing for a former prospect who went 26-2 over the course of two seasons at Southern California, who signed for a then-record $242,000 in 1979 (“I was kind of the [Stephen] Strasburg of the day — but obviously, for a lot less money,” he said), and who was once touted by Sports Illustrated as the next Sandy Koufax.

“He was always so focused and matter-of-fact with his pitching,” said Houston Astros Manager Brad Mills, who played with Bordley on an Alaskan collegiate summer league team and competed against him in the Pacific-10 at Arizona. “[That] seemed to make him more mature than everyone else and at the time helped him be so dominant.”

A fateful conversation

One day during Bordley’s brief pitching career, the Giants were playing in New York against the Mets when Vice President George H.W. Bush decided to show up at Shea Stadium. On the disabled list at the time, Bordley had nothing better to do than to strike up a conversation with some Secret Service agents accompanying the president.

That fateful conversation led to a friendship, which led to a foot-in-the-door once Bordley walked away from baseball in 1983 — which led, eventually, to his second career. Bordley applied to the Secret Service, and while waiting on what turned into a 2 1 / 2-year vetting and approval process, he went back to USC and earned a master’s degree in finance. The Secret Service hired him in 1988.

In the 20 years he spent as an agent, Bordley traveled to 85 countries. He met the pope and the queen of England. He did stints as an attaché to Germany and Russia, at one point finding himself speaking German with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a state dinner.

“My German was better than my Russian, and Putin spoke German well from his KGB days,” Bordley said. “I never dreamed during my playing days that one day I’d be speaking to the Russian president in German.”

It was also in Russia that Bordley met the woman who would become his wife, Maria. They have a 7-year-old son, Will, and have settled in Connecticut.

“It was a fascinating time, a fascinating place,” Bordley said of his time in Moscow. “You saw the interaction of the two governments. That was probably the culmination of my Secret Service career.”

Of course, once anyone finds out that Bordley served on Clinton’s protective detail between 1995 and 2000, all they want to ask about is Monica Lewinsky. Understandably, he answers such questions sheepishly and guardedly. The Secret Service, as an entity, fought the government’s efforts to compel its agents to testify but lost the fight.

“I would’ve done anything in my power not to testify,” Bordley said. “But it happened. I just had to tell the truth as to what I saw and what I didn’t see. Obviously, I’m not proud of it.”

These days, instead of would-be presidential assassins (and paramours), or cold war spooks and invisible threats to the union, Bordley’s biggest worries are would-be stadium bombers and kidnappers in the hills of Venezuela.

But for peace-of-mind purposes, let’s pretend none of that exists.

 
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