In 1968, the year Richard Nixon, the rookie umpire arbitrator, was first elected president, Mike Jorgensen began his major league baseball career by playing eight games for the New York Mets; eight games in September for a ninth-place team, the proverbial cup of coffee. Jorgensen did not make it back up to the bigs until 1970, but since then he hasn't missed a year.
In 17 seasons, he has logged playing time -- albeit mainly brief and specialized -- in 1,633 games for seven different teams, counting two stints with his hometown Mets. So there's not much in baseball that he hasn't seen. Except this. Mike Jorgensen, who plays behind, way behind Jack Clark on the St. Louis Cardinals, never has been to a World Series before.
"First one I've ever been at in person," Jorgensen said, standing in a fine mist late yesterday afternoon some two hours before they hollered, play ball! "And I'm in uniform. And I'm getting paid. I feel pretty good about that."
In his first 16 seasons, Jorgensen hardly even came close. Only five teams he played on finished in the first division. Only two finished as high as second, the 1979 Texas Rangers and the 1983 Atlanta Braves. "I thought I had a shot with the Braves," Jorgensen said. "But that Texas team never really had the right mix." Come October, Jorgensen had no place to go but home. So this might take some getting used to.
"Normally, at the end of the season I go home and spend a week or two testing my chair in the den," Jorgensen said, chuckling. "I looked at my watch this morning and I saw the date was Oct. 19. I said, nah, it couldn't be. By Oct. 19, my legs have already stopped hurting." Jorgensen couldn't help but smile at how much longer this season has been than all his others. "I was out shopping the other day for pillows -- because we've got a lot of people staying with us this week -- and I saw that the Christmas decorations were already up in the stores. I mean, I've never played this late before."
It makes for a nice story, doesn't it? A man waiting so long for something so many of his peers take for granted. When you're young and just coming up, you think you'll be in lots of these things because you think you'll play forever. The longer you sit on the outside, though, the more you wonder if you'll ever get in. "I always felt if I played long enough I had the chance," Jorgensen said. "But I played 16 years to get here. If it was going to take another 16 I knew I'd never make it."
Now that he's here, the appropriate question becomes: Will he play? He didn't play much this year. The only consistent time he got was in August, after Clark hurt his ribs and went on the 15-day disabled list. "I enjoyed it thoroughly," Jorgensen said of being in the lineup. But at 37 he knows what's real and what's illusion. He has lasted this long, he freely admitted, because he has become "a specialty player." In his case, the specialties are left-handed pinch-hitting and defensive excellence. Those skills always will keep you around, but they don't necessarily keep you very active. "If I was managing and I had to choose between playing Jack Clark and Mike Jorgensen," Jorgensen said cheerfully, "I'd play Jack Clark -- or I wouldn't have a job in baseball. That's not second-semester stuff. Now that I'm here, I'd really like to play. If I don't and we win, it might not make a difference. Only thing is, most of the time when I get in, it's the eighth or the ninth, and we're losing. So I've kind of got mixed emotions about playing."
Whether he plays or not, Jorgensen will tape the games for playback at a future date, maybe when his grandchildren gather around and wonder what Grandpa did with his time so many years ago. But to share in the here and now he brought his wife and his oldest boy, 12-year-old Brian, with him to Kansas City. "They've waited so long for this," he said. "Almost as long as I have."
At 6 p.m. Jorgensen said the goosebumps already were beginning to form on his arms, and he expected them to be huge during the pregame introductions. "The only thing that's comparable to this in my life was an all-star game I played in back in high school. We played in Yankee Stadium, and there were 18,000 people in the stands. My feet didn't even touch the ground."
How did he do?
Jorgensen laughed loudly. "Bad. Real bad. Struck out twice, and made an error."
So stay right here, 'cause these are the good old days.