RIP to Tom Jordan, a former catcher who at the time of his death was the oldest living major-league ballplayer. He died on August 27 of a heart attack, according to his obituary on Forbes, at the age of 99. He was 10 days away from his 100th birthday. Jordan played for the Chicago White Sox (1944, 1946), Cleveland Indians (1946) and St. Louis Browns (1948).
With the deaths of Jordan and Bill Mills, who passed away on August 9, there are no more living ballplayers who were born in the 1910s. As of August 27, the current oldest living ex-ballplayer is Val Heim, who was born on November 4, 1920. He is four days older than Wally Westlake. Heim and Jordan were actually teammates in the minor leagues in 1942. There are 11 surviving ballplayers who played in the pre-integration era of Major League Baseball (pre-1947). There are now nine surviving players from the St. Louis Browns.
(Tom Jordan’s story was told in Left on Base in the Bush Leagues, written by Gaylon White. Gaylon contributed some of the photos in this article and provided some great information about Jordan’s life. Check out www.gaylonwhitebaseball.com for more information about his books, including an autobiography from another recently deceased player, Randy Jackson.)
Thomas Jefferson Jordan was born in Lawton, Okla., on September 5, 1919. He lived for most of his adult life in Roswell, N.M. When he was 18 years old, he signed with the Abbeville A’s in Louisiana, which was in the Evangeline League. He played right field when he wasn’t catching, and he was a good hitter right off the bat, with batting averages of .328 in 1938 and .295 in 1939. He joined the Marshall Tigers of the East Texas League in 1940 and found some power, clubbing 19 home runs. At the time, Marshall businesses awarded prizes to the ballplayers who had various “firsts” for each season. For hitting the Tigers first double of the season, he won a supply of O’Henry candy. He also got a new billfold for hitting the first ball to the fence and a haircut and shoeshine for stealing the team’s first base.
Jordan really discovered his power swing in 1942, while playing 19 games for Shreveport and 75 for Waterloo. He hit a total of 25 home runs and batted .307 in a total of 94 games. He would have set the Three-I League record for home runs in a season (which was 29), but Shreveport recalled him in July due to injuries. The team didn’t play him much and ended up selling his contract to the White Sox.
The Sox invited the slugger to Spring Training in 1943 to let him compete for the role of third-string catcher. However, Jordan spent all of 1943 and part of 1944 out of baseball entirely. Typically, ballplayers missed time in the 1940s due to military service, but an AP report said that Jordan was “cooling his heels” at his Roswell farm, waiting for the Sox to call him. He reported back to the White Sox in June of 1944, played briefly for the minor-league Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Blues, and was brought to the majors to make his MLB debut that September.
Jordan’s first game came on September 4, 1944, a day before his 25th birthday. He replaced starting catcher Mike Tresh in a 12-2 rout by the Tigers and singled in the 9th inning off of Stubby Overmire for his first MLB hit. He appeared in a total of 14 games and hit .267, with a double and triple among his 12 hits. He would have won the starting job in 1945, but according to the papers, he was too busy, either in a war job or at his Roswell farm, to play baseball. He didn’t return to the majors until 1946.
Jordan reported to the Sox in ’46 but hurt his arm in Spring Training. A subsequent operation kept him out of baseball until June. He played in a total of 10 games, mostly as a pinch hitter, and had 4 hits in 15 at-bats for a .267 average. He was acquired by the Indians on July 4 for a player to be named later, which ended up being catcher Frankie Hayes; it was part of a flurry of acquisitions made by Cleveland’s new owner, Bill Veeck, who bought the team in mid-June. Jordan played sporadically and hit just .200, but he did hit his only MLB home run on August 25 off of Boston’s Dave Ferriss. He had a combined .220/.264/.380 slash line in 24 games for the two teams.
Jordan refused to report to the Indians in 1947 and went back to New Mexico. He was acquired by the Browns on June 14, and owner Bill DeWitt convinced him to report to the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League. Jordan later said that the cold spring weather in the Great Lakes area was bad for his shoulder, and the only reason he went back to baseball was because the warm weather in Texas agreed with him. He hit over .300 in 1947 and .281 with 14 homers in 1948.
Jordan had a single at-bat for the Browns in 1948. He pinch hit for shortstop Eddie Pellagrini and reached on an error off of the Tigers’ Dizzy Trout on April 28. He was optioned to San Antonio on May 10, and honestly, he probably didn’t mind one bit.
As his frequent absences from pro ball made clear, baseball wasn’t Jordan’s life. He had a burgeoning cattle and cotton ranch in Roswell that demanded his time and paid him better than pro baseball did. He had a wife and two children who liked having him at home. And playing in the big cities didn’t suit him.
“I didn’t enjoy my time in the major leagues,” he later told author Gaylon White. “I was sort of a country boy, and after the game, everybody scattered, and you didn’t see nobody until the next day at the ballpark. Man, some of them big cities was a pretty lonesome place. I had a bad arm most of the time. Never made no money much.”
For his MLB career, Jordan had exactly 100 plate appearances in 39 games over three seasons. He slashed .240/.270/.354, with 4 doubles, 2 triples and a home run among his 23 hits. He had 6 RBIs and scored 5 runs.
Jordan stayed in the minor leagues until 1957 as a hitter, an occasional pitcher, and a manager. He remained in the Southwest, playing for teams in New Mexico, Texas and briefly in Mexico. He slammed 44 home runs for the Roswell Rockets in 1950 and hit .407 in 136 games with the Artesia Numexers in 1955. Jordan ended his minor-league career with 231 home runs and a .334 batting average. managed teams from 1950 through 1956 and finished over .500 five times in seven seasons. His managerial record was 527-476.
Jordan told White that his “number one thrill in baseball” was having his son, Tommy Jr. lead his team to the 1956 Little League World Series Championship. Tommy, who played briefly in the White Sox organization, threw a 2-hitter against a team from Delaware Township, N.J. in the final game and hit a 3-run homer to supply all the offense he needed. “My favorite player back then, and still today, is my Dad,” he said in a 2016 interview.