By: Danny Gallagher
Canadian Baseball Network
T-Bone Giordano saw the tray in front of his cubicle and figured it was a good-luck charm.
The gambit meant that he made the major-league roster of the Philadelphia Athletics or so he thought and that he would be heading north from spring training in West Palm Beach, Fla. He had a cup of tea during the 1953 season with Philadelphia and he told himself he was ready to start the 1954 season in the majors.
"I put my valuables in the tray and you'd be making the trip,'' Giordano said, explaining how things worked. "I'd been given a list of apartments in Philadelphia to check out and then the night before we were supposed to leave, they changed their mind.''
T-Bone was still going north but north of Philadelphia to Ottawa to play for the International League Athletics.
"I wasn't happy. I wasn't pleased about it but I said I was ready to give it my best,'' Giordano said. "My wife and I just had a daughter and we didn't like Ottawa. It was cold, it was rainy, it was misty. We were not used to cold weather. I was not a happy guy because my wife and daughter weren't happy.''
Giordano hung around Ottawa barely a month with six homers, 31 RBI and a .223 batting average in 274 at-bats. He detested Ottawa so much that he told team executives he wanted out. He was given his outright release, left behind Ottawa and Lansdowne Park and went to play in Savannah, Ga. where he spent most of the 1953 season.
Except for that brief stint with Philadelphia in 1953, Giordano played the remainder of his professional career in the minors. It all began back in 1944 when the Boston Red Sox signed him right out of high school in Newark, N.J. Although he contends he had a "very, very outstanding glove'', Giordano got little playing time that season in Scranton, Pa., which boasted a strong class A team in the Eastern League.
The night before the season ended, he got a rare at-bat and manager Heinie Manush told him in advance that the opposing pitcher was going to throw him a breaking ball. Leaning in toward the plate waiting for a curve, something awful happened.
"The ball never broke. It was a fastball. It beaned me behind the left ear,'' Giordano said. "I had a hairline fracture and there was blood coming out of my nose and mouth. I went to the hospital and stayed overnight. They ended up releasing me.''
T-Bone decided to spend four years at Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene in East Orange, N.J., located not far from his native Newark. When he finished his time at Panzer, the Pirates signed him almost immediately and he reported for duty to a minor-league team in Salisbury, N.C., the beginning of a career that still thrives today 71 years later at age 91.
Imagine. A sprightly young man still active in pro baseball at age 91. Must be some sort of record.
He's a scout and special assistant to long-time associate John Hart, the president of baseball operations for the Atlanta Braves, a man he first got to know in 1982. Later, they would work together with the Orioles, Indians and Rangers. That's how close they are. They first connected when Hart, a 1970s' Expos' draft pick, coached the baseball team at William R. Boone high school in Orlando, Fla. and Giordano was scouting director for the Orioles.
Giordano dropped by Boone for a game one day with Orioles' Florida area scout Jack Sanford to look at one special player. Giordano saw the Boone team come out of the clubhouse led by Hart and was taken aback.
"The team was attired very attractively and dressed professionally in their uniforms,'' Giordano recalled. After the game was over, Sanford asked Giordano, 'How do you like my catcher?'''
Giordano had to agree that Ron Karkovice had potential. He eventually played in the majors from 1986 to 1997 -- all with the White Sox.
But after that Boone game concluded, Giordano told Sanford that he wanted to meet Hart.
"Why do you want to meet him?'' Sanford asked.
"There's something about him. I'm impressed,'' Giordano replied.
"So I met John and then I had lunch with him the next day and later I offered him an Orioles' contract that would guarantee two years. I didn't know what position John would have with us at the start but that's the contract I offered him. I saw in the young man an unusual potential in baseball.''
Hart accepted and he's been a major force in baseball ever since and his friendship with Giordano is unwavering.
Along the way, T-Bone worked for the Expos for four years during the 1970s under scouting director Mel Didier. He even made a few trips north to check out prospects in Montreal and Toronto when he wasn't checking out players in New York, New Jersey, New England and other parts of the U.S. He saw future Expos' stars Andre Dawson, Tim Raines and others, although he never signed them.
"Dawson had a very quick bat and Raines could run and had a great makeup,'' T-Bone recalled.
"The one thing about T-Bone was that he wasn't afraid to stick out his neck on players. He was a guy who really worked at his job,'' Didier, 90, said in an interview. "Wherever he worked for all of the teams, he was in charge of all of the laughter.''
He still is. Yes, T-Bone is one funny guy when he isn't seriously scouting players.
T-Bone's most famous player he ever drafted was this chap by the name of Cal Ripken Jr., a third baseman with the Orioles.
"I got a call from Orioles general manager Hank Peters,'' Giordano recollected.
"I've got some good news and I've got some bad news,'' Peters told Giordano.
"The good news is that we're calling up Cal Ripken,'' Peters continued.
"Oh my God, wonderful news,'' Giordano told Peters.
"The bad news is that manager Earl Weaver wants to play Ripken at shortstop,'' Peters said.
"Son of a bitch,'' Giordano bellowed into the phone in protest.
"Peters told me it's the general manager's job to supply the manager with whatever he needs to win,'' Giordano said, in hindsight.
Giordano got used to the idea of Ripken playing short and he went on to a Hall of Fame career, including a streak of 2,632 consecutive games played.
You could tell T-Bone stories until they come out of your ears and one pertains to his health. He decided to turn his life around in the early 1990s and he's been in good health every since.
"It was mid-season one year and I had a physical and the doctor suggested I should take a blood test to check the prostate,'' T-Bone said. "They found cancer in the prostate. I was so young, 56 years old. I said I can't live this way. There's something in my body so they removed the prostate gland. I was relieved but I had a tough time afterward. I lost 29 pounds.
"They told me something about vitamins and since that day Jan. 22, 1992, I've given up chewing tobacco, cigars and cigarettes. I get my walking and exercises in and I'm a picture of health. I take very good care of myself. I've been married for for 70 years. I don't know how she has put up with me so long.''
He sure sounds good at 91. And his hearing is great.
Funny thing, though, he rarely if ever eats a T-Bone anymore. His favourite steak is actually a New York Strip -- on occasion.
So you're wondering how he got that nickname T-Bone? OK, here goes, baring in mind that his official first name is Tommy.
It was back in high school in Newark and Giordano was a senior and his father made sure he was greatly nourished.
So what does the papa do but have a T-bone steak ready for the young kid when he returned home from the diamond. From that time on, T-Bone stuck.
"I honestly don't remember who gave me that nickname, probably one of my teammates,'' Giordano was saying. "Whoever it was, they knew I was a good hitter. I was an all-city, all-county shortstop. The guy would say, "Oh, he's going home to get a T-Bone, that's where he gets his power.'
"My dad and mom owned a building and downstairs behind a butcher shop and store, there was a dining room. I walked to school and so whenever the ball game was over, my dad had a T-Bone steak ready and my mother made a nice salad and she had homemade bread.''
We were about to hang up our phones before T-Bone said, "One last story.''
No problem, T-Bone.
"It's 1953 and I'm playing in Savannah in the Southern League and Hank Aaron is playing for Jacksonville. He's burning up the league, leading the league in every department,'' he said. "I made the all-star team as an utility infielder. Hank was also an all-star.
"Heading into the last six games of the season, I had 22 home runs and Hank had 20. We played against each other the last six games. I finished with 24 homers and Hank had 22.''
Isn't that something?