Without his father's influence, Dee Gordon wouldn't be playing baseball. That's not exactly a surprise considering Tom "Flash" Gordon pitched 21 seasons in the majors. Dee now laughs, however, about the funny way his baseball career started.
"I played basketball my whole life, but I was told by my dad that I would get a car if I played baseball," Gordon said. "That didn't happen, though. But, you know, everything happens for a reason and I'm glad I chose baseball."
The Miami Marlins second baseman is hitting .352 and leads the majors in hits (101) and ranks second in stolen bases (23) and can certainly afford his own car now. His hot start -- he was hitting over .400 as late as May 19 -- propelled him to the lead in the All-Star voting at second base, which he still holds by more than 300,000 votes over Kolten Wong of the St. Louis Cardinals. Gordon leads NL second basemen in WAR at 3.2, ahead of Joe Panik of the San Francisco Giants (2.2) and Wong (1.9). Not bad for a basketball player.
It's hard to imagine why the son of a major league pitcher wouldn't play baseball on a team as a kid, but Gordon said this was because of the close relationship with his father.
"I played pick-up baseball with my cousins, but playing on a team was hard because Little League starts around March and April," Gordon said. "Well, that's when the season started for my dad. I wanted to watch him play and be around him more than play ball on a team."
Gordon finally went out for the baseball team as a junior at Avon Park High School in Florida. He describes the transition from basketball to baseball as "rough" but those feelings are in the past because he's found out the more he plays baseball, the more he loves it. Gordon is now in his fifth year in the majors and says, "I love every minute of it."
Last season with the Dodgers, Gordon made the All-Star team after hitting .292 with 43 steals in the first half. He hit .284 in the second half but his on-base percentage fell from .344 to .300. The Dodgers, perhaps worried about the second-half slide and the slightly built Gordon's ability to stay strong all season, dealt him to the Marlins in the offseason. Gordon knew he'd have to make some adjustments for 2015.
"I understand in the big leagues that these guys aren't going to walk me," said Gordon, a reflection that since he's not a big power threat pitchers will throw him strikes. "So once I started to realize that, I got a little better."
Knowing the count and what count he's good at hitting has helped as well. Plus, his improvement against breaking balls has been important "because the guys aren't throwing heaters to me like they used to."
The old adage says to throw little guys fastballs because they don't have the power or bat speed to turn on fastballs. But during his breakout season in 2014, Gordon hit .298/.347/.397 against fastballs and .241/.252/.292 against curveballs and sliders. Pitchers haven't had the same success with the breaking balls in 2015, however; Gordon is hitting .338 against fastballs -- and .364 against curves and sliders.
Because his dad played in the majors, Gordon has spent most of his life around the game. He says having that close relationship with his father was more important than being around the game in helping him achieve his success in the majors.
"Before I got drafted, I was always with my dad pretty much on a daily basis," he said. "Just watching how hard he worked and how he went about it, it was more than amazing to me."
While Gordon now has other influences in his life such as Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, he still talks almost every day with his dad and when he thinks about the greatest lesson his dad taught him the answer comes easy to him: "I'm glad my dad taught me how to love baseball and to not take any handouts."
Like a new car.
"I just hope my family sees me as a great person," said Gordon, whose brother Nick was a first-round pick last year by the Twins. "I want to play the game great and for a long time, but I want to be a good person longer than I play the game."