Connect with us

Major Leagues

In My Baseball DNA: Jordan Montgomery

Embed from Getty Images

Spring Training is often a very forgettable time of year. True, with the dawn of Spring comes the promise of new baseball, but for most fans the vast majority of the month and a half long run-up to opening day can be pretty boring and forgettable. After all, the games don’t mean anything, the star players don’t play very often, and unless you are in the area or have MLB TV, the games are not very accessible; so, as most years come and go, it is not easy to remember the details of individual springs. But for me, the spring training of 2017 will always stand out, and all because of a man they call Gumby.

I staked my baseball reputation in personal circles on Jordan Montgomery during the spring of ’17, while everyone and their mother – including in the national and local medias – went out of their way to praise his performance with the caveat that he had no shot at winning a spot in the rotation, I insisted that he would. Where others saw a 6’6 rookie with a good curveball and a surprising overperformance, I saw our next Andy Pettitte; an intimidating lefty of similar build and arsenal, who stared daggers through the batter from above the tip of his glove that covered most of his youthful face.

I was right.

Monty did win a spot in the rotation, joining the ace of the staff, Masahiro Tanaka, veteran and future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia, the promising young Luis Severino and the destined to be a disappointment, Michael Pineda, on a club not expected to amount to much. In the end, they made their way to the ALCS where they were cheated out of – I mean – heartbreakingly defeated by the eventual world “champion” Houston Astros (Bitter? Me? Never!)

In early May of that year, my best friend and I made the trek from New York all the way out to Chicago (15 straight hours by car) to see the Yankees take on reigning, defending World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, before shooting over to Milwaukee to see the Brewers face the Boston Red Sox. Who would start for the Baby Bombers against this lineup of certified winners? Jordan Montgomery. I was pumped; the chance to see him along with the Yankees other vaunted rookie, Aaron Judge, would make my first visit to Wrigley a success, even if the Yankees lost. Spoiler Alert: they didn’t. Montgomery would go 6.2 innings, giving up three runs (two earned), and walking four while striking out three. Thanks to a five run third of an inning in the first, Montgomery would secure the win and go on to have a solid rookie showing of 9-7, with a 3.88 ERA in twenty-nine games and starts, striking out 144 in 155.1 innings, and finishing sixth in the Rookie of the Year voting.

Embed from Getty Images

Tommy John surgery would cost Gumby most of the next two seasons, and his performance during the pandemic shortened 2020 season understandably left a lot to be desired, but he when he finally had a chance to pitch in a full season (the first since his rookie campaign), he had to overcome a new problem; an offense that was allergic to scoring for him. In thirty starts, Montgomery would pitch to a 3.83 ERA while going only 6-7, with most of his losses and no decisions being adequate to great, just with little help from his hitters. This trend continued through the trade deadline of 2022, when with a 3-3 record and a 3.69 ERA in 21 starts, Montgomery was shockingly traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for injured center fielder Harrison Bader.

I remember where I was when that news broke. Sitting in the hot chicken restaurant “Party Fowl” one month after moving to Nashville, I was keeping an eye on Twitter for any last-minute moves while talking to my mom about my upcoming trip to, you guessed it, St. Louis to see the Yankees take on the Red Birds…when I tell you my jaw dropped. It didn’t make sense. Why trade a starting pitcher, and a solid one, when you were trying to add pitching all throughout the same deadline? Bader of course is a phenomenal centerfielder, but he was injured and not known for his bat. I, like many Yankee fans were disoriented and unhappy, and then to add insult to (Bader’s) injury, I realized that things were lining up so that the Cardinals starter during my chosen game would be, and by now you should have been able to have seen this coming from a mile away, Jordan Blackmon Montgomery. What are the odds?

As if to say “Trade me? I’ll show you,” Monty would toe the mound against his former brothers, and with me watching from above, proceed to pitch five scoreless innings, in a game the Cardinals won 1-0. Maybe John Sterling is wrong, sometimes you can predict baseball, Suzyn. The rest of the season went a lot better for the tall lefty, as he went 6-3 with a 3.11 ERA in eleven games, but his hard luck would return the next year, as the now hapless Cardinals (who severely underperformed in 2023) would become the ones failing to score for their Big Bird. For a second consecutive year, Montgomery would be traded at the deadline, and for the second straight year he would show his worth with his new team, with a 4-2 record and a 2.79 ERA in 11 games, before stepping up in the World Series and cementing himself as a Texas Ranger legend.

Embed from Getty Images

Entering free agency while represented by powerhouse agent (and MLB supervillain) Scott Boras, and coming off a postseason demonstration of his value, it was expected that Montgomery would get a large contract and rather quickly as well. But as the offseason rolled on, even once dominoes fell and moves started being made, Boras’ clients went unsigned. Were their contract demands really that unreasonable, or was collusion in the air? Finally, Montgomery’s fellow Borasites started signing deflated deals with opt-outs galore, but yet he remained unsigned until on the eve of the eve of opening day it was announced that the tall lefty who I so ardently argued would win a spot in the rotation seven years ago, was joining the World Series runner up Arizona Diamondbacks, the team he beat, on a 1-yr, 25 million dollar deal, with a vesting option for 2025. Of course, since the deal did not become official until a couple of days after the season began, he would yet again be ineligible for a qualifying offer.

It’s odd, but for whatever reason it seems Montgomery has been dealt a hand of undervaluation since the very beginning, but not by me; in this pitching market there is no reason he should not have received a fair, long-term offer, and if this was all it took to sign him, it shouldn’t have taken this long. The Yankees, it was reported, were interested in bringing their man back home after he proved Brian Cashman oh so wrong, but whether it was financial constraints, sour grapes, or a little bit of both, that just didn’t happen. Instead, Montgomery joins the team that beat the Yankees back in 2001 (I swear I’m not bitter), helping to solidify that rotation and make the NL West all the more chaotic. Even so, there were fans of New York’s greatest team that shrugged off not signing him with a sad sort of denial, “He’s not that good!” and “All that money for a guy who is average at best, yeah right!” are refrains you will see across the interwebs. They are, of course, incorrect in their assessments, but it turns out denial isn’t only a river in Egypt, after all.

I love Jordan Montgomery, and he will forever be one of my favorite players as he is so closely entwined with my baseball history. I hope he does well in Arizona, and – should he reach free agency again – finally be met with a contract and a situation worthy of his hard work and talent; after everything he’s been through, he deserves it.

Aaron is a Writer and communicator who has notably served on the communications team of the Westchester County Executive. Nicknamed "Mr. Baseball" in his youth, Aaron is a lifelong Yankee fan, Tino Martinez and Aaron Judge enthusiast, and a fierce defender of Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame worthiness. When he is not writing, or doing baseball related activities, Aaron is an avid foodie and culinarian. His non-baseball writing can be found at the Realety Check substack.

More in Major Leagues