Ordonez had a good career, but former Tiger is not Hall of Fame worthy

The 2007 American League batting champion, Magglio Ordonez hit .309 in a 15-year career.

Magglio Ordonez did some things that Hall of Famers do. He won a batting title. He hit over .300 in his career. He was an all-star several times.

But a lot of non-Hall of Famers have done those things too. And there are a number of things the former Tiger star never did that we frequently find on a Hall of Fame résumé. Consider these items from Magglio’s career:

  • He only led the league in two major categories: doubles and batting average in 2007.
  • Which means: he never led his league in total bases, hits, runs scored, RBIs, or walks. He did lead the AL with 15 sacrifice flies in 2000.
  • He ranked in the top ten in on-base+slugging only three times.
  • He ranked in the top ten in on-base percentage just twice and in slugging three times, and never higher than fourth in slugging.

Magglio did do some very interesting things, such as:

  • He batted over .360 (.363 in 2007) in a season, something only seven righthanded hitters have done since the end of World War II.*
  • He accumulated a .300 career batting average with two teams for whom he played at least 800 games, something only eleven players have done in baseball history.**
  • He hit a pennant-winning walkoff home run, which has happened only six times.***

The problem is that batting average is not that important of a stat when it comes to evaluating a player in total. Playing well for two teams is nifty, but it’s a novelty, not a reason for immortality. And the pennant-winning blast of Huston Street in the ’06 ALCS will ensure that Ordonez never has to pay for a meal in Detroit, but it won’t get him a plaque in Cooperstown. Bobby Thomson isn’t a Hall of Famer.

In about a week, the results of the 2016 Hall of Fame voting will be announced. Ordonez, like his former Detroit teammate Ivan Rodriguez, is on the ballot for the first time.

The popular Venezuelan played 15 seasons before he retired at the age of 37 due to chronic back and leg injuries. He’s racked up more than 2,100, 400 doubles, and nearly 300 home runs to go along with his .309 batting average. Eleven times he topped the .300 mark, and while those of us who know better realize batting average is a simple stat that doesn’t begin to tell us how great a player was, the fact is that Hall of Fame voters traditionally love it. It’s helped guys like Joe Sewell and George Kell get into the Hall.

On the other hand, a high batting average has not helped players from recent history like Al Oliver, Dave Parker, Will Clark, and Edgar Martinez. Nor did it help Bill Madlock, who not only hit .300, but won four batting titles.

What hurts Magglio is what hurts many of those players: he didn’t play long enough to reach significant career counting numbers, like 3,000 hits or even 400 home runs. That’s the path to election if you’re a “career value” guy.

The other way to earn election to the Hall of Fame is to be a “peak value” guy, like Jim Rice and Kirby Puckett. But Ordonez doesn’t rate well there, as we saw in his lack of dominant seasons or ranking among league leaders.

Puckett’s career OPS+ (on-base plus slugging adjusted for his era and ballpark) was 124 in about 7,800 plate appearances. Magglio’s was 125 in about 7,800 PAs. Pretty close, right? But Kirby did so many other things well. He won a bunch of Gold Gloves for his play in center field, a more important and challenging position. He picks up more credit for his running game. he also won one batting title, but he also had a lot of other black ink, leading the AL in hits four times, in total bases twice, and even once in RBIs. Ordonez has only the one batting crown and a doubles title. Plus there’s the fact that Puckett did his work in 12 years before being forced to retire due to an eye injury.

The best comps for Magglio are Moises Alou and Matt Holliday, two contemporary corner outfielders, neither of whom are considered Hall of Fame players.

Magglio Ordonez had a fine career and he owns a place in history for his feats with the Tigers and White Sox, but he’s not Cooperstown caliber.

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*The seven RH batters to hit .360 or higher in a single season since 1945: Rico Carty (1970), Joe Torre (1971), Andres Galarraga (1993), Jeff Bagwell (1994), Mike Piazza (1997), Nomar Garciaparra (2000), and Magglio Ordonez (2007).
**The eleven hitters who have posted a .300 career average for two teams while playing at least 800 games with each: Rod Carew (Twins, Angels), Eddie Collins (A’s, White Sox), Joe Cronin (Senators, Red Sox), Jake Daubert (Dodgers, Reds), Jimmie Foxx (A’s, Red Sox), Frankie Frisch (Giants, Cardinals), Vlad Guerrero (Expos, Angels), Magglio Ordonez (White Sox, Tigers), Manny Ramirez (Indians, Red Sox), Frank Robinson (Reds, Orioles), and Tris Speaker (Red Sox, Indians).
***The six players to hit a pennant-winning walkoff homer: Bobby Thomson (1951 Giants), Henry Aaron (1957 Braves), Chris Chambliss (1976 Yankees), Aaron Boone (2003 Yankees), Magglio Ordonez (2006 Tigers), and Travis Ishikawa (2014 Giants).