Ordonez has earned his Tiger stripes as hero in Detroit

Magglio Ordonez Detroit Tigers

After a stellar career with the Chicago White Sox, Magglio Ordonez won a batting title and hit a home run in Detroit that will never be forgotten.

After his fifth season in the minor leagues, Magglio Ordonez could have been claimed by any major league team. After seven years in Detroit, there’s no other place the former All-Star outfielder seems to belong.

The last two seasons have been difficult for Ordonez, who broke his ankle in the summer of 2010 and fractured it again in the 2011 American League Championship Series. This week, the Tigers announced that the popular player would be shelved for the remainder of the post-season, ending his season and putting his career in jeopardy.

If it proves to be the final chapter in Mags career, he will leave a legacy in Detroit that few can match. Much of that legacy will be shaped by the now legendary home run to win the 2006 AL Pennant at Comerica Park, and his batting title the following year. But he will also be remembered for his toughness and sense of pride. In his time in a Tiger uniform, Ordonez has been a model citizen and a role model for younger players in the clubhouse. He’s also played through injuries that would have sidelined many other players. Despite his hobbled 2010 season, Ordonez batted .300 again, something he practically does as a bodily function. Obviously less than 100% all year in 2011, Mags still gutted it out and delivered some key hits, especially down the stretch. He hit .455 against the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series. This is a guy who gives it all he can.

Overcoming adversity has been a theme for the smiling Magglio. Recruited by scouts on the sandlots of Venezueka when he was just 16, drafted by the Chicago White Sox when he was 18, Ordonez was stuck in the minors for several years, quietly becoming a fearsome right-handed slugger. Finally, after hitting .329 for Nashville in AA-ball in 1997, Ordonez was given a chance by the ChiSox. He hit .319 in his September call-up and has been in the big leagues ever since. It was the first of 11 .300 seasons for Ordonez.

In a White Sox uniform, Ordonez was a nuisance to the Tigers, but he didn’t necessarily punish Detroit. When he was a free agent at the age of 30 in 2004, he drew less attention than other players because he was coming off two knee surgeries. But Detroit General Manager Dave Dombrowski liked his makeup and got his name on a contract – at $80 million for five years the biggest in club history to that point. The Tigers were trying to gain respectability after the dismal 119-loss season of 2003. Ordonez was immediately a team leader as one of the veteran players on the roster.

But the right fielder would have to overcome some more adversity in his first month as a Tiger. In April of ’05, just days into his stint with his new team, Mags left the lineup with what turned out to be a hernia. He didn’t come back until July when he belted his first home run as a Tiger in his first game back, against the New York Yankees. A love affair between Mags and his fans in right field was born.

The next season, in 2006, Ordonez let his curly black hair grow all season, and “Magglio Mop” wigs popped up all over Comerica Park. He made the All-Star team, drove in more than 100 runs, and in October, he etched his name in Tiger lore when he launched a ninth-inning, three-run homer into the Comerica Park left field stands off Oakland closer Huston Street to win the pennant. It’s fair to say that Mags hasn’t had to buy dinner in Detroit since.

The following season, Ordonez became the first Tiger batting champion since Norm Cash in 1961. The Tigers didn’t repeat as AL Champions, but it wasn’t Mags’ fault. He hit .363 with 216 hits, 54 doubles, 28 homers, 139 RBI, and 117 runs scored. He finished second in AL Most Valuable Player voting to Alex Rdoriguez. Three more .300 seasons followed, and even when his power started to disappear, “The Big Tilde” was still cheered loudly and welcomed in the Tiger lineup. He has had a stellar career, despite toiling in the minors for six seasons and not getting a chance to play regularly until he was 24. The Venezuelan is one of the select few players in baseball history to hit .300 for two big league teams for whom he played at least 800 games.

In contrast to teammate and close friend Carlos Guillen, who has struggled through countless injuries in his tenure as a Tiger, Ordonez has been afforded the benefit of the doubt when he’s been hobbled. With his big smile and workmanlike approach he’s charmed this city, becoming probably the most popular Latin star in Detroit sports history.

The second break of his ankle may spell the end for Magglio Ordonez, but don’t count him out yet. His long hair may have been trimmed, but unlike Samson, there are other sources of strength in the body of the veteran slugger.