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100 greatest Tigers #32: Magglio Ordonez

Magglio Ordonez won a batting title and hit a pennant winning walk off for Detroit.
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Magglio Ordonez spent seven seasons in a Tiger uniform. His resurgence following a knee injury helped propel Detroit’s baseball resurrection. Ordonez reemerged as one of the game’s best outfielders and enjoyed one of the great seasons in Tiger history. Over the course of his Detroit career, Ordonez batted .300 five times, made two All Star teams, won a batting title and Silver Slugger, and eliminated 22 years of fan frustration with a solitary swing in the 2006 American League Championship Series (ALCS).

23-year-old Magglio Ordonez debuted for the Chicago White Sox in 1997. The outfielder developed into an elite player for the Sox. During his Chicago tenure, Ordonez hit .300 five times, made four All Star teams, hit 30 or more home runs and topped 100 RBI four times, won a Silver Slugger, and even stole 25 bases in 2001. Additionally, he placed in the MVP vote on three occasions. At one point, Chicago almost traded Ordonez to Boston for All Star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra. The trade fell through and the outfielder remained with the White Sox for another season.

As a full time player, Ordonez played 145 games or more every season with Chicago until a devastating knee injury in 2004 limited him to 52 games. The injury combined with a feud with manager Ozzie Guillen compelled Sox management to let Ordonez leave the Windy City as a free agent. The Detroit Tigers decided to take a chance on the former Sox outfielder. Ordonez signed a five year-$85 million deal with Detroit. The contract included a $3 million buy out if Ordonez spent more than 25 days on the disabled list due to the same injury. Detroit never exercised the bailout.

Ordonez managed to recover from the injury, but still missed the first half of the 2005 season with an abdominal strain. In the end, he needed hernia surgery and rehabilitation before returning. The injury limited Ordonez to 82 games, but he still hit .302 with 8 home runs, 46 RBI, and a .795 OPS. The performance excited Tiger fans and left them hoping Ordonez could remain healthy for 2006.

After two injury plagued campaigns, the former All Star returned to form. Ordonez appeared in 155 games in 2006, made the All Star team, and received MVP votes for the fourth time in his career. The Tiger batted .298 with 24 home runs, 104 RBI, and an .827 OPS. Detroit made the postseason for the first time since 1987. Ordonez did not particularly shine in the playoffs as a whole. He batted .267, .235, and .105 in Detroit’s World Series run. However, the outfielder belted two home runs in the clinching game of the ALCS against the A’s. He became the eighth player to end a postseason series with a home run. Unfortunately, the Tigers lost the World Series in five games to the Cardinals.

Detroit hoped to repeat as AL champs in 2007, but injuries to the pitching staff hampered their season. Despite the disappointing end to the campaign, Ordonez enjoyed a career season. In fact, he finished with the greatest Tiger offensive year since 1961. The outfielder led the league in batting (.363) and doubles (54). He set career highs in average, doubles, runs (117), hits (216), RBI (139), walks (76), OBP (.434), total bases (354), and OPS (1.029). He also slugged .595. In the end, the outfielder made his sixth All Star game, won his third Silver Slugger, and finished second in the MVP race.

Ordonez’s 2007 reached historic proportions. He became the first Tiger batting champ since 1961, had the highest average for a Tiger since 1937, hit the most doubles for a Tiger since 1950, and knocked in the most runs for a Tiger since 1961. In the previous 50 years, only Tony Phillips and Norm Cash produced a higher on-base-percentage and only Norm Cash topped Ordonez’s slugging percentage. On August 12, he became the second Tiger to hit two home runs in the same inning. Al Kaline accomplished the feat in 1955.

The batting champ followed up 2007 with another big year in 2008. He batted .317 with 21 home runs, 103 RBI, and an .869 OPS. The following year, he batted .310 with an .804 OPS, but his power disappeared. In 2009, Ordonez only hit 9 home runs and knocked in 50. The power outage ended in 2010, but the injury bug returned. The outfielder broke his ankle sliding into home and missed the final two months of the season. Ordonez finished with a .303 average, 12 home runs, 59 RBI, .804 OPS in 131 games. At the time, he appeared to be heating up for Detroit.

Detroit declined the 36-year-old outfielder’s $15 million option for 2011, but signed him to a one-year $10 million deal. The end was apparent in 2011. The former batting champion dipped to .255 with 5 home runs, 32 RBI, and a .634 OPS. Whether it was the injury, age, or both, Ordonez simply did not hit the ball with authority any longer. Despite the down year, he managed to bat .455 with an 1.045 OPS in the ALDS against New York. However, the end came in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Rangers. Ordonez fractured the same ankle he injured the previous season. He never played again and officially retired in 2012.

Magglio Ordonez turned out to be a historic Tiger player. In 2007, he put up numbers unseen by Tiger fans in decades. In the 2006 ALCS, Ordonez won the pennant with a walk off home run. Overall, the Sox-turned-Tiger batted .312 with 107 home runs, 533 RBI, and .849 OPS with Detroit. Tiger management gambled on Ordonez and everyone won. In the end, only freak injuries constrained Ordonez.