Monday, March 26, 2012

Adios, Magglio

I’m not sure if it was 1999 or 2000, but I remember watching an All-Star Game when a young emerging outfielder for the White Sox came up to the plate and one of the announcers said the player was probably the best in the game that no one had ever heard of. Now remember, the Tigers were ungodly awful at this point and I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be sweet if the Tigers could somehow get this guy?

Well, it took until 2005, but they went out and got that player, giving him the second largest contract in Tigers history at that time. He was coming off of a knee injury and many predicted that it was a poor decision by the Tigers. They were wrong.

The player was Magglio Ordonez and he would go on to have several great years with the Tigers, hit one of the greatest home runs in baseball history, and become my favorite player in the process. And today he tweeted that he is close to retirement.

I’ve been putting it off, but it’s once again time for me to say goodbye to a Tiger hero.

I’ve had four favorite players over my twenty-too-many seasons as a Tigers fan. First was Kirk Gibson, and when he left the Tigers for the Dodgers after the 1987 season, 10 year old Rogo was heartbroken. In fact, I may have uttered my first of many “f” words at the time. So I latched on to another decent guy in Alan Trammell. That went well for a while, but as those pesky players tend to do, Tram got old and eventually retired. Soon after, Bobby Higginson emerged as my baseball hero. And when Bobby was done, that’s when Magglio arrived.

/plays “Circle of Life” from The Lion King


Well, it actually didn’t begin well for Ordonez in Detroit. During the first week of the 2005 season, he strained an abdominal muscle and spent three months on the disabled list with what turned out to be a hernia. He returned in July and finished his first Tiger season hitting .302 with 8 homers. Things would improve in 2006.

2006 saw a healthy Maggs hit .298 with 24 homers, 104 RBI, and the Tigers make the playoffs for the first time in 19 years. They shocked the Yankees in the ALDS and faced the A’s in the ALCS. Then, on October 14, 2006, Magglio stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 9th with two on against closer Huston Street. You might remember what happened next.

That right there was the highest high I’ve ever felt in my life. To be there among the ecstatic crowd was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of. Magglio was a made man in my eyes from that day forward.

2007 saw him have one of the greatest seasons in baseball history. His .363 batting average, 28 home runs and 139 RBI year was probably the second-best season by a Detroit Tiger batter in the past 60 years (with Norm Cash's .361-41-132 performance in 1961 being the best). Magglio's accomplishments in 2007 included:

-His .363 batting average was the highest in all of baseball that year. He finished the season as the AL batting champion, and was the first Tiger player to accomplish the feat since Norm Cash in 1961. The last Tiger to hit for a higher average was Charlie Gehringer in 1937.

-His 54 doubles also led baseball. It was the most by a Tiger since George Kell hit 56 in 1950.

-His 139 RBI was the highest by a Tiger since Rocky Colavito had 140 in 1961. Colavito is the only Tiger batter with more RBI than Maggs in the past 60 years.

-On August 12, 2007, Magglio hit two home runs in an eight-run second-inning of an 11–6 win over Oakland, becoming the second batter in Tigers history to achieve this feat; Al Kaline had done so on April 17, 1955 in a 16–0 win over the then-Kansas City Athletics.

-Ordonez had an on base percentage of .434; only two other Tiger batters in the past 60 years have hit for a higher on base percentage: Tony Phillips in 1993 (.443) and Cash in 1961 (.487).

-Only one Tiger in the past 60 years has had a higher slugging percentage than Magglio's .595: Cash in 1961 had a slugging percentage of .662.

After a decent 2008, injuries and age began catching up to Magglio and he wasn’t the same, despite showing occasional flashes of his former self. After the 2011 season, the team announced that they wouldn’t be re-signing Ordonez. In seven years as a Tiger, he hit .312 with 107 homers, 533 RBI, and an OPS+ of 123. He was a class act and made baseball exciting again in a place that hadn’t had anything to cheer about in decades. And he had sweet hair. Can’t forget that.

But it’s over now. The Tigers have moved on and life goes on. Magglio is finished, but like all heroes, will never be forgotten. At least not by this fan.

Thank you for everything Magglio. You’ll always be on my personal Mount Rushmore with Gibson, Trammell, and Higginson. I’ll never forget 2006 and I don’t think any Tiger fan that was lucky enough to be a part of it will either. It was a hell of a ride.

Adios, Magglio. Tú eras el mejor.


kalinecountry said...

Thanks Rogo, good stats comping Maggs years and achievements to past Tigers and their numbers.I was so proud of Maggs and our Tigers with that majestic walkoff homerun to get into the World Series, and also when he tied my hero for the 2 homeruns in the same inning.
I uttered the F word many times as a 12 and 15 year old when the Tigers traded Kuenn for Colavito, which turned out good, and then when Bunning got traded, I wanted to hang the guy who made that deal by the scrotum and use him as a pinata. Magglio will 'Forever be a Tiger' to us.

Jay Hathaway said...

Well done.  That .363 was ridiculous.

Bob139 said...

One of the great pleasures at Comerica Park in the 2007 and 2008 seasons was watching Magglio go to the opposite field to move a runner over.  He seemed to be able to do it at will.  Sometimes it was a base hit ... sometimes a double... sometimes a fly out to right-center field (moving the runner to 3b).  Occasionally, even a double play.  But you knew what he was trying to do, and he was the best at it for those years.  It was baseball at its purest best. 

Biff Mayhem said...

Picking nits: SLG is not a percentage. Great piece though and it sums up my feelings on Maggs as well.

johnmoz said...

I can't believe you'd cheapen Magglio by comparing him to Higginson.

(I kid, I kid.)

Thanks for making me get a bit verklempt here at my desk as I watch that video for the gazillionth time.

H2OPoloPunk said...

Great article, Rogo. And you reaffirmed my suggestion that -- despite all of the haters over at BYB who derided me for the comparison-- Maggs was our modern day Norm Cash. Plus, he really was the cornerstone of the Tigers' rejuvenation. Pudge too, but I put Maggs before him. Hard to believe a former White Sox player would be a Detroit hero. 

Lori565048 said...

A REAL man with real style!  Gosh you sure made us Michiganders fall in love with you and you were always so down to earth and willing to do your all for the game, the fans and your team.  It makes my heart break a bit to see you go, but enjoy your retirement, you surely deserve it.  Good luck you'll be really missed.

tigrrrrs said...

I was at the all star game in Chicago in 2005 when Maggs was an all star. I think half of Venezuela was there, decked out in the colors of and carrying the Venezuelan flag. They did some kind of a Magglio cheer that I wish would have followed him to Detroit. After the game, Maggs walked out of the stadium and got into a van with about 20 other Venezuelans.