Detroit Tigers Iconic Home Run Heroes Kirk Gibson and Magglio Ordonez: WS Foes?

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Detroit Tigers Iconic Home Run Heroes Kirk Gibson and Magglio Ordonez: WS Foes?
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

It’s been said that the triple is the most exciting play in baseball. I’d submit to you that the inside-the-park home run trumps that, but there you go.

Let’s give the triple the benefit of the doubt. But if that’s the case, how come no one waxes about the greatest triples in baseball history? I haven’t seen any TV specials about the historic triples of all-time. There aren’t coffee table books celebrating the triple.

The home run is still the Cadillac of baseball hits.

That’s what Ralph Kiner called the four-bagger—sort of.

Kiner, the Hall of Fame slugger of the Pittsburgh Pirates, once said that “Singles hitters drive Fords. Home run hitters drive Cadillacs.”

The Tigers have had their share of Cadillac drivers, as has any big league franchise.

From Greenberg to Kaline to Cash to Colavito to Fielder to Cabrera, the Tigers all-time roster is liberally sprinkled with Cadillac drivers.

There have been two home runs—two moon shots into the Detroit night, one into right field, one into left—that still have people around these parts talking. And they won’t ever stop talking about them.

Gibson, celebrating his blast off Gossage in the 1984 World Series

The first occurred in 1984, in Game 5 of the World Series. You know the one.

It was the bomb that Kirk Gibson detonated against Goose Gossage, the home run that put the exclamation point on the Tigers’ first World Series championship in 16 years.

Gibson’s blast into the right field upper deck made Motown dance in the streets again, even if they had to avoid the burning police cars to do so.

The second happened five years ago, and the artisan has been reminding us too frequently this season how long five years can be in baseball time.

It was the rocket launched deep into the left field seats by Magglio Ordonez that won Game 4 of the 2006 American League Championship Series, sending the Tigers to the World Series for the first time in 22 years.

Ordonez’s blast off Oakland’s Huston Street didn’t win the World Series, but it was captured by so many cell phone cameras at Comerica Park, that if you search for it on YouTube, you’d think it was a World Series winner.

Ordonez, with one lightning fast upper cut swing, also sent Detroit into a tizzy—sans burning police cars.

I challenge you to come up with any home runs in Tigers' history that resonate deeper than those of Kirk Gibson and Magglio Ordonez.

Gibson, today, is showing his tender skills as a manager, leading the previously sad sack Arizona Diamondbacks toward the NL West title.

It would be criminal if Gibby doesn’t win the NL Manager of the Year Award, for what he’s done in Arizona.

A mere 12 months ago, Gibson was the Diamondbacks’ interim manager—and that’s usually a nice, official way of saying he was the seat warmer for the next, “real” manager.

I’m wrong so often that I feel compelled to tell you when I’m right.

Shortly after Gibson became the interim skipper after the firing of the woefully ineffective A.J. Hinch, I wrote that the situation was awful in Arizona—a roster bereft of talent, a dysfunctional front office—but that Gibson would make the best of it anyway.

I warned not to bet against him.

After the Diamondbacks players appeared to respond positively to Gibson’s restless poking and prodding, management rewarded him by ripping the interim stripe from his uniform.

A quick look at the standings today shows that the Diamondbacks are threatening to run away with their division. The defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants are in second place and are gagging on the Arizona dust.

Kirk Gibson might, just might, find himself in some rarefied air—that of the former World Series champion player who turns World Series manager.

Not too many have pulled that off.

Again, don’t bet against him.

The other iconic Tigers home run slugger, Ordonez, is driving a sputtering Cadillac these days.

Some days it runs smooth, but most days it looks like it’s seen better days, which it has.

Ordonez is 37 years old and for most of the season he’s looked every minute of 37.

At times, it has been painful to watch Ordonez play. The baseball hasn’t been exploding from his bat as it has in the past. More like the balls been fired from a popgun.

Time was when an Ordonez swing was breathtaking. Whip fast, Magglio swung in that delectably smooth upper cut manner that sent baseballs into the deepest alleys of Comerica Park, and into the seats. It all looked so effortless.

Too often this season, Magglio swings and the ball dribbles off his bat and he’s thrown out by five steps.

It’s as if Ordonez’s AC cable has been pulled and he’s operating on battery power now and that battery is nearing the end of its charge.

Still, he occasionally shows us a glimpse of yesteryear.

Ordonez had three hits—two doubles and a home run—in Thursday’s 11-8 loss to the Royals at Comerica Park. The three hits were power shots off Ordonez’s bat, just like he used to do. The home run was vintage Ordonez, complete with the quick upper cut swing.

The batting average is still mediocre, in the .230s. But this week Ordonez has come up with some big hits, not the least of which was a single through the box in the eighth inning Tuesday that tied the game—a game the Tigers won in the ninth inning on a Ramon Santiago walk-off home run.

That’s funny. That’s backwards.

Shouldn’t it have been a Santiago single to tie and an Ordonez homer to win?

Sure—any year but this year.

When he was 37 in 1994, Kirk Gibson was in the midst of his second tour with the Tigers. He had come home in 1993 after six years away from Detroit. He had become a has-been—a journeyman with failures in Kansas City and Pittsburgh on his resume.

The return to the Tigers seemed to breathe new life into Gibson. He had two solid seasons and was in the middle of a third. In 1995, he abruptly retired after seeing the team’s wheels start to come off. Not wanting to be a part of colossal losing, Gibson quit.

Gibson’s instincts were right on the money; the Tigers lost 109 games the next season. Those instincts are serving him well in his second career.

Ordonez’s 37 hasn’t been anything like Gibson’s 37. In many ways, Ordonez has resembled the Tigers team that Gibson abandoned as a player in 1995.

But the Tigers appear to be on their way to the playoffs, and when you get there you can never have too many guys who’ve fought those battles in the past.

Who knows? The Tigers might face Gibson’s Diamondbacks in the World Series. And the press will have a field day.

Meanwhile, Magglio Ordonez is 37, creaky and not the player he once was. Yet this week’s offensive display has me thinking Gibson-tinged thoughts.

Don’t bet against him.

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