The Tigers signed Ordonez from the Chicago White Sox as a free agent after the 2004 season. The move was considered a coup for general manager Dave Dombrowski—a proven slugger from within the Tigers’ division, no less.
But when the curtain was raised for the 2005 season, Ordonez was felled by a painful sports hernia injury. After going 0-for-10 in the season’s opening week, the Tigers shut him down so he could recover.
Maggs didn’t return to the Tigers lineup until July 1. He still managed to hit .302 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 305 at bats.
The following year, Ordonez sent the Tigers to the World Series with his three-run, walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth inning off Oakland’s Huston Street in the American League Championship Series to clinch the pennant.
In 2007, Ordonez was the AL’s batting champ, hitting a robust .363.
Now it appears that Ordonez’s Tigers career is going to end similar to how it began: with him hurt and unable to play. A broken ankle revealed during the 2011 ALCS put the proverbial writing on the wall.
Dombrowski met the press earlier this week,and all but guaranteed that Ordonez, 37 years old now and turning 38 before next season begins, won’t be back with the Tigers in 2012.
I’ve written it before, but it bears repeating:
Precious few are the professional athletes who can call their own shots, if you will, when it comes to deciding when and how they will leave their respective games.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Hall of Famer or a bench warmer—your body often makes the call, not your heart or your brain.
How blessed is the athlete who can walk away, on his own terms, healthy as a horse but simply too old for the game?
How great is it that Al Kaline was able to declare the 1974 season the last of his great 22-year Tigers career, and in pursuit of 3,000 career hits to boot? How great is it that he wasn’t forced into retirement due to his painful foot, which bothered him almost his entire career?
But for every Kaline, there are a whole bunch of Ordonezes.
This isn’t necessarily an obituary on Magglio Ordonez’s big-league baseball career, but at 38 and coming off yet another broken ankle, the number of suitors for his services isn’t likely to be a big number—if a number at all.
During the ALCS, but before his latest ankle injury (he broke it originally in July 2010), Maggs told reporters that he considered retiring this summer.
But after the new injury (but before Dombrowski talked to the press), Ordonez was ruling out retirement; he wanted to play in 2012.
Again, that decision may not be his to make.
Ordonez was among the finest of Tigers that I have enjoyed following and covering. He didn’t bitch, he didn’t whine, he didn’t grumble.
All he did was go out, hit his .300+ and rap out an impressive number of clutch hits in his seven years as a Tiger.
We all knew when Kaline was taking his final at bat, because it came in the game that we all knew was Al’s last. So we were afforded a proper goodbye.
Ordonez’s latest ankle injury—the one that probably squashed his slim chances of being asked back by the Tigers for 2012—was diagnosed, pretty much, during a rain delay in Texas in the ALCS.
That’s not how a great Tigers career should end.
It's not as if we need another reminder of how heartless and non-poetic the athlete’s body can be, but that is what we get.