OK, We'll give you a lift -- Kurt
Crosspost from my blog, Wizard of Woodward. Please click on over- I've been toiling unread for months! ;-)
Unfortunately for me, my first taste of Tiger baseball as a kid (that is, when I really started to pay attention) didn’t really show how bad the baseball would become. I began paying attention during the Cecil Fielder/Rob Deer/Mickey Tettleton tons of strikeouts tons and home runs era, in which we managed a second place finish in the division and looked decent. Oh yeah, we also had David Freaking Wells during that time.
Shortly after that, Sparky Anderson was fired, David Wells was foolishly let go, Ernie Harwell was briefly sent packing and Tiger baseball went into a 14 year funk. The teams were bad. Very bad. Fans frustrated by this underperforming team would do well to remember when we’d be out of contention by the end of May, usually 10 or more games below .500 with no hope. Worst of all, the teams were *boring.* We just didn’t have good players worth watching (even as we underperform now, we are anything but boring, at least).
That started to change, mercifully, once we got a competent baseball man running things, but rebuilding a farm system takes time, and we needed veterans to help the team compete. We needed stars. The problem?
Nobody wanted to play for Detroit. It isn’t an attractive place to live (and I say that as a guy who loves the area, and would gladly live there if the right opportunity, career-wise, made it possible to do so), and the team had such a bad reputation that players regularly had “no Detroit” clauses in contracts.
Meanwhile, as I was in college I noticed the White Sox had a player that always killed us: Magglio Ordonez. I mean he KILLED us. But Magglio also had bad knees, spent time on the disabled list, and was considered to be in the sunset of his career.
The Tigers took a gamble, and signed Magglio to a huge contract. It was exciting. He would join Ivan Rodriguez to fill out a suddenly good looking Tiger roster.
But it didn’t start well. He immediately injured himself, costing half of the 2005 season. He didn’t seem to hit for power anymore, so while he did hit over .300 in the latter half of 2005 and during 2006, there was some skepticism from some Tiger fans.
I wasn’t one of them. For one, the memories of watching guys like Deivi Cruz and Tony Clark with the “stars” being the likes of Dmitri Young,* I could see the ability was there, and hitting above .300 with suspect power was still a darn sight better than I was used to.
And, fortunately, as the magical 2006 season unfolded, the power returned. And of course, THIS happened.
The next season, while the Tigers didn’t return to the playoffs (the Francisco Liriano freight train powered the Twins through the division that year, to just get clobbered by the Yanks as usual), Magglio had the second greatest offensive season of any Tiger in the modern era (and arguably the greatest, if you factor in that Norm Cash admitted to corking his bat during his .361 year). Magglio hit .363(!!!) with 28 bombs, winning the MLB batting title. Let that sink in. .363. That’s insanely high. That’s almost Ty Cobb era high.
Ordonez continued to play well, finishing his Tiger career with an average of .312. He still seemed productive even in 2011, but his injuries just kept piling up. Finally, just as seemed on the cusp of contributing to the Tigers 2011 playoff run, he broke his ankle again, effectively ending his career.
Here’s another thing I’ve gotten used to: former Tiger players/managers dissing us by retiring with teams that aren’t us. In some respects, it is understandable. We rented Ivan Rodriguez. I certainly don’t begrudge him retiring as a Ranger. I was much more annoyed at Sparky Anderson.
Magglio choose to retire as a TIGER, despite spending a large part of his career with the White Sox. I don’t know if Maggs is a hall of famer (I think he is), but I hope he gets a retired number, and even a statue in Comerica. His career means so much to Detroit baseball and its return to relevance.
So I tip my cap to you, Magglio, for being one of the finest pure hitters I’ve ever seen wear the English D. It is fitting that another Venezuelan is now taking that mantle, Miguel Cabrera. I guess Detroit baseball is destined to have a fearsome hitter from the “Big V” anchor the batting order.
*No disrespect, those were professional baseball players that would have been fine as a supporting cast with other stars.