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Magglio Ordonez drove his way into Tigers fans hearts


"Swing and a fly ball, left field, it's deep, IT'S WAY BACK ... THE TIGERS ARE GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES!

"Three-run, walkoff home run! OHHHHH MAN! Ordonez around third, he's into a mob scene at home! The Tigers have beaten the A's, 6-3, completing a four-game sweep in one of the greatest turnarounds in baseball history! The Tigers, three years after losing 119 games, are going to the World Series!"

--Dan Dickerson's radio call

It's not often that history is made in front of your eyes, that one of those iconic moments happens that you know will be replayed time after time, year after year, a point on the historical timeline of a team in continuous operation since before the the founding of the American League.

A cold Saturday, early evening, Oct. 14, 2006, a tie game in the ninth inning, Oakland's closer Huston Street on the mound, Craig Monroe stepping off second base, Placido Polanco edging off first, Magglio Ordonez at the plate, the fastball just above knee level on the inside half of the plate, the swing like a golf professional teeing off, the electricity coursing through the stadium and out of the mouths of 42,000 fans in unison, the second-year Tiger watching for a moment, walking slowly toward first, did he realize the weight of the moment as he pointed the index finger pointed in the air?, Placido Polanco bundled up for the cold skipping and jumping like a kid, the general manager in his executive suite shouting at the baseball to get out and jumping to his feet with his hands high in the air in celebration of a franchise's turnaround, the scrum at home plate, the joy on the faces of Tigers fans, the memories you have, your own unique highlight reel of the moment that no one else can see ...

Those outside of Detroit might wonder, as a few did, if the decision to give Ordonez a special sendoff on Sunday was the right move. He's not a certain hall of famer. He had a few wonderful seasons in Detroit, but he had a few struggling years as well, including the first in 2005 when critics everywhere thought the Tigers paid too much, gave too many years, didn't protect themselves enough and had a dud on their hands. (Parallels to other deals since then could be made, one supposes.) In Detroit, Ordonez had 989 hits, 533 RBI, 107 home runs. Surely every player that reaches those numbers doesn't deserve a chance to walk across the Comerica Park diamond in a suit, to bring his family to the place he worked for seven years, to listen to the emcee say a few polite words, to maybe speak a few of his own ... right?

But not every player encapsulated a team, a city, a theme, like Ordonez. Injured goods. Knee problems so bad that he went to Europe to have an experimental surgery. Analysts wondering if it was over. Maybe it almost was -- untill Tigers owner Mike Ilitch took a chance, made a bet, put together a deal. We believe in you. We think those other teams don't know what they're missing out on. We think you're worth every dollar you're asking for. We think you can get us to the next level, Magglio. Do you?

The Tigers weren't without quality players. Sure-thing Hall of Fame catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez came to Detroit a year earlier. Shortstop Carlos Guillen looked like an absolute steal from the Seattle Mariners. How did Detroit come by Placido Polanco so easily? But it hadn't been enough to play .500 ball in 2004, and how could one 31-year-old outfielder make that big a difference in 2005? He didn't, of course. He battled injuries. He missed half his new team's games. He hit a handful of home runs, drove in only a few dozen RBI.

Then came 2006. Ordonez was back on track, hitting in the four spot, driving in runs at key moments. It seemed like every game the Tigers played they could overcome any deficit. That September, the Tigers sprayed champagne with a clubhouse celebration that hadn't been done in 19 years. Weeks later, they sprayed champagne on the fans of Comerica Park, taking the joy straight to the long-suffering fans after bringing the evil empire of New York to its knees. Days later with Oakland in town, they threw Detroit a party unlike it had seen in years.

It wasn't just Magglio. Twenty-five players, a grumpy old manager, countless coaches and front-office members and trainers contributed, too. Ordonez didn't have an MVP caliber season. But he didn't have to.

Ordonez was celebrated on Sunday -- rightfully so. When he struggled, the Tigers struggled. When he came to life, the Tigers came to life. At first, he seemed like second-fiddle to Pudge. Both were quality batters, but one had been there just a little while longer.

Many players from his era will be remembered fondly. Some retired as Tigers. Some moved on to other teams. Some art just entering the peak years of their careers. Ordonez, if for no other reason than one iconic swing, the face of the rebirth, will be remembered by fans as a Tiger for life.