Detroit Tigers: The Gamble of Magglio Ordonez

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we look back at the Latin players that joined the Detroit Tigers and left an everlasting impact. Today, we look at Magglio Ordonez and the risk Detroit took that fateful day on February 7, 2005.

Before the days of social media, Detroit Tigers fans would go on chat boards or read the daily paper. Twitter gives you up to the minute access to everything sports-related, which is the only good thing about it in my opinion.  But one thing is certain. When it comes to the story of Magglio Ordonez to Detroit, I can bet the days leading up to the signing, there would have been a fierce debate on the risk Detroit was going to take.

The Detroit Tigers were coming off a season in 2004 in which they finished 72-90 under manager Alan Trammell. Optimism was rising as Dave Dombrowski was putting together a roster. In January of 2004, Dombrowski acquired Carlos Guillen and signed Fernando Vina. Everyone at the time thought Detroit was done with a quality off-season. But Detroit shocked the fanbase and all of MLB and was able to sign Ivan Rodriguez.

For anyone who watched the Tigers in the 1990s, we were rubbing our eyes to see what was going on. After coming up short for players, the whole Juan Gonzalez saga, and fans hearing “Well, Detroit isn’t a free agent destination city”,  Mike Ilitch was able to pull it off on the baseball side and sign Pudge.

But Detroit needed another bat. The final days of Bobby Higginson were nearing and Craig Monroe was used more in a platoon role as he could hit better against righties. They were aggressive on signing players like Carl Pavano to shore up the rotation but he passed. So did Troy Glaus, Steve Finley, and Adrian Beltre. As far as the farm system went, the Top 10 from 2004 according to Baseball America, did not provide any answers. For a trip down memory line, here’s who they were.

  1. Kyle Sleeth RHP
  2. Brent Clelven OF
  3. Joel Zumaya RHP
  4. Rob Henkel LHP
  5. Tony Giarratano SS/2B
  6. Kody Kirkland 3B
  7. Scott Moore SS
  8.  Curtis Granderson CF
  9. Jay Sborz RHP
  10.  Kenny Baugh RHP

The Tigers needed another bat and Magglio Ordonez was the big name on the market. But it came with an air of mystery.

Vienna is beautiful this time of year.

Ordonez played in just 52 games for Chicago in 2004. He had surgery that May for a torn meniscus. He still experienced issues and had to get a second procedure in September. During that procedure, doctors found another tear that went untreated. From there, Magglio flew out to Vienna to have the surgery to fix his left knee once and for all. But that’s where it gets interesting.

His agent Scott Boras told the media that everything was fine and the procedure, which was done by Dr. Wolfgang Schaden, would heal him up and fully rehabbed by December 1.

“We’re not going to make this thing into something it’s not,” Boras said. “His leg is fine. The bigger issue is, in April and May, Magglio Ordonez was on pace to have another monster year with over 120 RBIs and over 30 home runs. That was the issue as far as Magglio is concerned. The knee issue? Here’s the medical records. There are no complications from it. He’s running and he’s fine. If they want to watch him go thru his drills and conditioning steps, they’re welcome to do that.”

The shock treatment was not done in the United States and it allowed for a faster recovery process so, for Magglio, this was important as he was heading into free agency.  But what made it interesting for teams that wanted to sign him was that Ordonez was not having any special workouts for teams. So teams like the Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles, and the Cubs were skeptical. He didn’t work out for clubs in December, which increased more red flags. But Detroit continued.

In late January of 2005, Dave Dombrowski along with manager Alan Trammell and reported at the time, Mike Ilitch, flew to Miami to talk to Magglio about signing with Detroit. The dialogue started with terms with Boras seeking a seven-year deal. The Tigers countered with five years. The Cubs were expected to meet with Magglio after their trade of Sammy Sosa to Baltimore. They were looking for a corner outfielder but Detroit was still the front runner. The Freep Press and Detroit News kept the fans updated on the talks.

Detroit took the risk on Magglio and it paid off.  One of the things that stood out that Magglio said at the time was he said about former general manager Ken Williams, who he felt, did not back him about his left knee.

“Kenny was burying me, saying my knee was not OK. It feels good to have an owner and a general manager who treat you like this.” 

The biggest risk the Tigers have ever taken in the free-agent era paid off. He and Pudge were the two biggest free agent names that signed with Detroit from a positional player standpoint since Darrell Evans in 1983. Tigers fans are forever grateful to Dave Dombrowski and Mike Ilitch for rolling the dice.

For parts 1 and 2 on our celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, click on the links below.

Aurelio Lopez

Aurelio Rodriguez