The word is out that former Tigers and White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez will officially retire this weekend. Many tributes will probably be written to Ordonez, who had a lengthy and productive career. Except for his monster career year in 2007, Ordonez was not really ever the superstar some thought he was (nice job, Scott Boras), but he was a good hitter who got a lot of mileage out of a combination of good power and great contact skills. David Laurila has a great interview with Ordonez that was published earlier, in which the retiree mentions his biggest moment, his walk-off home run in the 2006 ALCS that put the Tigers into the World Series. All things considered, that was probably the right choice — it does not get much bigger than that (without being in the World Series itself). Win Probability Added (WPA) sees that as Ordonez’s biggest playoff hit at .387:
That was a great moment for the Tigers and their fans, but just considered on a individual game basis, Ordonez had many more dramatic hits in the regular seasons. As a farewell to a guy I kind of thought had already retired, let’s look at the three biggest according to WPA.
3. April 24, 2007. If one wants to fabricate a narrative, one could do worse than saying that Ordonez took the momentum of his big playoff performance in 2006 into 2007 to have a monster year that made his contract look good after the first two disappointingly mediocre years in Detroit. As it turned out, this was really the only year Ordonez ended up being much better than average for Detroit, but if you are going to have just one good season, eight wins is pretty nice (of course, Ordonez had some good seasons earlier during his years in Chicago, if not nearly on the level of his 2007).
Ordonez also had some very big “clutch” hits in 2007. On April 24, the Tigers were getting stomped by the Angels. Detroit was down 7-0 in the fourth, but by the ninth inning they had clawed back to 7-6. With one out, Gary Sheffield (what, you don’t remember his Detroit years?) doubled, and then stole third. Ordonez followed up with home run (.478 WPA) that put the Tigers up. Sadly for Detroit, that was not enough, as the Angels tied things up in the bottom of the ninth and ended up winning in extra innings.
2. April 17, 1999. Way back in 1999, Ordonez was having his first good season as a young player on the White Sox, and Carlos Beltran was an exciting rookie center fielder for the Royals. Hey, their pitching may not have been that great, but with all that young talent like Beltran, Johnny Damon, Mike Sweeney, and Jermaine Dye, the Royals were sure to dominate for years to come! Our Time!
The Royals jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but by the top of the ninth, their lead was down to 5-3. Still, the Royals probably had this one in the bag. Legendary closer Jeff Montgomery (who would finish his dream farewell season with a 6.84 ERA and 5.20 FIP) managed to get to two outs… but also loaded the bases in the process. As young Magglio went to the plate, you just knew what was going to happen: Ordonez hit a liner to second, scoring two, but Beltran added an error to allow Mr. Wheelz Frank Thomas to come around and score from first, putting the White Sox up for the first time, and for good (.644 WPA). True. Blue. Tradition.
1. September 10, 2007. It is fitting that Ordonez’ biggest hit according to WPA came near the end of his one great season for Detroit. The Tigers had been fighting back from behind the whole game against Roy Halladay. In the bottom of the ninth, Halladay got two outs on a double play before the Tigers managed to get two runners on. Halladay came out of the game, and Casey Janssen (yes, he has been around that long) came in. With runners on second and third and two outs, Curtis Granderson singles to drive in both runners to make the score 4-3. The Tigers still had a win probability under 20 percent. However, Janssen have up a single to Placido Polanco and walked Gary Sheffield. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, and the crowd chanting “MVP,” Ordonez came to the plate and delivered a two-run single (.710 WPA) to win the game for Detroit.