Magglio Ordo�ez is proving to be well worth the rich investment the Tigers made
IN EARLY 2005,
when Magglio Ordo�ez was a free-agent outfielder, his meeting with Tigers owner
Mike Ilitch was going so well that Ilitch pushed a pencil and a piece of paper
toward him and asked him to name his price. Ordo�ez, who had hit .306 in eight
seasons with the White Sox but had played in only 52 games in '04 because of a
knee ailment, had been virtually ignored by most clubs and didn't know what to
make of the surprise gesture. So he did what he would never do in the batter's
box: He froze. "I got scared," says Ordo�ez, who decided to let his
agent work out the details.
Little Caesars restaurant king who makes bold business decisions and wanted
Ordo�ez signed within the time it takes to make Pizza!Pizza!, eventually locked
up Ordo�ez for a stunning $75 million guaranteed over five years with the deal
potentially growing to $105 million over seven depending on the player's health
and performance. Through Sunday neither could be better: Ordo�ez, who had
missed only eight games since the start of 2006, led the American League in
batting average (.362), runs (50), hits (75), doubles (28), total bases (142),
slugging (.686) and RBIs (52) and is the early favorite for the AL MVP award.
"It almost seems like everyone else is a Little Leaguer," says Tigers
first baseman Sean Casey. "He's homering to all parts of the park. If
there's an RBI out there, he's going to get it."
Ordo�ez, 33, had
been suffering from bone marrow edema in his left knee, and after two
surgeries, including one done in Vienna, no front-office exec felt Ordo�ez was
worth the gamble—including Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. Ilitch
recalls that his G.M. told him the team doesn't give five-year contracts.
"He was trying to protect me," Ilitch says, "and I appreciate
Detroit rolled the dice on another high-profile free agent, Gary Sheffield. Now
sandwiched at cleanup between Sheffield and shortstop Carlos Guillen, Ordo�ez
is having his best season by far. Yet he still ranked seventh among AL
outfielders in the latest All-Star balloting results, prompting Guillen to ask,
"What are people thinking in this country?"
Ordo�ez has maintained a low profile despite being an excellent all-around
player with a beautiful righthanded swing. He has gotten the most attention for
his curly and lush mane. "I've got to grow my hair long so my face doesn't
look quite so round," he says. That self-deprecating manner was one of the
things about Ordo�ez that impressed Ilitch. "He showed he was a humble
person," the owner says.
after the Tigers lost 119 games in 2003, Ilitch pushed to sign such free agents
as catcher Ivan Rodriguez in '04, Ordo�ez the next year and lefthander Kenny
Rogers before the '06 season; at the same time Dombrowski was making impact
trades for righthander Jeremy Bonderman, Guillen and second baseman Placido
After taking two
out of four from Cleveland last weekend, Detroit was 32--24 and 2 1/2 games
behind the Indians in the AL Central, in good position to make another
postseason run, particularly if Rogers (blood clot) and reliever Joel Zumaya
(ruptured tendon in right middle finger) come back strong and if Ordo�ez stays
hot. Adjusting his swing so he can drive the ball to all fields (he has a .385
average in spacious Comerica Park) is one of the steps Ordo�ez has taken to
improve his hitting, but the key is his knee. "I'm healthy and feeling
good," says Ordo�ez. "I never had any doubts about the knee."
ONLY AT SI.COM
Catch Jon Heyman's Daily Scoop.