Reputations precede you in pro sports. And they can enslave you.
It’s easy to spoil us—we who don’t play the game. We who merely watch and follow and pound out Tweets and blister athletes in 140 characters or less.
We got used to Magglio Ordonez, the Tigers right fielder. Every late winter/early spring, when the reports of how the Tigers were shaping up started to flitter in from Florida, we’d do a mental evaluation, position-by-position. When we came to Maggs, it was a simple evaluation.
A batting average north of .300, 20 to 30 home runs, threatening 100 RBI, at least.
There was no need to fret over Ordonez. He was a pure hitter, born to hit .300. He was as reliable as tomorrow’s sunrise.
Someone once said of a natural born hitter, “He could roll out of bed on Christmas Day and slap a base hit.”
That was Ordonez. He won a batting title with the Tigers in 2007 and followed that with a strong 2008. He has a career BA of .312, and has banged out over 2,000 hits. So why worry about a guy like that?
Turn back the clock 12 months and recall, if you will, what they were saying about Ordonez.
The numbers were shocking in their lack of punch.
One year ago today, Magglio was hitting .274, with a measly three homers and but 24 RBI.
There were some factors. A nagging injury. Some personal matters. A pending contract kicker, based on number of at-bats.
They started calling him a singles hitter, a Punch-and-Judy guy. His power was gone, and so his career must be soon to follow.
Manager Jim Leyland even tried the most desperate of solutions when a hitter stops hitting: the benching.
I’ve never understood how a guy is supposed to work his way out of a slump by sitting in the dugout all day, but that’s just me.
They looked at Ordonez’s age, saw that it was 35, and that only made matters worse.
The words began to be whispered: done; washed up; a has-been.
If you need some perspective, look no further than the great Ted Williams.
You heard me.
Teddy Ballgame. The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived. Teddy’s words, by the way.
Williams was 41 years old in 1959 and suffering with a pinched nerve in his neck.
The nagging injury limited Williams to 272 at-bats and—get this—a .254 batting average.
.254?? Ted Williams?
.254 and Ted Williams go together like sardines and ice cream.
He was 41 and it looked over with.
But Williams was determined not to let his last season in the big leagues read .254 next to it.
He got healthy with his neck and came back for one more year.
In 310 AB in 1960, Williams hit .316 and slammed 29 HR—one every 10.7 AB.
He knocked one out at Fenway Park in his final career at-bat, into the teeth of a strong wind.
THEN he retired.
Ordonez is back.
He’s hitting .322, with 10 HR and 49 RBI. That’s .048, seven and 25 better than last year at this time. The ball again explodes from his bat. The swing is back to its upper cut smoothness.
It’s more, well, Ordonez-ish.
Seems like he hasn’t forgotten how to hit, after all.
And his resurgence is a huge reason why the Tigers’ 3-4-5 hitters are among the best in baseball right now.
We should have known better.
Pavarotti doesn’t suddenly start singing out of key. Wolfgang Puck doesn’t forget ingredients. Stephen King doesn’t start writing romances.
Magglio Ordonez is a hitter. It’s what he does. He’s no more washed up, at age 36, than Austin Jackson.
We should have known better.