Tigers pay tribute as Magglio hangs up cleats

Tigers pay tribute as Magglio hangs up cleats

DETROIT -- Magglio Ordonez didn't want his career to end on the field in Texas during last year's American League Championship Series. He didn't want a broken right ankle to force him to retire. He never got back on the field, but he worked his way back to the point that he could have.

More important for Ordonez, he got to retire at home in Comerica Park. Sunday was Magglio's day.

"It's hard to retire," Ordonez said on Sunday morning. "I'm going to miss baseball always, but this time was going to come."

Among the things Ordonez was going to miss, he said, was the smell of the grass on the field. Fittingly, then, he got one more chance to walk in from the outfield that he manned for many years.

Ordonez strolled in from right field in a suit, not a uniform, and he wasn't going to get a chance to swing the bat. But as a sellout crowded roared and players from both dugouts stood and applauded, he got one more chance to soak in a big atmosphere.

In this case, it was all for him.

"When you're talking about a true pro and a professional, you're talking about Magglio Ordonez," said Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who helped sign Ordonez in 2005. "And for me, it's been a treat -- as I'm sure it has been for all Tigers fans -- to watch Magglio play for us for the last seven seasons.

"Sometimes you don't realize what you're watching, when somebody goes out there day in and day out and is a true professional, and comes up with clutch hits and sliding catches and big plays. But when you look back, it's just a real treat for all of us that had a chance to watch him play. You're talking about one of the best players in the last couple decades, one of the best players ever from Venezuela, a career over-.300 hitter. And when you talk about that, you're talking about class, first and foremost, and professionalism."

It was a quiet professionalism, and it was fitting then that Ordonez was one of the quietest voices on the field during his pregame ceremony. He didn't have a lengthy speech, and he hid his emotions behind a big pair of sunglasses. Ordonez's former colleagues did most of the talking, and they had plenty of emotions.

Ordonez's former boss, owner Mike Ilitch, compared him with another great he thanked in a retirement announce this week, Red Wings great Niklas Lidstrom.

"Magglio is just an automatic leader and a very, very good-natured man who gets along with everybody," Ilitch said. "Everybody loved him. He's a star, and stars usually have pretty big egos. But Magglio didn't have that big ego, and that's why the guys played hard with him, and he was just special."

Ordonez's former manager, Jim Leyland, had to pause during the news conference to collect his emotions.

"As a manager, one of your biggest thrills is to watch the best players in the world play the game," Leyland said. "And I can't tell Magglio what a treat it was for me to watch him play on a daily basis. I think the best thing that I can say to Magglio is ... a manager has players; not all of them become friends, but you've become a friend. And I thank you for all of the wonderful things you did for me, all the respect you showed me, and all of the respect you showed your teammates. You will be missed. I love you."

Ilitch told the story about flying to Florida to meet with Ordonez to try to recruit him as a free agent in the winter before the 2005 season. When Ordonez's agent, Scott Boras, asked Ilitch what he expected, Ilitch said, he pulled out a championship ring from his hockey team out of his pocket.

"I put it up and I said, 'I want to get one of these rings, but I want it to be a World Series ring,'" Ilitch said. "Well, he felt it was kind of loco, you know, but he knew I was serious about getting a star player."

Ordonez couldn't get Ilitch that World Series ring, but his walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2006 ALCS got him to the Fall Classic. Ordonez's September performances over the years at least gave the Tigers a shot to get back.

The last game Ordonez finished was among them. When he had three hits in Game 5 of the AL Division Series to help lift the Tigers at Yankee Stadium last October, Ordonez stood amid the clubhouse celebration and watched with pride, happy to have played a part in it.

When asked what it meant to retire off that type of performance, Ordonez thought back to that.

"I don't look to my personal numbers," Ordonez said. "I enjoyed it the most when we won and we were celebrating in New York against the Yankees. It was one of the best moments of my career. It was a wonderful and beautiful time."

Fittingly, many Yankees players were standing at the top of the visitors' dugout and applauding as Ordonez made his way to the field. As Ordonez approached the podium, his former teammate, Curtis Granderson, pointed to him. Ordonez pointed back.

"I don't have much to say, because I'm really thankful to have been part of this organization for seven years," Ordonez said. "I spent a wonderful time here in the city. I've had the support from the greatest fans in the world. I'm just happy to be here."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.