Guillen and Ordonez may be gone, but not forgotten

Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez celebrate after Mags hit his walk-off homer to send the Tigers to the World Series in 2006.

“I play the game with my heart,” Magglio Ordonez has said. But that heart will be tied to another team in 2012.

The veteran Tiger is one of a pair of former Tigers who will be playing elsewhere this season, after years of success in the “Old English D”. Neither Ordonez nor Carlos Guillen will be back with Detroit in 2012. Their exit closes one chapter on the era of rebirth of baseball in the Motor City.

The ankle injury suffered by Ordonez in the American League Championship Series last October was exactly what it seemed like – the final gasp of his career as a Tiger. It was a great run, one filled with historic moments and affection.

Ordonez will go down as one of the most popular Tigers ever; his all-out play, clutch hits, big smile, and bushy hair indelibly stamped in franchise lore. The pinnacle was his bottom-of-the-ninth home run in Game Four of the 2006 ALCS off Oakland closer Huston Street that clinched the pennant at Comerica Park. For Tiger fans of this generation that moment is as thrilling as Kirk Gibson’s homer in GAme Five of the ’84 Series or Jim Northrup’s triple in the ’68 Series was to the fans before them. It’s a “where were you when it happened” moment that will never fade away.

But Maggs was far more than a one-shot affair. In 2007 he had one of the best seasons ever by a right-handed hitting Tiger. He led the Al with 54 doubles, scored 117 runs, banged out 216 hits, clubbed 28 homers, drove in 139 runs, and won the batting title with a lofty mark of .363. It was the first Tiger batting title in 46 years. he finished second in MVP voting, and it was the second of three straight years where he drove in at least 100 runs. In his seven years in a Detroit uniform, the right fielder hit .300 five times, and .298 once. He also inspired fans with his enthusiasm; prompting the sale of thousands of “Maggs Wigs”.

Guillen joined the Tigers for the 2004 season, a year after the 119-loss nightmare. The switch-hitting shortstop was a big reason the team improved by nearly 30 games. He hit .318 with 20 homers and 97 RBI in his first season as a Tiger. Proving it was no fluke, he batted .320 in each of the next two seasons, having his best all-around year in ’06 as the team won the pennant in Jim Leyland’s first season at the helm. He batted .571 with four extra-base hits including a homer, in the ALDS victory over the New York Yankees. In 2007 Guillen was a key offensive piece again, hitting .296 with a career high 21 homers and 102 RBI. Injuries over the next four seasons robbed Guillen of his effectiveness, but he was still one of the veteran leaders and dangerous bats in the lineup. Finally, by 2011, it was obvious that Guillen’s oft-injured legs were shot. He and his goof friend Magglio were told midway through the ’11 season that they would likely not be back in 2012.

Now, at 37 and 26 years old respectively, Odronez and Guillen are hoping to get a shot with other teams. Given their track records at the plate, some team (most likely an AL club) will will probably offer them a one-year deal or at least an invite to spring training. Hopefully the two veterans will get the chance to go out on their own terms.

“Magglio and Carlos are tremendous pros who’ve done a lot for our organization,” GM Dave Dombrowski told the Detroit News in November.

They will be missed, but the memories will last forever.