Here are the five greatest Latin-born players to ever wear the uniform of the Detroit Tigers:
#5 Aurelio Rodriguez
His 1,241 games are the most played for the Tigers by a Latin-born player. The happy man from Mexico was a wizard with the leather, earning a Gold Glove in 1976. He had the strongest infield arm in franchise history (with apologies to Lou Whitaker, Travis Fryman, and Brandon Inge) and may have had the strongest arm in all of baseball in his era. Rodriguez didn’t hit much but he did enough to stay in the lineup, providing excellent defense for Detroit from 1971 to 1979.
#4 Aurelio Lopez
Also from Mexico, Lopez was a fireballer in the pen for the Tigers from 1979-1985, first as their closer, then as a setup man for Willie Hernandez. Lopez saved 85 games for Sparky Anderson’s club and was good for about 120 innings per season. He was a workhorse out of the bullpen in an era when relievers would toss 2-3 innings instead of facing a single batter as they often do today. Along with Hernandez he formed a terrific bullpen duo during the Tigers roar to the World Series title in 1984. Like Rodriguez, Lopez died far too soon, at the age of 44 in 1992.
#3 Magglio Ordonez
Now in his seventh season with the Tigers, the Venezualan native has done it all for the Tigers since he signed as a free agent in 2005. The right fielder has been an All-Star twice and in 2007 he became the first Tiger to win a batting title since Norm Cash in 1961. In the 2006 ALCS his homer against the A’s sent the Tigers to the World Series in walk-off fashion. Since joining Detroit, Magglio has a .317 average with the team, having been above the .300 mark in five of his six full seasons. At some point in 2011, if Mags is healthy, he will pass Aurelio Rodriguez for most hits by a Latin-born Tiger.
#2 Miguel Cabrera
Born in Venezuala, Miguel Cabrera turned 28 years old last month and is under contract with Detroit through 2015. When it’s all said and done he’ll be first on this list and rank among the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. The slugger already has more than 250 homers and 300 doubles for his career, which also features a .314 average. In his first three seasons as a Tiger, Cabrera has won a home run title and a RBI title. He’s also led the league in on-base percentage, been an All-Star, and finished second in MVP voting in 2010. If he keeps on his pace he will join Hank Greenberg as the only Tigers with more than 400 homers.
#1 Willie Hernandez
It’s important to remember that the trade that brought Hernandez to the Tigers just prior to the start of the 1984 season was very unpopular at the time. Detroit sent favorites John Wockenfuss and Glenn Wilson to Philadelphia in that deal for Hernandez and Dave Bergman. It turned out to be one of the best trades in franchise history. The left-handed Hernandez converted his first 32 save opportunities of the season while pitching in 80 games and finishing 68. And since the Puerto Rican logged more than 140 innings, Willie was far from a one-inning closer. For his amazing season, which included a 1.80 ERA, Hernandez was named the American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner. He had a great season again in 1985 and ultimately saved 120 games for the Tigers in six seasons.
Honorable mention: Ivan Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, Fernando Rodney