Saturday, June 2, 2012

Who remembers “Oh- ee-oh” echoing through streets of Armour Square?

It seems that Kerry Wood won’t be the only ballplayer this season who decides to have a mid-season retirement to make their withdrawal from the major leagues a tad more dramatic.

For Magglio Ordoñez, the Detroit Tigers outfielder who was a significant part of that American League championship ballclub they had in 2006 but whose career in recent years has become dominated by injuries, has said that Sunday will be his final ballgame.

HE’S GONE AFTER the weekend series against the New York Yankees.

Although a part of me kind of wishes he could have held out until July 20-22 – the weekend that the Tigers host the Chicago White Sox – which we all remember was the ballclub that brought him up to the major leagues and for whom he played his first seven seasons.

He may have left on crummy terms (he was injured during 2004 and was demanding a fairly big-money contract, even though many in baseball were unsure he’d ever play again). But during his time at New Comiskey Park, he was one of the White Sox’ top ballplayers – and a key part of that team that won a division title in 2000.

Ordoñez also was one of “the Kids.” As in, “The Kids can Play.” That was the marketing slogan used by the White Sox during the 1998 and 1999 seasons. It was meant to imply that while there might not be a championship season either of those years, there were some talented young ballplayers.

SOME PEOPLE LIKE to mock that era by claiming the “kids” amounted to infielder Mike Caruso, who had one respectable season before fading away. But it also was in that era that the White Sox lineup acquired Paul Konerko, along with Carlos Lee and Ordoñez – who were some pretty heavy hitters to accompany likely Hall of Fame member Frank Thomas.

It also was just one year later that the White Sox called up a minor league pitcher named Mark Buehrle, who became the mainstay of the pitching staff for the next decade.

But in my mind, Ordoñez was the primary “kid.” He was a talented ballplayer who seemed to be determined to follow in the Harold Baines mode of athlete. He wouldn’t say squat. Talk about meek-and-mild personalities. Definitely not the chatty type.

Which is why it always surprised me that he wound up being the ballplayer who left on such unpleasant terms, with many White Sox fans continuing to blame his agent, Scott Boras, for urging him to leave Chicago.

EVEN THOUGH THE White Sox were given chances to negotiate for his continued involvement with the ballclub, and the idea of a ballplayer (or any employee) trying to get the best deal for himself shouldn’t be seen as radical.

Of course, the fact that Ordoñez’ replacement, Jermaine Dye, was an integral part of that World Series-winning team of 2005 who scored the winning run in Game Four helped them overcome that.

The fact that Ordoñez wound up winning a batting championship  in 2007 and being part of that AL championship in ’06 with the Tigers makes it easy for many to forget that he ever played in Chicago – even though he played just over 150 more games with the White Sox than he did with Detroit.

But some of us will remember Ordoñez and his time with all those teams that perpetually seemed to finish in second place, just out of the playoff picture.

EVEN IN THAT one playoff appearance with the White Sox, a large part of the reason they lost so easily to the Seattle Mariners was Ordoñez’ .182 batting average. It became too easy to pitch around Thomas’ big bat and overpower Magglio instead.

But that was the low part of the career. He put up the kind of numbers that made it clear he was one of the all-time greats the White Sox had from Venezuela, and in fact may be one of the best U.S. major league ballplayers from that Latin American nation. In my mind, I can still hear the dim echoes of the old chant that used to go up at 35th Street and Shields Avenue whenever Ordoñez would come to bat.

Remember the Wizard of Oz-inspired “Oh-ee-oh” recording that was meant to get fans to chant, “Magg-lee-oh?” It is something that we probably will never hear again at the old ballpark.

It’s almost a shame that we couldn’t have a moment on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field just before the White Sox’ afternoon game against the Mariners when Sox fans could have a “blast from the past” and do one more “Magg-lee-oh” chant for old time’s sake.


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