DETROIT — The ball sailed deep toward the left-field seats off Magglio Ordonez's bat – in a video on the Comerica Park scoreboard this time – and the crowd cheered its approval of one of the greatest moments in Tigers history.
Ordonez officially announced his retirement Sunday, and Detroit fans had a chance to celebrate his stellar career in a ceremony before the Tigers hosted the New York Yankees. Among the highlights was a video tribute that included Ordonez's pennant-winning home run in Game 4 of the 2006 AL championship series.
"Big hit after big hit, leadership qualities," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We'll also always smile – in 2006, in that fourth game of the ALCS – when we see that ball going over the left-field fence, for one of the biggest hits in Detroit Tigers history."
The 38-year-old Ordonez finishes his career with a .309 average over 15 seasons with Detroit and the Chicago White Sox. His 294 homers are the second-most by a Venezuela-born player, trailing only Andres Galarraga's 399.
In 2007, the year after his ALCS homer eliminated Oakland, he became the first Tiger to win the batting title in 46 years. He hit .363 that year – the highest average by a Detroit player since 1937 – with 28 home runs, 54 doubles and 139 RBIs.
"I'm happy. I'm at peace," Ordonez said at a news conference shortly before the on-field ceremony. "I think the way that I left the game was the right way. I went to the playoffs, I did good 15 years in the big leagues, playing at a good level. I'm really proud."
Ordonez had family in attendance at his announcement, along with Dombrowski, Detroit owner Mike Ilitch and Tigers manager Jim Leyland.
"As a manager, one of your biggest thrills is to watch the best players in the world play the game, and I can't tell Magglio what a treat it was for me to have watched him play on a daily basis," Leyland said, choking up as he spoke. "I think the best thing that I can say to Magglio is, a manager has players over the years, and not all of them become friends, but you've become a friend."
Ordonez was hitting .303 in July 2010 when he broke his right ankle sliding into home. He needed surgery, and although he played in 92 games last year, he hit a career-worst .255 with only five homers. Detroit won the AL Central, but Ordonez fractured his ankle again during the playoffs.
He and the Tigers parted ways, and that ended up being it for his career.
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy to sign another contract. Two fractured ankles, my age," Ordonez said. "I got in good shape, but I didn't receive any offer, any nice offer, to come back to the big leagues. Only minor leagues."
Although Ordonez may be best remembered for his pennant-winning homer and batting title with Detroit, he became a star with the White Sox. He made his debut with them in 1997, and from 1999-2003, he hit .312, averaging 32 homers and 118 RBIs per season.
"They signed me when I was 17 years old and they always gave me a chance to play. If it wasn't for the White Sox, I wouldn't be here 15 years," Ordonez said. "The fans always support me, the organization, too. They were great to me."
Ordonez was limited to 52 games in 2004 because of calf and knee problems, and he signed with the Tigers after that season. He had injury problems again in 2005, but when 2006 started, both he and his new team were ready for a resurgence.
Dressed in a suit and sunglasses, Ordonez made the long walk in from right field during his pregame ceremony, waving to fans along the way.
By then, Leyland had already set the tone.
"I thank you for all the wonderful things you did for me, all the respect you showed me and all the respect you showed your teammates," the veteran manager said, his voice cracking. "You'll be missed. I love you."