Sunday, January 10, 2010
#495) REY ORDONEZ
Rey Ordonez was signed by the New York Mets as an undrafted free agent on February 8, 1994, following a special lottery to determine which team would be offered his services. The promising young shortstop played for the Havana Industriales team and was the second Cuban baseball player in history to defect to the United States. He left the team during the World University Games that were being held in Buffalo, New York that year. After a stint in the minor leagues, Rey made his highly anticipated major league debut with the Mets at Shea Stadium on April 1, 1996. The Mets were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals and future Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith on Opening Day. Many were comparing the young Ordonez to the "Wizard of Oz" at that time. Rey was an immediate sensation as he pulled off a spectacular relay throw, from his knees, to cut down a Cards runner at the plate. Stunning the hometown crowd and allowing the Mets to complete a 7-6 come-from-behind victory. Mets centerfielder, Lance Johnson was quoted, "Never, ever, ever seen anything like it." Ozzie Smith shrugged at the comparisions and said, "I've heard a lot about this guy, but the thing that determines greatness is time. We'll see."
Ordonez did continue to exhibit a spectacular glove at shortstop (earning him three consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Awards in 1997-1999), but featured a less than stellar bat at the plate. He was an accomplished bunter and contact hitter. Just possessing little power to his swing. Rey would set a Major League record in 1999 by not committing an error at shortstop in his last 100 games.
On May 29, 2000 at Dodger Stadium, Ordonez was attempting to make a tag at second base and fractured his left arm on the play. He had a metal plate and six screws inserted into the arm. It caused him to miss the remainder of the season and a chance to play in the Subway World Series. Upon his return the next year it seemed the injury was having a continued effect on his once amazing defensive skills. After those began to slip his lack of offensive skills became more glaring. When the boos started at Shea Stadium, he called the Mets fans "stupid" in an newspaper article at the close of the 2002 season.
"Thing is, what they put in the paper was "The fans are stupid," Ordonez said, "What I said was, 'The fans are stupid. I want to win. I play hard.' The next day I told the writer I was sorry. He said, "Rey, it's too late this is New York."
Ordonez was traded to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in exchange for Russ Johnson and Josh Pressley on December 15, 2002. The deal also called for the Mets to pay $4.25 millon of the $6.25 million dollars still owed to Rey for the final year of his contract. Years later when asked by WABC-TV about his time in New York he claimed no regrets and said with a smile, "It's my best city."
I created Rey Ordonez's card in the set from an autographed index card that I purchased from Nick of Baseball Happenings on December 29, 2009.