Each week during the off-season, I will be selecting a random, former Met to highlight. This will be taking place of our usual Friday segment, Rising Apple Player of the Week, until the regular season starts back up in April. If you have a former Met that you’d like me to highlight, please contact me at [email protected]and title your email: Rising Apple Off-Season Player of the Week suggestion.
Today’s Rising Apple player of the week was one of my favorites watching growing up as a kid… Rey Ordonez. The defensive-minded shortstop was born in La Habana, Cuba, and was a promising player for their national team, but became the second Cuban baseball player to defect to America in 1993. After playing 15 games in the Northern League to finish the ’93 season, the Mets signed him as an amateur free agent. As he worked his way through the Mets’ minor league system, Baseball America ranked him as one of the top 20 prospects in the game in 1995 and 1996.
Ordonez made his Big League debut on April 1st, 1996 as he made the club out of Spring Training. He was never expected to be a difference maker with the bat in his hands, as he hit .245/.290/.304 in seven seasons in Flushing, and it was usually a treat when he hit over .250. His defense was more important, and he certainly made a difference in the field. Fans grew to love how he played the position, literally making every play that was in his general area on the field.
After placing fifth in the 1996 Rookie of the Year voting, Ordonez proceeded to win three straight Gold Glove awards from ’97-’99, and was a key cog in the “best infield ever,” which also included Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura, and John Olerud. He set a record for shortstops between 1999 and 2000, as he went 101 consecutive games without making an error. His career .976 fielding percentage of .976 ranks 32nd all-time among those who played the position. The 1999 season was his best overall as a Met, when he posed a .258/.319/.317 line with 1 homer, 60 RBI, and 49 runs scored to go with his Gold Glove defense. New York was hoping for more of the same in 2000, but Ordonez struggled out of the gate with a .188/.278/.226 line before breaking his collarbone, spurring Steve Phillips to acquire Mike Bordick for their run to the World Series.
Unfortunately for Rey, he was never able to recapture his production from 1999. He spent two more years with the Mets, but after posting consecutive sub-.300 on-base percentage seasons, New York decided to trade him and start moving in a different direction. You know, with that young player that went by the name of Jose Reyes.
After he left New York, Ordonez spent a year with both the Devil Rays and the Cubs. What’s surprising to me is that he did have a solid year in Tampa Bay, hitting .316/.328/.487 in 34 games played, including 3 homers and 22 RBI. The only other time Ordonez hit more than one home run in a season was in 2001 with New York, when it took him 461 at-bats to do so. It’s sad, but if any player had a surge in power during that time, my initial thought is steroids. Rey was never connected to any of those reports, and as we can see, he didn’t make much of an impact at the plate following his career with the Amazins.
He hooked on with the Cubs in 2004, but didn’t get much playing time, as he only appeared in 23 games and put together a .164/.190/.262 line, effectively being the end of his Major League Baseball career. He had a chance to make the Padres roster, but Khalil Greene beat him out, and he didn’t get a chance again to make a Big League team until 2007 with the Mariners. Unfortunately for the 35-year-old (at the time), he was the last one cut, and was never able to find a spot on an MLB roster again.
So, here’s to you, Mr. Ordonez. As a young and impressionable child, I looked up to the way you played defense, and admired you for it. I’m sorry you didn’t get to end your career on your own terms, but sadly, not many of us are able to. Thanks for helping bring New York Mets baseball back to relevancy in the late ’90s.