Two decades ago, New York Mets shortstop Rey Ordonez was one of the best shortstops in baseball. Let’s take a look back at how great he was.
In the late 1990s, the New York Mets were on the verge of doing something big. Their success reached its high point in 2000 when they faced the New York Yankees in the World Series. Unfortunately, the dynasty in the Bronx got the best of the Mets.
The year 2000 also happened to be an important one for shortstop Rey Ordonez. It was the first season since 1996 when he didn’t win the National League Gold Glove for shortstops. After three years of dominating the position, a season-ending injury cost him a fourth piece of hardware.
Ordonez never would win another Gold Glove. He played only two more full seasons in the big leagues, each with the Mets. He stuck around for two more seasons, struggling to get at-bats in both.
Instead of focusing on how his career ended, I would like to honor Ordonez’s three seasons as the best defensive shortstop in baseball.
Rey Ordonez: King of Shortstops
Ordonez debuted for the Mets in 1996. It was clear he wouldn’t win over Mets fans with his bat. In fact, it was an uphill climb in the field as well. Ordonez committed a stunning 27 errors in his rookie season. At a time when there weren’t many defensive statistics measured, there was no way he would win a Gold Glove.
As a freshman, winning a Gold Glove is never easy. The vote is largely based on reputation. Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Barry Larkin had already won the award in 1994 and 1995. He capped off the trilogy in 1996 with yet another win.
Thereafter, Larkin and the rest of the National League shortstops didn’t stand a chance.
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Ordonez posted a 2.6 WAR on defense that season. Not yet a statistic at the time, the fact that he committed only nine errors all year did most of the work.
Whether you used the eye-test or statistics, you knew Ordonez was something special in the field.
The 1998 season wasn’t quite as strong. Ordonez made 17 errors and saw his defensive WAR drop to 0.3. However, his fielding percentage of .975 was still better than the league average of .968. Having already created a reputation as a great defender, Ordonez won the voters over again.
It was in 1999 when Ordonez reached his peak on defense. If the 4.0 WAR doesn’t make you salivate enough, the fact that he made only four errors all year in 683 opportunities should. His .994 fielding percentage is almost mind-blowing.
The 4.0 WAR Ordonez posted in 1999 is tied for the 19th best by any position player in MLB history. Accomplishing this at shortstop in the 1990s is even more noteworthy. No other player in the decade reached that plateau.
Ordonez’s 1999 season fielding percentage ranks as the fifth history for a shortstop in MLB history. For those curious folk, the best belongs to Mike Bordick. Coincidentally enough, he was the man who replaced Ordonez in 2000 when the former went down with an early-season ending injury.
When he returned in 2001, Ordonez showed signs of declining. Without a bat to justify keeping him in the lineup, his fading glovework cost him a starting job years later.
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The time Ordonez spent atop the shortstop rankings was short, sweet, and awesome. They don’t build them like King Ordonez anymore.