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WSI News - News Watch

Magglio says winning key to popularity

March 24, By Paul Sullivan; Chicago Tribune

TUCSON, Ariz. - Over the last few years, Magglio Ordonez has evolved from secret weapon to perennial All-Star.

Last season he became a $10 million-a-year man and the first player in American League history to hit at least .300 with 40 doubles, 30 homers, 100 RBIs and 25 steals in one season.

Ordonez's name is well known in baseball circles, he's paid handsomely and has become one of the most popular players in Chicago. But he never has come close to the top of the list of AL outfielders in the annual fan voting for the All-Star Game.


Is it simply a matter of marketing? Does Ordonez have to spice up his home run trot to get some national attention? Or will he always be a guy who produces like a superstar yet remains as anonymous as a middle reliever?

"It doesn't really bother me," Ordonez said. "The only thing I want is for the players to respect me and the fans from Chicago to like me. They do like me, so that's all I care about. If the [voters] don't recognize me for what I do, that's OK. Nothing you can do about it."

If the Sox draw better, Ordonez was told, perhaps he finally would get some recognition in the balloting.

"No," he replied. "I think we just need to win. Everyone knows all the Yankees because they're always winning. No one is going to vote for players from a team that's not winning. We need to win."

The Sox started out too slowly last year for Ordonez to get much attention, but Yankees manager Joe Torre selected him as an All-Star reserve for the third straight season. Ordonez stepped to the forefront at the Midsummer Classic in Seattle, going 2-for-3, including a home run off the Cubs' Jon Lieber.

When Frank Thomas was lost for the year in late April, it was Ordonez's chance to prove he can be "the man" in the Sox lineup. He helped lead an offensive turnaround that had the Sox on the edge of contention in August. Now that Thomas is back and Ordonez is sandwiched between the Big Hurt and Paul Konerko, the possibilities are seemingly endless.

So far the new-look offense has been nearly unstoppable. Ordonez is hitting .444 this spring and the Sox's offense is averaging nearly eight runs a game. Much of the credit, Ordonez said, belongs to new leadoff man Kenny Lofton, who has improved both the team chemistry and run production.

"Everyone is getting along now," he said. "Sometimes you need a guy like Kenny, he's always real happy, a good veteran to play with. He's one of the best leadoff hitters in the game too. Last year we started slow, got people hurt. Sometimes you have to have a year like that to fight back.

"Things aren't always going to go easy for you in this game. We got a lot of experience, fighting off adversity, all the talk about contracts, losing players with injuries. It was a hard year, but we came back and did everything we could."

After receiving a three-year contract extension last year worth $29.5 million, making him the team's second-highest-paid player behind Thomas, Ordonez said he feels relaxed and secure. Will success spoil him as it has so many other young stars?

"Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can't make you happy," he said. "I'm the same guy who came here from Venezuela with nothing in my pockets. I don't forget about my people in Venezuela. I don't forget my friends. I don't think money will change me at all."

Ordonez bought a home in Miami last year and spent most of the off-season living in Florida with his wife Dagly and their two children, Magglio Jr. and Maggliana.

"When you have money [in Venezuela], where there are a lot of poor people, you can be in danger," he said. "I decided to move here so my kids can be safer. I still go there every year. People don't bother me there. They know who you are and respect you. There are so many problems in our culture, the only positive things they see in the newspapers is what the big-leaguers are doing in the game."

Ordonez is providing his fans back home with a positive role model and giving the Sox some much-needed inroads in Chicago's Hispanic community. Now all he needs is some Chicago-style ballot-box stuffing this summer to compete for a starting spot on the All-Star team.

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