Rey Ordonez: 1999 N.L. Wildcard Champion Mets Short Stop (1996-2003)
Reinaldo (Pereira) Ordonez was born January 11, 1971 in Havana, Cuba. He was a promising young player in Havana, but defected from Cuba to become the second player in MLB history to do so.
In 1993 he was signed by the New York Mets, and quickly became a highly touted defensive short stop often compared with Ozzie Smith. He went through the ranks of the minors & by 1995 was at AAA Norfolk as the Tides number one short stop. He played a fine defense but batted just .214.
In 1996 he surprised everyone at Mets Spring Training, making the club & Manager Dallas Green named him the starting short stop. He debuted on opening day 1996 and quickly lived up to his defensive billing. That day, he threw out a St. Louis Cardinals base runner at home plate while throwing from his knees, helping secure the Mets 7-6 win. Although he was known for his glove, he batted over .300 in his rookie year as far as early June.
On September 13th he even had a game winning base hit, when he singled in the bottom of the 8th inning off Dean Hartgraves & the Atlanta Braves. In his rookie season at short stop he was second in put outs, assists & errors committed while turning 102 double plays. He batted .257 with 12 doubles one HR & 30 RBIs, coming in fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting.
In 1997 Ordonez won the first of three straight gold gloves, making only nine errors in 118 games, while leading the league in fielding (.983%). On April 28th he had a big day at the plate in Montreal, as he drove in three runs gathering up two hits. In the top of the 10th he had a base hit off Expos reliever Lee Smith, scoring Alex Ochoa & Todd Hundley with the games winning runs. On May 10th he drove in one of two runs in Bobby Jones three hitter over the St. Louis' Cardinals.
On May 26th he drove in another game winning run, with a base hit off Montreal's Ugeth Urbina. He then went on the DL missing over a month of action. On September 2nd, he hit his only HR of the season, it came at Shea Stadium off Toronto's Kelvin Escobar, in an 8-5 Mets win. He finished the year batting .216 with one HR 5 doubles & 33 RBIs.
He began 1998 with a game winning top of the 9th inning hit, off Milwaukee's Bob Wickman in a 2-1 Mets win over the Brewers. In the month he hit safely in 15 of 18 games. Later in the year he helped a Mets winning effort against the St. Louis Cardinals with a 7th inning single off Darin Oliver tying up the game.
On September 15th he hit his only HR of the year, a solo shot off the Astros Sean Reynolds in Houston. Later in the game in the top of the 11th, Ordonez doubled off Scott Elarton putting the Mets ahead, although they eventually lost the game.
On the field, he posted a .975 fielding % turning 82 double plays with 265 puts outs (second in the NL). He was never known as a good hitter but he was a pretty good sacrifice bunter, posting 15 sac hits in 1998 (2nd in the NL).Overall he batted .246 with one HR 20 doubles & 42 RBIs.
In 1999 for the NL Wild Card Champion Mets,he had one of baseballs all time best seasons at short stop. He made only four errors in 154 games, posting a .994 fielding percentage (best in the league) and set a record for 101 error less games extending into the 2000 season.
He was second in assists third in put outs & games played, turning over 91 double plays.
The 1999 Mets infield was dubbed “The Best defensive infield ever” by many critics and it got them to a Wild Card berth & NLCS appearance.
At the plate he hit the best in his Mets career, batting .258 with 24 doubles two triples & 60 RBIs posting a .319 on base %. On April 23rd his sac fly in the top of the 9th inning off the Cubs Rod Beck led to a 6-5 Mets win at Wrigley Field.
A week later he had a three RBI day in a 8-5 win over the Padres. In June he hit well enough to get his average over .300. He had a big four hit day on June 8th during an inter league game with the Toronto Blue Jays at Shea Stadium.
He would also have four three hit games in the week of June 17th through June 22nd, which peaked him at .303. Ordonez drove in 14 runs that month as well as scoring 12 runs. On July 10th he had two sac flies driving in two runs in the Mets 10-8 win in the subway series Saturday matchup.
His hitting certainly cooled off but not before he was able to drive in ten runs in the final two weeks of August. On September 18th he had the biggest shot of his career when he hit a grand slam HR at Shea Stadium, off the Phillies Carlton Loewer in the 6th inning of an 11-1 Mets romp.
Post Season: In the 1999 NLDS Ordonez had an RBI single off Arizona’s Randy Johnson in Game #1 in the Mets 8-4 win. In Game #3 he drove in the game's first run with a single, as New York went on to win it 9-3. He batted .286 in that Series then went 1-24 against the Atlanta Braves in the NLCS.
After enjoying success as one of baseball’s best fielding shortstops in the late nineties, it all went downhill at the turn of the century.
On May 29th 2000, he got injured in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers while trying to tag out F.P. Santangelo at second base. Ordonez fractured his arm, & missed the rest of the regular season, as the Mets went on to win the NL Pennant & go to the World Series.
He had played in just 45 games, batting .188 with a .965 fielding % at short. He would never fully recover from this injury & be the same type of impact player. The Mets eventually went after Mike Bordick from the Baltimore Orioles to fill Ordonez’s role though the regular & post seasons.
In 2001 Bordick went back to Baltimore via free agency & Ordonez was back at short stop for the Mets. He did well defensively as he posted a .980 fielding % which was second in the NL, helped turn 79 double plays & was in the league's top five in assists as well as put outs.
On April 12th he drove in the only run of the game with a 10th inning single off Atlanta's Kelly Ligtenberg driving in Todd Zeile. On May 15th he once again drove in the only run of the game, with a base hit off the Padres Bobby Jones in the 5th inning. On August 25th Ordonez drove in the walk off winning run, as he singled off the San Franciscos Giants Rod Beck with one out breaking a 2-2 tie. On the year he batted .247 with 3 HRs 24 doubles 44 RBIs & a .299 on base %.
In 2002 the Mets added Roberto Alomar up the middle with Ordonez and even though it sounded like a great combination up the middle, it turned out to be a nightmare. The two turned over 82 double plays, but Ordonez made 19 errors at short, the most since his rookie year. The club struggled, falling to fifth place after getting to the World Series just two years prior.
Although Ordonez batted .252 (his third best Mets career average) it was a time of inflated stats & his numbers were certainly very small. He also was having issues with his arm that was now affecting his play defensively. A shortstop that couldn’t hit well and had a bad arm was certainly doomed in New York.
Ordonez was soon getting booed by the Shea faithful and the media bashed him as well. Then Rey made the mistake of calling the Mets fans “too stupid”. His legacy as a great short stop was ruined and he was quickly shipped to the Tampa Rays for Russ Johnson.
ALL TIME METS LIST: Ordonez is third on the Mets All time list with games played at short stop (907). He has played in 916 Mets games (14th all time).
He played there for one season in just 34 games & a then played 23 games in Chicago with the Cubs in 2004 before retiring at age 33.
In his career he played 973 games posting a 976 fielding % making 102 errors in 4199 chances, with 567 double plays. He hit .246 with 767 hits, 12 HRs 129 doubles 17 triples 287 RBIs & a .289 on base %.
Retirement: In 2004 he became a legal U.S. citizen and resides in Searingtown Long Island with his wife & two daughters.
In 2013 due to changing U.S. policies toward travel to Cuba, Ordonez returned to his native land & was given a hero's welcome in Havana. He revisited his birth place & was reunited with family & friends.