Lemon and Maggs were popular in Detroit and Chicago

Magglio Ordonez and Chet Lemon were popular stars in both Chicago and Detroit.

Magglio Ordonez and Chet Lemon were popular stars in both Chicago and Detroit.

As far as geographic rivalries go, there are few as visceral as the one between the cities of Chicago and Detroit. The two “working class” burgs are separated by fewer than 300 miles along the I-94 corridor. They each want to lay claim to the title as “Champion of the Midwest,” but each has their own issues to address before they can puff their chest with pride.

For Chicago they have an inferiority complex – no matter what they do, no matter how they try to pose – they are never going to be New York.

As for Detroit, there’s a SUV-sized chip on their shoulder and the unfortunate reality that the city has been bleeding people for decades.

Success on the playing fields can bring a reprieve from such anxiety, and for both Chicago and Detroit, recent seasons have helped. At times they’ve battled head-on, as in the White Sox/Tigers rivalry, the annual pair of games between the Bears and Lions, and most fervently in clashes on the ice between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings.

It was about New York that Ol’ Blue Eyes crooned “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…” It’s rare when a player can make it in both Chicago and Detroit. Very few have done so. Chris Chelios spent equal parts of his career in Chicago and Detroit, but won Stanley Cups in Motown. Fans in downtown Detroit don’t seem to be choking on the beers and burgers he slings at “Cheli’s” just a few steps from Comerica Park. Meanwhile, he is (although somewhat reluctantly) accepted back in Chicago after wearing the Winged Wheel.

Two ballplayers found success and accolades in both cities, each as heroic outfielders who made a personal connection to Detroit fans.

When Steve Kemp was traded to the White Sox after the 1981 season, most Tiger fans were outraged. Kemp was a lunch-pail sort of guy with a five o’clock shadow and a ferocious swing that endeared him to Detroit faithful. Usually, Kemp drove in about 90-100 runs, but the Tiger front office noticed something that most fans didn’t – Kemp’s bat had slowed. In return for their RBI-man, the Tigs received Chet Lemon, a center fielder made to play in spacious Tiger Stadium’s middle pasture. Over the next nine seasons, Chester won over Tiger fans with his stellar defense, headfirst slides into first base, home run swing, and especially his bright, wide smile. Lemon was a joy to the fans, his teammates, and his manager.

“I won’t worry about nothing in center field as long as that guy’s out there,” Sparky Anderson said during the height of the 1980s. Lemon ran down almost everything that was hit into center and often balls that were sent to right and left too. He hit 20 homers in ’84 when the Bengals won the World Series, the last one they’ve won.

When Magglio Ordonez was a free agent following the 2004 season he was a risky proposition. After five seasons where he averaged 32 homers, 40 doubles, 187 hits, 118 RBI, and .312 for the Pale Hose, Ordonez suffered an injury in ’04 and missed more than half of the schedule. But in the midst of trying to regain respectability, the Tigers opened up the vault and paid Maggs to come east to Detroit. The right fielder went 0-for-10 in three games for the Tigers before going down with injury in April of 2005. It looked like the signing might prove to be a gigantic bust. But three months later he returned and he hit a home run in his first game back. The right-handed slugger hit .302 in ’05 and was pretty much at .300 from then on as a Tiger. In 2007 he hit .363 and raked 54 doubles in one of the best seasons ever by a right-handed batter in Tiger history. Of course, in Game Four of the ’06 ALCS at Comerica Park he cemented his place in Detroit lore when he socked a home run to win the pennant. The Tigers are going to the World Series!

Ordonez was a warrior in floppy long hair during his tenure in Detroit: fighting through nagging back and leg injuries, playing as hard as he could, always being a good teammate. By the time he retired from the game in 2011, the veteran was a Detroit icon, one of the most beloved men to wear the Old Englisg D in a very long time. He excelled in both Chicago and Detroit: he is one of only three players in baseball history to have a career .300 average with two teams for whom he played at least 800 games. Maggs hit .307 as a member of the Sox and .312 as a Tiger.

For Detroit and Chicago to both lay claim to the same athlete as one of their own is rare, but due to their agreeable personalities and hustle, Lemon and Ordonez are exceptions to the rule. As a result, they can are sure to get free drinks in either city.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.