Former Tiger Polanco is winding down a fine career

Placido Polanco was twice and All-Star for the Detroit Tigers.

Placido Polanco was twice an All-Star for the Detroit Tigers.

In four and a half seasons with the Detroit Tigers, Placido Polanco played the best baseball of his career, so it’s fitting that it was on the field at Comerica Park where two of the most important moments of his life occurred.

On October 14, 2006, Polanco was hugging first base when teammate Magglio Ordonez spirited a home run into the left field stands to win the American League pennant in walk-off fashion. Polanco’s joyous leap as he rounded second base became symbolic of that historic and frenzied moment in Detroit history.

The other moment that Polanco will never forget happened on July 9, 2008, when he and 99 others became American citizens in a ceremony on the diamond prior to a game against the visiting Indians. Born on the tiny island of the Dominican Republic, Polanco fulfilled one of his dreams by completing his transition to the U.S., where the little infielder has always been a favorite of fans everywhere he’s played. This off-season, Polanco is a free agent, though it’s not expected that the Tigers will show any interest in the 38-year old. Polanco hsn’t played as many as 130 games in three years and his offensive output has steadily declined since leaving Detroit via free agency in 2009.

Acquired by the Tigers in one of Dave Dombrowski’s genius trades, Polanco hit .311 in a Detroit uniform and won a pair of Gold Gloves at second base. Polanco hit .341 in 2007, the highest average by a Tiger second baseman in more than 70 years, since Charlie Gehringer in 1936.

What did DD give up to snatch Polanco from the Philadelphia Phillies in the middle of the ’05 season? Try reliever Ugueth Urbina and journeyman utlity infielder Ramon Martinez. Four months later, Urbina was involved in an incident in his native Venezuela where he tried to kill some people he suspected of having previously kidnapped his mother. Urbina was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 14 years in prison. His career was over.* Polanco meanwhile, went on to fill the keystone position for nearly five seasons better than anyone had since Lou Whitaker’s prime.

Many Detroit fans feel the loss of the 5’9 Polanco as a free agent (back to the Phillies) was one of the worst decisions Dombrowski ever made. But, as usual, the Detroit GM was spot on. Polanco has averaged just 21 extra-base hits per season since exiting the Tigers, and like most middle infielders in their mid-30s, he aged quickly and suffered injuries. For that same reason, it was unlikely the Tigers were going to re-sign Omar Infante this winter.

Polanco is nearing the end of his career, the contract he signs this off-season will probably be his last. But he’s been a valuable ballplayer in his 16 seasons so far, and he has a .297 career batting average to go along with his three Gold Gloves and three All-Star selections. For an undersized Dominican – oops, American – that’s not too shabby at all.

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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.