Omar Vizquel was inducted into the Indians’ Hall of Fame prior to Saturday’s game against the Tigers.
Next stop, Cooperstown?
Vizquel’s Hall of Fame worth will undoubtedly be debated by plenty at random points throughout the next four years until the 11-time Gold Glove Award winner and three-time All-Star will be eligible to take his place among Major League Baseball’s greatest in 2018.
He’s already got my vote — and as a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America since 1998, it’s one that counts.
To me, Vizquel is the greatest defensive shortstop ever, and that, my friends, should be good enough to get you into the Hall of Fame.
Nobody in the history of the game played the most magnified position on the field better than the 47-year-old from Caracas, Venezuela. He was better barehanded than many of today’s middle infielders are with their gloves — and way more advanced than the ones I’ve seen from ancient times in the 1920s through 1960s.
The only other shortstop in the game that Vizquel is justifiably compared to defensively is St. Louis Cardinals great Ozzie Smith, who just happens to be in the Hall — inducted in 2002.
Many say Smith was more acrobatic and had more range — I disagree — but his lifetime fielding percentage (.978) pales in comparison to the .985 posted by Vizquel, which still ranks first among all those who have played his position.
Smith won 13 Gold Gloves to Vizquel’s 11 — but Vizquel won them in the American and National Leagues.
The debate is actually a silly one. You’re telling me there’s not room in the hallowed Hall for the two greatest fielding shortstops ever?
It’s possible that I’m biased. Since becoming an Indians beat writer in 1997, I had the luxury of watching Vizquel roam the Jacobs/Progressive Field infield for eight years. And, let me tell you something, it was an honor.
Sure, I saw him more than I saw any other shortstop, but there is this little thing called television highlights. I’ve seen plenty of shortstops from both leagues over my close to 20 years of writing about baseball, and none of them stacked up to “Omarvelous.”
I’m guessing most of those that favor Smith feel the same way about the “Wizard of Oz.”
In my opinion, Vizquel’s offense really shouldn’t even factor into his potential Hall of Fame berth, but fact is, he was far from a slouch at the plate.
Vizquel was a career .272 hitter over 24 seasons in the majors — a respectable average for sure — even after being pulled down a bit during his final years in the big leagues as a part-time player who was used more for his defensive prowess.
And Indians fans will remember that Vizquel was truly a clutch hitter during his days in Cleveland.
Yes, the Tribe employed one of the most potent offenses in big league history, and Vizquel probably saw more good pitches than anyone in the lineup, but he wasn’t just a slap hitter that needed to play small ball to get on base.
Though he was far from a power hitter — despite hitting 14 home runs in 2002 — Vizquel was savvy with the stick, and a number of times throughout his tenure in that power-packed Indians lineup, he hit second.
Was Vizquel an elite hitter? No. Was he an offensive weapon? Though it can be argued, I say, yes.
And besides, whatever you think he did with the bat can’t taint the magical feats he performed with his glove — and bare hand — on countless occasions throughout his storied career.
Vizquel almost assuredly won’t be elected into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. That’s a tall order these days. But if arguably the greatest fielding shortstop to ever play the game doesn’t get in before his eligibility expires, it will be a true travesty.