Next winter Omar Vizquel will be on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time. And there is no doubt his candidacy will inspire a lot of debate.
He has some detractors, like Keith Law, and a lot of supporters. And I for one am looking for to the debate on his Cooperstown merits. I will find them to be refreshing.
When I got this Fleer Update card in 1989, Vizquel was still a prospect with his stats on the back, ending in 1988, showing not one game played yet in the majors.
He would go on to homer in 4 different decades, play for 24 seasons, pile up Gold Gloves and come tantalizingly close to 3,000 hits.
And of course Omar Vizquel is part of one of the most bananas rivalry with another player in baseball history.
Signed by the Mariners out his native Venezuela, he was part of a rebuilding Seattle squad of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In his first year with the Mariners he played along side mainstays like Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds and Mark Langston. But Ken Griffey Jr was there. As was Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and eventually Randy Johnson. The ground work was being lain down for the Seattle renaissance that was 1995.
The 22 year old Vizquel didn’t hit much but he could field and looked like he was going to be a mainstay in the infield. He played 5 seasons in Seattle but with the Mariners drafting Alex Rodriguez, Vizquel looked expendable. He was sent packing to the Indians for stopgap infielder Felix Fermin and switch hitting first baseman Reggie Jefferson.
Needless to say it was a steal for Cleveland. If he couldn’t take place in Seattle’s renaissance then why not rebirth in Cleveland?
He arrived in Cleveland for the 1994 season and the opening of Jacobs Field. Along side Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar Jr and Carlos Baerga, he slid in perfectly to the insanely talented Tribe. The 1994 pennant run was cut short by the strike but Cleveland was ready to contend in a big way in 1995.
Vizquel won his third straight Gold Glove in 1995 and the Indians stampeded to the AL Central title. Vizquel didn’t hit much in the post season but his glove remained sparkling as the Indians got to Game 6 of the World Series before falling to Atlanta.
In an era of superstar shortstops like the veteran Cal Ripken and young phenoms Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Edgar Renteria and Miguel Tejada, the consensus pick for best defensive shortstop was Vizquel.
He was a fan favorite and a heart throb in Cleveland. And his remarkable defense helped the Indians get to the 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with the lead and a chance to win their first World Series title since 1948.
That’s when the seeds of the strange feud were planted. Jose Mesa blew the save in the 9th inning and the Marlins would go on to win the World Series in the 11th.In Vizquel’s autobiography, he threw Mesa under the bus.
Vizquel talked about visiting Mesa on the mound during that fateful 9th inning.
“Unfortunately, Jose’s own eyes were vacant. Completely empty. Nobody home. You could almost see right through him.”
Ouch. Mesa vowed to his Vizquel every time he faced him and expressed a desire to murder his former teammate.
He did indeed his Vizquel the first time they faced each other. Mesa hit him again the second time, a fill 9 years after the 1997 World Series. It cooled down afterwards but it was kind of fun to see a blood feud in the game.
In the end Vizquel played 24 seasons, compiled 2877 hits, 3 trips to the All Star Game and 11 Gold Gloves.
Of course Gold Gloves are subjective and he seems to benefit from the not always reliable “eye ball test” and the memory on being on so many Sports Center Highlights with Cleveland just as ESPN was exploding.
He played with the Giants, White Sox, Rangers and Blue Jays as his career wound down. Starting next winter the merits of that career will be evaluated and debated for Hall of Fame consideration. Baseball-Reference compares him to Ozzie Smith, Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville, all Hall of Famers.
But what will be refreshing about the Vizquel debate is it will be about baseball and merit, not drugs and biology.
Part of me wants to see Vizquel get in for no other reason than to get Jose Mesa’s reaction.
I bet he will throw at Vizquel during his speech!