Vizquel joins Indians Hall of Fame

CLEVELAND -- Omar the Magnificent is now Omar the Cleveland Indians Hall of Famer.

The Indians bestowed the honor upon former shortstop Omar Vizquel in front of a near capacity crowd at Progressive Field Saturday night.

Vizquel, the first-base, infield and base-running coach for the Detroit Tigers, who are in town to play a weekend set with the Tribe, was truly humbled to receive one of the club's highest honors for a retired player.

"It's amazing," Vizquel said Friday afternoon. "You take a look back at the career of a guy and there are very few chances you have to be part of a Hall of Fame. I think it's a prestigious thing for any player that you can be mentioned to even be in such a spot, especially with all of the great players that have been playing in this organization for a long time.

"I'm very honored that the Cleveland Indians, or whoever got to select the players, have selected me to be in there. It's very exciting."

The Indians acquired Vizquel in a trade with the Seattle Mariners after the 1993 season in exchange for first baseman Reggie Jefferson, shortstop Felix Fermin and cash, and the Venezuela native went on to spend the next 11 years making breathtaking barehanded plays in the middle of the Tribe's infield.

Vizquel won eight straight Gold Gloves at shortstop and appeared in three All-Star games (1998-1999, 2002) during his time with the Indians.

"I stayed in the big leagues because of my defense, no doubt about it," Vizquel said. "When I came up, I was 21 years old, just learning to switch hit, and the process was complicated for me. My defense is what brought me to the big leagues and kept me in this game for a long time. I take pride in it every day and every Gold Glove that I got. I think it's something that I always carried with me.

"The one guy I have to mention is my dad because he was always the one hitting me ground balls, telling me what to do when I make errors or how to make the play the right way. He played ball a little bit, and he knew about the game. When I was 17 or 18 years old and I signed, he was always watching me to see what I was doing and what I could improve.

"Obviously, a guy that has a strong arm at shortstop is going to make the play differently than a guy that has an average arm like myself. You needed to do something different to get to the ball and get in a position to throw the ball to first base. All the little things I tried to apply on the field when I was practicing, and if it didn't work for me, I'd just leave it to the side and work at it."

Although Vizquel was known more for his defensive wizardry than batting prowess during his time in Cleveland, the .283 hitter had a knack for clutch hits and got on base better than 35 percent of the time. He also proved willing and able of stretching anything into extra bases, as he swiped 279 of his 404 career stolen bases for an Indians team that featured power hitters like Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez, as well as solid contact hitters in Kenny Lofton and Carlos Baerga.

Vizquel was the No. 2 hitter in the batting order for a franchise that won the American League Central Division six times, made seven trips to the postseason, twice won the AL Pennant, and came within an out of winning the 1997 World Series.

"When I came up, I was a .240 hitter," Vizquel said. "It wasn't until three years, four years down the road when I really started coming up with my left-handed stroke and learning how to hit. Having Kenny in front of me obviously opened a lot of holes in the infield and added 30 points to my batting average.

"The protection I had from Carlos Baerga and Albert Belle and whoever was hitting behind me also bailed me out a lot. They put me into the mix, and I learned how to play the game the right way. I used my bunt abilities, my hit-and-run abilities to put the ball on the ground and try to hit the ball the other way. Those are how I survived in the big leagues. I wasn't really here because I could hit the long ball and hit 20 homers. It was my game. I understood my game, and I just think I applied it to the lineup that we had."

The soft-handed shortstop carried a .985 fielding percentage, despite having 11,961 defensive chances. He combined with several second basemen, most notably fellow Indians Hall of Famer Carlos Baerga and National Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, to convert 944 double plays over 11 seasons, an average 85.8 per season.

Combined with Alomar, Vizquel helped turn 275 double plays for the Indians from 1999-2001, and his 1,734 career double plays turned rank first all-time. They are 144 more than Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who is second all-time for double plays turned by a shortstop (1,590).

"When I was seven years old, (my parents) took me to the field and I told the coach that I wanted be a second baseman," Vizquel said. "When he saw me taking ground balls, he said, 'No. You're going to be my shortstop.' He moved me over to shortstop, and ever since then.

"At eight years old, I participated in a lot of tournaments, and people always talked about my ability to field ground balls. They were giving the 'Champion Infielder,' and I received that award a couple times. At a young age, people were seeing that I had good hands, and the rest was history. When I signed, they just put me out there at shortstop, and I started to develop as a player."

After his time with the Indians, Vizquel went on to play four seasons with the San Francisco Giants (2005-2008), one with the Texas Rangers (2009), two with the Chicago White Sox (2010-2011) and his last, in 2012, with the Toronto Blue Jays.

He finished his career with 2,877 hits, the fifth-most ever by a shortstop. Only Honus Wagner (3,420), New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter (3,383), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142) had more hits as a shortstop, and all but Jeter, who is in his final professional season, are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"When you retire, you don't really think too much about the Hall of Fame or anything like that," Vizquel said. "I'm glad that I had a great career and people can talk about numbers and compare me with some of the guys that are there, or not, and argue about the possibility for me to be there or not.

"It's great just to hear the comments from a lot of people, but it's not in my head. I think the ceremony will open some eyes to go back and see some of the moments of my career and make their decision. It's not something that I really think about too much. I'm glad that I'm a Cleveland Indian Hall of Famer right now."


To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment