Vizquel lauded by former teammates

CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians welcomed former shortstop Omar Vizquel into the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame on Saturday night, and several of his former teammates made the trip back to Cleveland in order to celebrate the accomplishments of the 11-time Gold Glove winner.

Indians Hall of Famers Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar and Charles Nagy were among those in attendance for the weekend series with the Detroit Tigers, and they did it because of their appreciation for Vizquel.

"It's very special," Baerga told Sportstime Ohio during Friday's game. "From the first day that I saw this guy coming in when we made a trade for him, I knew it was going to be something really good. I could remember we used to made a lot of errors when we started in 1990, and when Omar came in, we put everything straight and starting winning."

Nagy added, "It's just one more step for him toward Cooperstown. He was on the field before talking about what's taken so long to get into this one. I said, 'You've got to stop playing.' Omar was special. He turned double plays. His enthusiasm, his energy, everything he did was infectious. The way he played the game was just fun to watch."

As a second baseman in the middle of the Indians' defense when Vizquel arrived in time for the 1994 season, Baerga had a bird's eye view of many of the 944 double plays the 11-time Gold Glove shortstop turned during his 11-year run in Cleveland.

"This guy was perfect," Baerga said. "All the time, he worked hard. I give him credit for that. The first thing he said was, 'I know you can hit, but I want you to get better at defense. If you play good defense in the middle, we can win some games.' When we had Sandy Alomar (catching), myself and him at shortstop and Kenny Lofton in center field, it was a really good, really good combination.

"You see how he played the game so easy. He wouldn't be so aggressive. He'd be perfect. He knew the runners. He knew where he had to be. He'd take his time to throw the ball, and it's something. Not too many shortstops do that. They make errors because they don't know the runners. They don't know whose hitting and they want to be so quick. That's why they make the errors. Omar was perfect all the time."

Baerga compared Vizquel's play to the grace of a dancer and said his shortstop had a knack for being in the right place at the right time to make a play.

"Omar, he was always in the right position," Baerga said. "Like a hitter, he'd know when to bunt and he'd know when to steal too. He did the little things really good.

"Something that Omar turned me onto was, 'No matter where they hit the ball to, no matter where you throw it to me, I'm going to do the double play.' He wasn't afraid of the runners. That was something special that he had. This guy jumped over everybody.

"He got to the base so quick, they didn't know whether to go to the left side or the right side. That's something. Not too many shortstops can take that risk because they can lose the ball. He always got the ball first and then, threw it. Sometimes, he did the bare hand better than anybody."

In Baerga's opinion, Vizquel was a self-made Gold Glove winner because of what he did, and what he expected from each of his teammates long before capacity crowds filled Progressive Field to watch Indians teams that won six American League Central Division championships, went to the playoffs seven times in a decade, and advanced to both the 1995 and 1997 World Series.

"Everything started in batting practice," Baerga said. "Batting practice, he took it very seriously. He came to the ballpark every day early to take ground balls and then, after hitting, we'd come back to the field to take it from the hitters like it was the game. That helped me a lot because we had to do it very quick. We had to do it right to turn the double plays, and it helped you out.

"Omar, he was a great teammate. He put up a lot of numbers here. When we turned around from Municipal Stadium and we came here, everything changed. Omar was a big part of that."

It is because of those plays Vizquel made during his career that leads Baerga to believe his former teammate will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame some day. And when that day comes, Baerga will be there to support his former double-play partner.

"I think he's going to do it," Baerga said. "He's played the most games at shortstop, turned the most double plays. When you see his numbers, they're unbelievable. Gold Gloves, and stuff like that, Omar needs to be there, and I know that I'm going to be there because I don't want to miss that.

"I always say, 'I played with two of the best players at their positions.' I played with Robbie Alomar in Puerto Rico, and then, I played together with him here in 1999, and I played with Omar Vizquel. Those two guys were amazing. The confidence they had, they just made every play look easy."


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