CLEVELAND — Not that long ago, legendary Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel seemed to be on the fast track to the Hall of Fame, and Cleveland fans everywhere were rejoicing at the possibility of seeing a once-beloved figure being enshrined on Cooperstown.
But just two years later, Vizquel's candidacy has seemingly crashed and burned, and the troubling reasons for the downward trend have nothing to do with his play on the field.
At one time respected as one of the greatest defensive shortstops in baseball history, Vizquel's reputation has been tarnished by a pair of separate scandals. The first revelations came in December of 2020, when his then-wife Blanca accused him of physically and emotionally abusing her on multiple occasions. At one point, police were even called to their Washington state home, and Blanca claimed she only dropped the charges after being pressured to do so.
"People are scared and I was, too," Blanca told The Athletic at the time. "I was scared for these moments for a long time. And I stayed [with Omar] because of that."
Vizquel strongly denied the allegations, and wrote in a statement that a judge had dismissed Blanca's accusations when their divorce was eventually finalized. However, a second alleged incident during his time as a minor league manager is also raising serious questions.
In yet another report from The Athletic, the publication detailed a lawsuit from a former bat boy with the Double-A Birmingham Barons which claimed Vizquel had sexually harassed him and "targeted" the plaintiff for such treatment because of his autism. On one occasion, Vizquel allegedly got naked and made the man wash him in the shower.
The White Sox later fired Vizquel after an apparent inquiry into the matter, and as of last summer Major League Baseball was still looking into the claims. For his part, Vizquel has declined to comment publicly on the lawsuit, saying only that "the truth will come out" and "everything will be cleared up."
Which brings us to Vizquel's (somewhat trivial) Hall of Fame case, which had always been complicated by relatively weak sabermetric stats on the diamond. Despite this, the 11-time Gold Glove winner's vote total rose as high as 52.6% in his third year on the ballot in 2020. While that was still short of the 75% needed for election, all candidates who earn at least a majority of possible check marks have eventually earned the nod in the modern era.
But following his now-ex-wife's testimony, Vizquel's support slipped to 49.1% in 2021. While some baseball writers still voted for Vizquel in spite of their misgivings, others felt he was not worthy of such an honor, and still more said they would've taken his name off their ballots but had already mailed them to the Hall.
Now, with the disturbing allegations from the bat boy in full public view, any support Vizquel had left has all but dried up. According to renowned Hall of Fame vote tracker Ryan Thibodaux, Vizquel's name has appeared on just 19 (11%) of the 163 known ballots as of Jan. 20. With just five days left before the results are announced, Vizquel is not only virtually assured of failing to be elected for a fifth straight year, but also in danger of falling off the ballot entirely by failing to meet the 5% threshold (Thibodaux estimates he needs just one more vote to stay on).
According to the National Baseball Hall of Fame's own criteria, "Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." The so-called "character clause" has come under a microscope in recent years, especially when it comes to players suspected of taking performance-enhancing drugs, those who have made false or defamatory statements about politics or other issues, or even those who just weren't the nicest people in the world when they played.
While the significance of a player's character will continue to be debated for generations, one thing is becoming factually clear: At least right now, Omar Vizquel does not meet the character standards for the vast majority of voters grappling with his place in baseball history.