By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: If the Indians ever built a statue in honor of former shortstop Omar Vizquel, he envisions it featuring one of his patented barehanded throws.
Here’s what it might look like: Vizquel’s right arm raised, cocked back by his side with a baseball gripped in his bare hand destined to end in a spectacular out that often brought fans at what was then known as Jacobs Field to their feet in appreciation for defense at its finest.
Alas, it’s former Tribe slugger Jim Thome whose statue will be unveiled at Progressive Field in August — a Vizquel teammate whose stunning home runs had the same effect on Indians fans that Vizquel’s slick fielding did.
So for now, Vizquel is happy to be recognized by his former team in another way — during a June 21 induction into the Indians Hall of Fame that will take place six weeks before Thome is honored.
“It’s a great piece of history for me to be inducted,” Vizquel, 46, said Sunday during Tribe Fest at Progressive Field. “When [fans and media] talk about Omar Vizquel, they always relate the Indians to it. I played in Seattle for five years and I played with the [San Francisco] Giants for four years. But I played 11 seasons [in Cleveland] — and this is where I really established myself.”
Add two years with the Chicago White Sox and one year apiece with the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays, and Vizquel enjoyed a career that spanned 24 seasons. During that time, the small kid from Venezuela with soft hands and who was affectionately called “Little O” morphed into a solid table-setter as well.
Vizquel recorded 2,877 hits, was named to three All-Star Games and collected 11 Gold Glove awards. During that span, he’s still best known for helping lead the Indians to two American League Championships and six Central Division titles. Vizquel is also major-league baseball’s all-time leader among shortstops in three categories: fielding percentage (.985), double plays turned (1,735) and games played (2,709).
While Vizquel’s statistics were impressive enough to become the 40th member of the Indians Hall of Fame, will they pass muster in four years when he’s eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame?
“I never really pictured myself as a Hall of Famer,” said Vizquel, who will serve as the Detroit Tigers first-base coach this season. “I have some great numbers out there and if people recognize that and put me in that spot, that would be amazing … obviously, just being in the Indians Hall of Fame is a little step they can recognize and maybe someday vote for me.”
Let’s talk numbers
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said he is “absolutely” open to contract-extension talks during a brief sit down with the local media Sunday, a conversation from last year that he expects to pick up again during spring training.
“Both sides were trying to get something done,” said Kipnis, who gained about 10 to 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason by picking up boxing and a form of kick boxing called Muay Thai to aid flexibility.
“We just didn’t come to the middle point yet. We didn’t agree on years or numbers yet. Both of us are still trying and looking for the right number.”
But if a deal isn’t agreed upon once the regular season rolls around, Kipnis, who overcame a slow start last season to hit .284 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI and stole 30 bases, prefers the conversation be tabled again.
“When the season starts, [I] just want to concentrate on the season and playing, rather than it being a distraction,” he said.