CLEVELAND: Only time will tell if Omar Vizquel will one day join the ranks of baseball’s elite at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
For the time being, though, he’s perfectly content with his spot at the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in Progressive Field’s Heritage Park.
Vizquel, 47, now serves as the first-base, infield and base running coach for the Detroit Tigers. With the Tigers in town this weekend for a three-game series, the Indians are using the opportunity to make Vizquel the 40th member of the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame preceding today’s game.
Though Vizquel spent the first five years of his major-league career in Seattle and eight more around the league after leaving the Indians, it was his time in Cleveland that is mostly clearly and fondly remembered by fans and Vizquel himself.
Vizquel played in Cleveland from 1994 to 2004, helping the Indians reach the World Series in 1995 and 1997. He said he still thinks of those years “every time he walks into Cleveland.”
“You always have it on the back of your heart and the back of your mind because those really were the best times for me as a player,” Vizquel said. “Being in the World Series and being with those great teams, at the time, you don’t really talk about it because we spent so much time with each other. … That’s one of the things that I tell players now: enjoy your time with each other.”
Vizquel is among the most decorated defensive shortstops in baseball history. His 11 Gold Glove Awards, including nine consecutive from 1993 to 2001, rank second all-time. He owns the highest career fielding percentage of any shortstop at .985. He turned more double plays than any shortstop. As Vizquel put it, “I stayed in the big leagues because of my defense.”
He played on a team full of sluggers like Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez in an era where guys were hitting the ball farther than ever. Nonetheless, some of the most electric moments at Jacobs Field in the mid-’90s occurred when ground balls were hit up the middle or in the hole at shortstop.
“It was really cool,” Vizquel said. “Very few times do you see people give standing ovations for players making fancy plays. When we were making some of those double plays, people got really excited … It’s easy to clap and cheer when somebody hits a home run, but very few times do you see it defensively.”
Though it might turn the stomach of an Indians fan to see Vizquel lined up at first base in a Detroit Tigers jersey this weekend, remember it’s the first step of Vizquel’s newest journey of his storied baseball career. He hopes one day to become a major-league baseball manager, to be able to pass down the same knowledge and guidance that Mike Hargrove passed down to him during those classic ’90s seasons.
“Being a coach right now is taking the baby steps that I need to become finally a manager,” Vizquel said. “I hope that I can have the opportunity some day. I’m preparing myself for it, looking at things from a different perspective now… right now I’m learning a lot.”
As for Cooperstown?
“I’m just glad that I had a great career, and that people can talk about my numbers and compare me with some of the guys that are there. I think the ceremony tomorrow will open some eyes to look back and see some of the numbers in my career and make a decision.”
August Fagerstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.