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Vizquel feted before Tribe Hall of Fame ceremony

CLEVELAND -- For all of the head-turning defensive plays Omar Vizquel made during his remarkable career with the Tribe, one game stands out in the former shortstop's memory for a very unique reason.

On April 16, 1994, in what was only his ninth game after being traded away by Seattle, the Venezuelan-born Vizquel dropped a fly ball, mishandled a grounder and threw another away on a double play in an unthinkable three-error game for the talented young infielder.

"I remember a guy from the stands yelling, 'Send this guy back to Seattle,'" Vizquel said, chuckling.

He would not commit another error for 51 games and finished the season with just six overall, yet another testament to why many consider Vizquel one of the game's premier defenders of the last 20 years.

Vizquel, 47, was inducted into Cleveland's Hall of Fame ahead of Saturday night's game with Detroit. But before his big moment of recognition, the former Tribe standout traded stories and exchanged laughs with his old comrades Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga, Sandy Alomar and Charlie Nagy at Progressive Field during the Indians Hall of Fame Benefit Luncheon. The event featured a roundtable discussion with fans, with ticket proceeds going toward Cleveland Indians Charities.

As one might expect, Vizquel had plenty of fond memories with his former club to discuss.

"Every time that I walk into Cleveland, obviously people always ask me about those years," Vizquel said of the 1995 and 1997 seasons, which saw the Tribe win a pair of American League pennants. "It seems a while back, but you always have it in the back of your heart and the back of your mind. Those really were the best times for me as a player, being in the World Series and being with those great teams. At the time, [my teammates and I] didn't talk about it because we were having so much time together."

Of his 24 seasons in the Major Leagues, Vizquel spent 11 of them in Cleveland (1994-2004), during which he won eight of his 11 Gold Glove Awards while earning three selections to the All-Star Game. He finished with a career .985 fielding percentage -- the all-time best mark for a shortstop -- while turning 1,734 double plays and hitting .272 over 2,968 games.

"He's a freak guy," said Alomar, who now serves as first-base coach for the Indians. "He always came in great shape, never gained weight, quick guy, great instincts, and he maintained that for a long time. He didn't play that many years for no reason."

But Saturday was almost about celebrating Vizquel the person as much as it was the numbers and accolades. As he sat in the Terrace Club, answering questions from long-time fans and joking alongside Alomar and the rest, it was hard not to see how much the former players enjoyed one another's company.

"Omar was always a joy to the locker room. Funny cat. He was always charismatic and had fun. We always enjoy guys like that in the locker room," Alomar said.

"[The clubhouse] was just like this," Nagy said.

That's not to say that everyone Vizquel played with felt the same way. Former Tribe pitcher Jose Mesa, for instance, has held a public grudge towards Vizquel since the release of his biography, "Omar! My Life On and Off the Field," which notably criticized Mesa's performance in the 1997 World Series.

"He was one of my best friends when I was here; we lived five minutes away, we fooled around a lot, we cooked together. It was sad I didn't get to tell him I didn't mean anything bad about what I said in the book," Vizquel said. "He took it in a different way. It's bad that I haven't really talked to him about it."

Of course, no one ever claimed the man was perfect. Even Vizquel was quick to point out his own flaws on Saturday, asking if he could talk about his three-error game from 20 years ago -- his self-proclaimed "worst day" in the Majors.

The day, however, focused much more on the big picture of a career that captured over two decades of top-tier defense and sound contact hitting. Whether the former Gold Glove Award winner is ultimately voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is still up for debate, but Vizquel insisted that his opportunity to join the Indians Hall of Fame was still an honor he appreciated.

"When you retire, you don't really think much about Hall of Fame," Vizquel said on Friday. "I'm glad that I had a great career, that 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."

"I think the ceremony will open some eyes and [let fans] go back to see some of the numbers I had over my career."

Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for
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