There's a great scene about the cultural challenge that faces Latin American players included in Ken Burns' classic documentary. In an unforgettable interview included In "Baseball -- The 10th Inning," Burns talks to Omar Vizquel about what it was like to spend a summer in Butte, Mont., shortly after the
There's a great scene about the cultural challenge that faces Latin American players included in Ken Burns' classic documentary. In an unforgettable interview included In "Baseball -- The 10th Inning," Burns talks to Omar Vizquel about what it was like to spend a summer in Butte, Mont., shortly after the Mariners signed him as a 16-year-old.
"You say, 'Wow, I'm going to America, I'm going to play baseball in America,' and you expect these big buildings, big highways -- stuff you see in movies and magazines," Vizquel said. "You were dreaming to come to a huge city like New York or Chicago, something like that. When we got to Butte, we didn't really see too many people. I remember I went there with a friend of mine -- we both signed from Venezuela -- and when we got there, it was like, 'Are we really in the United States or what?'"
Vizquel didn't know how to order a cheeseburger at the McDonald's. But he figured it out, and he has never really stopped growing.
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More than three decades after that disorienting introduction to baseball, the 50-year-old Vizquel is one of the most intriguing additions to the Hall of Fame ballot, and he just agreed to begin what could be a relatively short apprenticeship as a manager. He returned to one of the last of his six organizations as a player, with a deal to manage the White Sox Class A Advanced Carolina League team, the Winston-Salem Dash.
Vizquel, one of the game's greatest defensive shortstops, is sure to command respect when he gets to Arizona next spring. He's taking over a White Sox farm team loaded with talent after spending the past four seasons working as a coach for Brad Ausmus with the Tigers.
Vizquel earned respect throughout a 24-year career spent mostly with the Indians and Mariners. He voiced a desire to become a manager in the latter years of a career that ended with the Blue Jays in 2012, when he was 45.
Vizquel would have been a great candidate to be a player-manager in another era. But he has spent the five seasons since his retirement as a coach. To have a team of his own -- especially one loaded with top prospects like center fielder Luis Robert, outfielder Blake Rutherford and third baseman Jake Burger -- should round out his education.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see Vizquel making the transition to a Major League dugout in the near future, although it's unlikely that opportunity will come with the White Sox.
They're expected to give Rick Renteria the chance to stick around for some winning seasons after their rebuild -- the chance he didn't get when he managed the Cubs -- but Vizquel adds another resource to an organization that hopes for a run like the Indians had when Vizquel played shortstop.
"The White Sox have a great farm system right now, one of the strongest because of all the trades they've made in the last couple of years," Vizquel said. "These guys are ready to be contending in the big leagues not too far away."
As Vizquel did as a player, he is paying dues in the Minor Leagues with the dream of a Major League job. He interviewed with the Tigers in October, but they hired Ron Gardenhire instead. So Vizquel is off to Winston-Salem, N.C., where the Dash's new BB&T Ballpark is a far cry from the Butte Copper Kings' Alumni Field.
Vizquel hit .272 and won 11 Gold Glove Awards during his career, with his Cleveland teams going to the postseason six times in seven years. Three of his teammates on those teams have already gone into the Hall of Fame (Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield and Roberto Alomar) and a fourth (Jim Thome) is likely to join Chipper Jones as a first-ballot pick in January.
What about Vizquel? He's going to be a tough call for most voters, because he was 32 before he had his breakout season as an offensive player (batting .333 with an .833 OPS, 42 stolen bases and 112 runs scored). But Vizquel was a really, really good player for such a long time that he had 2,887 hits when he retired.
In his prime, Vizquel put up a slash line of .285/.355/.382 over 11 seasons (1996-2006) while playing for the Indians and the Giants, doing almost all of that after his 30th birthday. He had more walks (642) than strikeouts (613) in this period, averaging 26 stolen bases and 85 runs scored as a complementary piece in lineups that included guys like Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Barry Bonds.
And Vizquel just kept going and going.
Vizquel's last season with the Giants came in 2008, but he played four more seasons as a utility infielder for the Rangers, White Sox and Blue Jays.
Vizquel climbed past countryman Luis Aparicio to take the career lead for games played at shortstop -- the White Sox unretired Aparicio's No. 11 so Vizquel could wear it as a tribute to him -- and Derek Jeter couldn't quit catch him.
The current ranking: Vizquel, 2,709; Jeter, 2,674; and Aparicio, 2,581. Jose Reyes, the active leader, is at only 1,602, which ranks 49th all time. Is this one of those records that will never be broken?
Maybe Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts or someone else will pass Vizquel, but you wouldn't want to bet on it. That's why I've decided to check his name when I fill out my Hall of Fame ballot. Vizquel has earned everything he's gotten, and he looks more than ready to begin expanding his legacy as a manager.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.