SEATTLE -- It took Edgar Martinez a full decade to get elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, so former Mariners teammate Omar Vizquel certainly has time to reach the pinnacle of his sport. But this year -- Vizquel’s fourth on the Hall of Fame ballot -- could go a long way toward telling the story of the slick shortstop’s climb toward Cooperstown.
Vizquel, who came up with the Mariners and spent the first five seasons of his Major League career in Seattle, was one of 25 former players listed on the 2021 Hall of Fame Ballot sent out Monday to eligible National Baseball Hall of Fame voters.
The man known as “Little O” was named on 52.6% of the ballots cast in 2020, edging closer to the 75% figure needed for nomination to the Hall. Vizquel finished sixth in the '20 voting, behind two who were elected -- Derek Jeter and Larry Walker -- as well as Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds.
Vizquel was named on 37% of the ballots his first year of eligibility in 2018 and 42.8% in '19, so he’s clearly trending up. The question is whether he will continue climbing, given the divided opinion over whether his relatively low WAR and JAWS (a statistical comparison with current Hall of Famers at the same position) rankings outweigh his defensive wizardry and 2,877 hits racked up over a 24-year career.
One big factor in his favor: The three returning players who finished ahead of him in last year’s voting -- Schilling, Bonds and Clemens -- all have overhanging questions that have limited their support in the past. And the incoming class of 11 players is topped by pitchers Mark Buehrle and Tim Hudson and outfielder Torii Hunter, none of whom are overwhelming favorites to be first-ballot nominees.
In many ways, Vizquel represents the opposite argument from Martinez, who had extremely high offensive rate numbers with his batting, on-base and slugging percentages, but was discounted by some because he played no defense in his designated hitter years, while his counting offensive numbers were limited to a degree by his late arrival to MLB and some injury issues.
Vizquel’s hit total is close to the magical 3,000 mark, thanks to his longevity and a career that started at age 22 with the Mariners, but his slash line of .272/.336/.352 with a .688 OPS and 80 home runs in 2,968 games leaves him with a career bWAR of 45.6, which ranks 16th among this year’s nominees. Similarly, his JAWS total of 36.2 is 16th.
Those who saw Vizquel play, however, will counter with an argument that his outstanding glove work at a critical defensive position and ability to compete at the highest level for nearly a quarter of a century merit inclusion with the game’s greats in Cooperstown. Certainly his 11 Gold Glove Awards speak loudly, and he was a three-time All-Star during his days in Cleveland, where he spent 11 seasons at the height of his career.
Vizquel still stands as the all-time MLB leader in games played at shortstop and double plays turned, and his .9847 fielding percentage is fractions of a point higher than runner-up Troy Tulowitzki (.9846) for first as well among those who played 500 games or more.
In short, Vizquel’s glove alone makes him a strong Hall of Fame candidate, and Mariners fans fondly remember his barehanded play for the final out to preserve Chris Bosio’s no-hitter in 1993. It’s interesting as well that Vizquel made his MLB debut for the Mariners on the same day as Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.
Griffey and Martinez are now the first two players in the Hall of Fame wearing Mariners caps on their plaques. Vizquel would clearly go into the Hall representing the Indians, but he remains a favorite of many Seattle fans and his vote total certainly will be noted in the Pacific Northwest when results are released in January.