Vizquel's HOF case built on superior stamina
Shortstop won 11 Gold Glove Awards, logged 2,709 games at position
Omar Vizquel wasn't the best shortstop of all time. But he outlasted all of the other greats at the most important defensive position in the game, and that's part of why I wound up voting for seven players on the 2018 Hall of Fame ballot, not just the five that were automatics for me.
I've voted for Larry Walker, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling for years, and I needed nanoseconds to conclude that Jim Thome and Chipper Jones were worthy as first-timers on the ballot. But it took some research and a little bit of percolation to feel good about adding Vladimir Guerrero and Vizquel.
Here's the thing with Vizquel. He is like Ozzie Smith in a lot of ways -- a defensive wizard who played for some great teams and a threat with his bat after turning 30.
If you needed a tiebreaker to consider him a Hall of Famer, there's the fact that his plaque can feature the following factoid: "In addition to winning 11 Gold Glove Awards, he played 2,709 games at shortstop, the most ever.''
Cal Ripken Jr. was 36 when he moved from short to third base. Alex Rodriguez was only 28 when he made that switch to accommodate Derek Jeter, who played shortstop until he was 40 but retired 35 games short of the Vizquel record.
Continuing the tradition of great Venezuelan shortstops set by Luis Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel and Ozzie Guillen, Vizquel broke in with the 1989 Mariners a month before his 22nd birthday and remained a primary shortstop through his age-41 season with the 2008 Giants. He played until he was 45 as a second-team shortstop and utility man for the Rangers, White Sox and Blue Jays.
Vizquel was the most reliable player on the Indians from 1994-2004, when they were positioned to be Ohio's second Big Red Machine if only they'd had better pitching. His run of nine consecutive American League Gold Glove Awards allowed Mike Hargrove's teams to get the most out of pitching staffs that were rarely better than middle-of-the-pack quality.
Vizquel hit .220 as a rookie for the Mariners, but in his best season (1999), he hit .333 with an .833 OPS. He hit a career-high 14 homers in his age-35 season, but it was the ability to put the ball in play and make the pitcher work that characterized him as a hitter. He ranks No. 43 all-time with 2,877, hits but it's the quality and volume of his defensive contributions that distinguish him.
In addition to games played, Vizquel is the all-time leader at shortstop in fielding percentage (.985) and double plays turned (1,734). He's third in assists (7,676) and 11th in putouts (4,102). He was more like Barry Larkin than Robin Yount or Smith in terms of range, but nobody had surer hands or better judgment. Here's hoping that will resonate with voters.
While I take pride in having voted for Alan Trammell and Jack Morris every time they were on the ballot, I've missed guys, too. Guerrero is one of thoem.
Filling out the ballot a year ago, I considered Vlad to be like Edgar Martinez -- a great hitter who wasn't quite one of the all-time greats.
Neither have the magic numbers that make it easy to vote for a candidate -- like Thome's 612 career homers, for instance. But I took a second look at Guerrero after he received almost 72 percent of the vote, and it was enough to convince me to add him.
The ability to hit the ball hard, even when it's out of the strike zone, is Guerrero's calling card. But he was a speed-power player in his prime and a delight to watch in right field. He led NL right fielders in assists in 2001 and '02 for the Expos and AL right fielders in '04 for the Angels.
Guerrero has a stronger case than Martinez, because he played longer -- Edgar piled up 2826 Minor League plate appearance before his first full season in 1990, which was his age-27 season -- he and was a complete player.
Mariano Rivera will get my vote next year, as other closers have in the past. But I'm not a Trevor Hoffman or Billy Wagner voter -- you'd have to vote for both of them if you voted for one, wouldn't you? They cranked out regular-season saves but looked mortal in the postseason.