I’ll start this out by admitting I am biased when it comes to the Omar Vizquel Hall of Fame debate.
Spending my entire life in Cleveland, I can’t help but be.
I watched Vizquel’s defensive wizardry on a regular basis as a fan and then as a writer when I became The Chronicle-Telegram’s full-time beat reporter in 1997.
But that’s not why I voted for him. I voted for him because I consider him, alongside Ozzie Smith, one of the top two fielding shortstops to have ever played the game, whether the new analytics-driven gang agrees or not.
While I am most definitely old school, I recognize that analytics are valuable tools of insight, but I don’t much care for defensive metrics — like the ones that tell me Michael Brantley is one of the worst left fielders in the game.
I couldn’t care less that Vizquel’s career JAWS percentage is far below those of other Hall of Fame shortstops. We’re not making movies about sharks here.
What I do care about is that Omarvelous was an 11-time Gold Glover and far and away the greatest defensive shortstop of his era — a career that lasted 24 years.
And I trust what my eyes saw over his 11-year Indians career (1994-2004). What they saw was Hall-of-Fame defense pretty much every time he took the field.
The dude won his last two Gold Gloves in consecutive seasons (2005-06) with the San Francisco Giants … when he was 38- and 39-years-old!
It’s true that his offensive ability was overshadowed by his era’s heavy-hitting shortstops — Nomar Garciaparra, Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter to name a few — which largely contributed to Vizquel being named an All-Star only three times.
But he held his own with a bat in his hands, amassing 2,877 hits (fifth-most by a big league shortstop) and a respectable .272 batting average (.283 with Cleveland)— an average that was hurt by his final few seasons in the majors when he was purely hanging on for the love of the game.
Clearly, though, Vizquel’s offensive numbers don’t merit Hall of Fame election. It’s his top-shelf defense that warrants his induction and it’s why I’ve voted for him the past two years he’s been on the ballot.
Apparently some people, including others who have covered the game on a regular basis, agree, with Vizquel receiving 42.8 percent of the HOF vote. It’s not nearly enough for election — he needs 75 percent — and because younger voters are becoming eligible every year, it’s unlikely he will reach the required amount.
They never saw Vizquel play, and unless they go back and watch highlights, they’ll never appreciate how good, check that, great, he was. They favor analytics and that’s not good news for him. Of course there is always the chance he will be elected by the 16-member Today’s Game Era Committee should he fail to be voted in by the writers.
After all, the committee recently elected Harold Baines, and there’s no way he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame if Vizquel isn’t. There’s no way Baines should be in, period, but that’s a debate for another day.
My argument really comes down to this: Among most non-analytic-driven geeks, Vizquel and Smith are considered the top two defensive players at their position. Isn’t there room for both?
Vizquel was one of the best ever with a glove in his hand, and for that he deserves Hall of Fame recognition.
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