Vizquel to Be Honored as One of Tribe’s Best Ever

Omar Vizquel will be inducted into the hall of fame this summer. No, he is not going into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. There was not recount of that vote from a couple weeks ago, nor has Vizquel been away from playing days for the required five years.

Vizquel has been retired from the diamond for a full season. That is all the time that is needed for a plaque in Heritage Park, the site of the Cleveland Indians’ Hall of Fame housed at Progressive Field.

As announce by the Tribe on Wednsday, the legendary shortstop will take his rightful place in the annals of Tribe history on June 21st when he and former Indians broadcaster Jimmy Dudley become the 40th and 41st members to the team’s hall of fame.  A team that has a rich history, dating back to 1901, clearly only has the cream of the crop in its hall when its membership is less than half the amount of years it has played the game.

“I never thought that I could belong to a prestigious group of players that have given everything to the city of Cleveland in an Indians uniform,” Vizquel said in a press release. “My priority always was the game and to enjoy it as much as possible. I’m honored by this and to have had the chance to play for the Indians.”

Vizquel will be enshrined in the Indians’ HOF along with names the likes of Larry Doby, Roberto Alomar, Early Wynn and Bob Feller, who are all members of Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame. He will also take his place alongside other players from the Tribe’s run of success in the 1990s, who have already been inducted to the team’s shrine. Those players include Kenny Lofton, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Charles Nagy and the manager for most of those teams, Mike Hargrove.

One of the most-beloved players of one of Cleveland’s best stretches for any of the city’s sports franchises, Vizquel deserves to have his name forever etched in Heritage Park for many reasons. He was a leader, both on and off the field for those great Indians clubs that were over .500 every season from 1994-2001 and went to two World Series.

Vizquel spent 11 of his 24 seasons with the Tribe. He had his best seasons in Cleveland, where he won eight of his 11 Gold Glove awards. From 1993 (his last of five seasons with the Seattle Mariners) until 2001, Vizquel won every shortstop American League Gold Glove honor. His run of success at the position, is surpassed only by the great Ozzie Smith who has been inducted into the hall in Cooperstown.

Those squads of the 1990s were best known for mashing the baseball. With a lineup featuring the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray and David Justice, home runs were not hard to come back at what was then Jacobs Field. Vizquel provided finesse and defense up the middle. While fans ooohed and aaaaahed at the long ball, breaths were taken away every time Vizquel took a sure hit away on ball hit up the middle. Fans were mesmerized when he made behind the back plays and made the toughest of outs look almost routine.

The littlest player among all the big ones in those tribe clubhouses, Vizquel was also unique off the field. Where those Indians had a number of guys who were not exactly fond of the media, Vizquel was always quick with a quote. He was always open to talking and was typically insightful and often funny. He took that good-natured disposition other places, as it was not unusual to see him at charity events or signing baseballs and other memorabilia for children.

For what he did as one of the team’s great players during a truly great stretch, as well as his contributions off the field, Vizquel does deserve his day in the (hopefully) sun when he is inducted into Cleveland’s hall before a game with the Detroit Tigers. Vizquel is still a part of the game, as the Tiger’s first base coach.

Eventually, Vizquel will deserve to enter the big hall that Maddux, Glavine and Thomas will enter this year. The discussion about that will begin during the winter of 2017 as Vizquel’s first year of eligibility will be 2018.

His numbers compare favorably to the great Smith. The former Cardinal and Padre, Smith played 19 seasons. He won 13 Gold Gloves, just two more than the former Tribe great. Offensively, Vizquel’s numbers were actually better. He had 2,877 hits, to the Wizard of Oz’s 2,460. Vizquel has the better batting average at .272 versus .262 for Smith.

Where Vizquel gets lost, sadly, is he was around during baseball’s boom days. He was playing in an era known more for home runs records than for defense. In the national media, he is not remembered as well because he had his best days during a period that saw great shortstops come around the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra. That is a big reason he had just three all-star selections, compared to Smith’s 15.

When it comes down to it, Vizquel should be enshrined in Cooperstown in four years. Smith was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2002. Vizquel, because of the era he played in and because he was not the first to be flashy, as was smith, may take a little longer to get in. However, history should eventually smile fondly on Vizquel as he was one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game, while certainly holding his own at the plate.

For now, Vizquel will have to “settle” for Cleveland’s hall of fame. However, even though it is a lesser hall than the big one a couple states away, Vizquel is joining a select group of players who shone for a franchise in existence for more than 100 years. It is a rightful place he will be taking as he belongs in the argument for all-time great Indians.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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