Vizquel’s Legend Created at the Jake
Vince Guerrieri | On 20, Jun 2014
On Opening Day 1994, Omar Vizquel could be seen on the grass at new Jacobs Field talking to members of the Seattle Mariners. Six months earlier, he had been one of their teammates, but now he was wearing an Indians uniform.
It was, by his own admission, the turning point of his career.
Vizquel played 24 season, including 11 with the Indians, from 1989-2012. At 45, he was the oldest active player in the major leagues, and his final game was his 2,709th at shortstop, the record for the position. He collected 11 Gold Gloves (only five have more, and all four who are eligible have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame), was named to three All-Star teams and was regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops of his era, if not of all time.
Omar might not be a hall of famer, but there will at least be legitimate conversations about his candidacy when his name starts appearing on the ballot in 2017. And when the Indians dealt for him, nobody – certainly not the Mariners – had any idea that was the case.
In the 1993 off-season, Vizquel was acquired for Reggie Jefferson and Felix Fermin. Jefferson was an outfielder without a place as the Indians had a outfield set, of Albert Belle in left, Kenny Lofton in center and a rookie hitting savant named Manny Ramirez in right field.
Fermin and Vizquel were both shortstops, and both piled up almost identical numbers offensively. It looked like the Mariners might get the better of the deal.
Within two years, “El Gato” would be out of baseball. Jefferson ended up going to the Red Sox after a year in Seattle, and played until 1999.
But Omar? He spent the next 11 years at shortstop in Cleveland, as the Indians became one of the best teams in baseball. Vizquel’s batting average was 30 points higher in his career in Cleveland than it was in Seattle, and from 1994-2001, when the Indians won six of seven American League Central Division titles, Vizquel hit .290 and averaged 87 runs scored, 55 RBI (he typically batted near the top of the order) and 32 stolen bases.
Cal Ripken Jr. was starting to remake the shortstop position. No longer would there be light-hitting, slick-fielding players at short like Vizquel, Ozzie Smith, Pee Wee Reese, Mark Belanger or Vizquel’s countryman Luis Aparicio. Shortstops like Ripken and Alex Rodriguez – whose appearance with the Mariners took a little of the sting out of the Vizquel deal – were becoming the norm and kept on slugging.
But Omar kept on plugging. After the Indians let him go, he spent three years in San Francisco, one in Texas, two on the South Side of Chicago and his swan song this season was in Toronto.
But if Vizquel ends up in bronze in Cooperstown, it will be because of the stellar show he could put on for sellout crowds in Cleveland.