When Omar Vizquel retired from Major League Baseball following the 2012 season, there seemed to be two certainties that would come to him in life after his playing career – that there would be an intriguing and lengthy debate over his candidacy for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and that the 24-year veteran would not be on the outside of the game for long, given his interests in becoming a manager someday.
Vizquel will get that opportunity next year, as he was named the manager of a potentially dangerous Venezuelan team for the 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The move was made formal on Monday, when Vizquel was picked by Venezuelan team general manager, Carlos Guillen, another longtime former Major Leaguer. He was selected over former MLB player and manager Ozzie Guillen, who offered his usual share of criticisms over the manner in which the selection of the manager position was handled.
“I have no doubt that Omar is a great strategist, I do not doubt it, I know it, so we trust [the decision],” said Guillen in a quote translated from his appearance on the radio program “The Reporters”. “It’s time that Omar Vizquel begins his career as manager and we are fully confident with him. Omar expressed his excitement at the appointment and interest in wanting to defend these colors. We will work out a way to win the championship for Venezuela.”
It will be a new challenge and a new opportunity for Vizquel, who has made it clear for years his intentions and desire to manage one day. He has been saying it since at least 2006 while a member of the Giants and playing under Felipe Alou. But he was clear then that “[u]nless I can manage in the Majors, I won’t do it. Why is it going to do any good going down to the Minor Leagues and manage if you’ve already played here 20 years? I’d rather start here [in the Majors].”
As for the opportunity to manage for his home country in the WBC tournament, he shared his excitement about the position and the players he would be leading.
“I’m quite happy for the opportunity to lead all these players,” shared Vizquel in quotes translated from his appearance on “The Reporters” radio program. “We will have a ‘Dream Team’ and for me it’s a huge honor to be with them.
“The team is already set – we have Jose Altuve, Pablo Sandoval, Carlos Gonzalez, Victor Martinez, Alcides Escobar, of course Miguel Cabrera, Martin Prado, hopefully Gerardo Parra and many other options.”
His pitching options for the team were his biggest concern, as there are strict limits placed on the pitchers who participate in the tournament.
Vizquel’s path to stardom on the diamond started in Caracas, Venezuela, before signing with Seattle in 1984. He was traded to the Indians by the Mariners following the 1993 season. In eleven seasons in Cleveland, he won eight of his eleven career Gold Glove awards and three times was honored midseason with an American League All-Star team selection. He hit .272 over his nearly quarter-century playing, amassing 2,877 career hits. He also spent time playing with the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays.
After retiring, Vizquel worked as a roving minor league infield instructor with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for one season before being named the first base and infield coach of the Detroit Tigers. He was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame in 2014 and this winter, it was announced that he would be part of the inaugural Hall of Fame class of the California League.
The World Baseball Classic is already underway as four sets of qualifiers featuring 16 teams are set to take place over the year. The first round was scheduled from February 11-14 in Sydney, with two more rounds scheduled in March in Mexicali and Panama City and a fourth qualifier in Brooklyn at MCU Park, home of the New York-Penn League’s Brooklyn Cyclones, in September. The qualifiers feature a six-game, modified double-elimination format.
The winners from each qualifying site will advance to the World Baseball Classic tournament, set to play in March 2017, and will join teams from 12 countries who received automatic bids based on the outcome of the last WBC tournament held in 2013.
Photo: John Kuntz/The Plain Dealer