Omar Vizquel: Making a case for 'Little O' in the Hall of Fame
Bruce Baskin of Chehalis became a baseball fan when he saw the Pilots play in 1969 and attended the Mariners’ first game in 1977. He now produces the “WRMI Scoreboard”daily sports wrap for a shortwave radio station in Miami, Florida.
While reading responses to Arne Christensen’s excellent Take 2 retrospective on Edgar Martinez, one response about another former Mariners infielder caught my eye. After first dismissing his potential candidacy because of his alleged offensive shortcomings, a look at the numbers made me realize the question is valid:
Is Omar Vizquel a legitimate future candidate for Cooperstown?
Mariners fans who remember the good-field/no-hit youngster at shortstop in the early 1990’s may recall that he only batted .252 and hit just six homers over five years playing home games in the hitter-friendly Kingdome. Hardly the start of a Hall of Fame.
Then I looked up Omar’s stats at baseball-reference.com and came away more willing to at least consider the argument that Little O deserves some consideration for future entry Cooperstown.
First the easy numbers. It could be asserted that Vizquel, who retired after the 2012 season, has been the best-fielding shortstop in the game since Ozzie Smith. Vizquel took home Gold Gloves 11 times in 14 seasons, beginning with his last year with Seattle in 1993. The only shortstop with more Gold Gloves was Ozzie (13) and among all position players, Vizquel also ranks behind only Smith, Brooks Robinson, Ivan Rodriguez, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. That’s pretty good company.
Gold Gloves can be misleading, so I dug deeper into his fielding statistics.
The now-retired Vizquel leads all shortstops with 7,676 assists, 4,102 putouts and 1,734 double plays over 2,709 games played at the position (also the most in baseball history). There’s no doubt the sheer longevity of his 24-year career has padded those totals, but Omar’s lifetime fielding percentage of .985 (second-best to Troy Tulowitzki of Colorado all-time and seven points higher than the Wizard of Oz himself) would at least infer he capably made plays over two decades.
Now, there’s the matter of Vizquel’s bat.
That’s what really surprises me about Omar Vizquel: He was a much more resourceful offensive player than he gets credit for. Beginning with his debut in 1989, when he hit .220 with one homer and 20 run batted in, Little O went on to collect 2,877 hits (including 456 doubles), score 1,445 times while driving in 951 runs. He also stole 404 bases with a success rate of 71 percent.
All this while being hard to strike out. He never more than 72 in a season and had an average of 9.1 at-bats per strikeout. Vizquel was patient enough to draw more than career 1,000 walks.
His career batting average was a decent .272 with a reasonable on-base percentage of .336.
Vizquel, who is 45 and this week was hired as a roving infield instructor for the Angels, will never make Cooperstown for his bat. but he wasn’t an automatic out, either.
Omar may not be the strongest candidate for the Hall of Fame but his statistics compare favorably with many middle infielders already enshrined. He may end up among other modern shortstops who have fallen short, such as Alan Trammell or Dave Concepcion, but if Edgar Martinez deserves to be part of the discussion (and he does), so will Omar Vizquel when his time comes in five years.
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