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Why Omar Vizquel Is a Hall of Famer

Jun 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) receives congratulations from first base coach Omar Vizquel (13) after he hits a single in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 20, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) receives congratulations from first base coach Omar Vizquel (13) after he hits a single in the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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Omar Vizquel played his age 38 through age 41 seasons with the San Francisco Giants, and all of the skills he showcased in both Seattle and Cleveland were on display at AT&T Park.

Vizquel would go on to play four more seasons after he left the Giants until his age 45 season. In 24 seasons he had 2,877 hits, 404 stolen bases and had a slashline of .272/.336/.352 for an OPS of .688.

That slashline in particular doesn’t scream Hall of Famer. While his career hits fell short of 3,000, which had always been a barometer for entry, and while stolen bases have never been revered outside of Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock, Vizquel’s numbers don’t seem to add up.

While collecting 11 Gold Gloves, including nine straight, his defense doesn’t compare statistically with greats like Brooks Robinson and Ozzie Smith.

And yet, we are talking about a museum that is suppose to honor the players that shaped the game and made it what it is.

Vizquel was a showman. His play on the diamond was poetic, and his defense was incredible to watch. It was something you had to see first hand to appreciate.

Seeing Omar Play

I happened to win tickets to the Giants home opener in 2007. I was in attendance for Omar Vizquel‘s first game as a Giant. The Giants were facing the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. With one out and a runner at first, a ground ball was hit to second base. Omar Vizquel, as he had done for 16 seasons, took the feed, leaped completely over the runner’s slide and threw a perfect strike to first base. It was effortless. The transfer from glove to hand was seamless. I was in awe of the play and immediately thrilled that Vizquel was my shortstop. The confidence of knowing that ground balls were safe in his hands. Our defense was going to be better. How that feeling must help a pitcher who is trying to induce a ground ball. How it must help a second baseman who knows he has a double play partner he can rely on. And how it must help a locker room to know there is one less thing to worry about.

Omar was Always Spectacular

There are things stats simply don’t show. While with the Seattle Mariners, Vizquel ended up making the final out in Chris Bosio‘s no hitter. It was a chopper up the middle and Vizquel not only made the play, but made it bare handed. How many shortstops in history would have had the confidence to attack that ball without a glove in the final out of a no hitter?

Omar Vizquel made a play when you needed it most. This play needs no setup, other than to say it was in the late innings of the World Series. Enjoy.

In 1999, when the shortstop position was stacked in the American League with stars like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra all in their prime, manager Joe Torre selected Omar Vizquel as well. Selecting four shortstops for the same team of an All-Star game is unprecedented, and Torre did it without hesitation. And, in a 4-1 game in the 7th inning with runners on the corners and a sure base hit up the middle, Omar showed why his glove was better than you remember. It wasn’t that he could make the spectacular play, it was that he would make the spectacular play in the most critical moments of a game.

Omar Vizquel stealing home on a Friday night in Oakland reminded me of a different era. Vizquel always played the game like he was channeling the spirit of Luis Aparicio, his idol. It is the reason he and so many shortstops wear 13 on their jersey. It was why he took so much pride in his defense. And it was why he was always paying attention on the basepaths. This steal of home was so easy, that it reminds fans that this game is bigger than career hits and home runs. This game has much more to offer than strikeouts and even wins. This game is about passion and commitment, and Vizquel had those traits and more.

And finally, as we run through all the amazing videos YouTube has to offer, I have one more to show you. Omar turning double plays is not unique. He did it for two decades. However, this particular double play stood out as he took the exchange at second and spun to third base to throw out the lead runner. The kind of instincts and anticipation this requires is phenomenal. You have to be on the same page with your third baseman before the play and then trust your teammate to be there for the throw.

We see it so often where an infielder will throw to first no matter the situation to get the sure out because they have made that throw a thousand times before. This play isn’t something you can practice all that often, and it is certainly something you can’t do every time. But, Omar did it because Omar was special.

Will Omar Get In?

As we mentioned yesterday, none of the selections for the 2017 Hall of Fame Class played for the San Francisco Giants. Despite their production on the field, Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent did not join the 217 Major League Baseball players in the Hall of Fame.

That number rose to 220 yesterday, as Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez were announced as earning enough votes to enter Cooperstown. With so few Hall of Famers, despite nearly 20,000 players since the game’s beginnings, this is exactly why so many worthy candidates don’t make it to the Hall of Fame.

More from Around the Foghorn

While Bonds and Kent fell short, the focus now shifts to 2018 and who might get in next year. The likely first time selections are Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. With 13 holdovers from this year’s ballot and other players like Scott Rolen, Andruw Jones and Johan Santana worth consideration, it will be a daunting task for Baseball Writers to choose no more than 10 on their ballots.

This makes it tough for Omar, who’s career WAR is 45.3, and 28.4 of that is defensively. When you have a ballot with more than 15 names to consider, you have to make cuts somehow.

Jonah Keri, a sabermatrician who pushed for Raines, has said that Vizquel simply doesn’t have the support of the sabermetric community for the Hall. And yet, for those of us who were privileged to see him play every day, we know that sabermetrics doesn’t tell the whole story with Omar.

Next: Bonds Should Be Next In The Hall

Be sure to check back each day with the latest hot stove news about the San Francisco Giants from Around the Foghorn.

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