This year has seen quite a special farewell tour for Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. Host teams have showered the future Hall of Famer with gifts when the Braves come to town. It reminds me of the farewell tour around baseball in Nolan Ryan‘s final season with the Texas Rangers in 1993.
Another future Hall of Famer is receiving a little less fan fare in his farewell tour across the American League and he got his start in a Mariners uniform. Omar Vizquel came up as a rookie with the Seattle Mariners in 1989. That squad also featured young budding stars that made up the nucleus of the 1995 “Refuse to Lose” Mariners, such as Ken Griffey Jr., Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and Randy Johnson.
Vizquel was traded to the Cleveland Indians after the 1993 season for shortstop Felix Fermin and first baseman/designated hitter Reggie Jefferson.
It was obvious prior to the trade that he was an up and coming star. He won a Gold Glove every year starting in 1993–his final season in Seattle–through 2001 (he won two more with the San Francisco Giants in 2005 and ’06). Unfortunately for Mariners fans his most productive seasons were ahead of him and not in Seattle.
Vizquel should be a Hall of Famer. He is the leading career hits leader from Venezuela (2,870 and counting) and his .985 career fielding percentage is the highest ever for a shortstop. He also has the most double plays ever recorded by a shortstop. Playing in his playing in his 2,677th game in 2008, Vizquel passed Luis Aparicio for the most career games at shortstop.
Vizquel is a throwback shortstop. Major League shortstops were typically short defensive wizards in the same vein as Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. Cal Ripken Jr. changed that by proving that bigger, slower, less athletic men could play the position at the Major League level by hitting for power and anchoring the middle of the lineup.
As a .272 career hitter who will fall short of the 3,000 hit benchmark and well short of the 500 home run plateau that many consider to be the pre-requisites for modern day Hall of Fame discussion, defense is the primary factor in Little O’s Hall of Fame résumé worthiness. Vizquel’s defensive stats are second to none. Many consider Ozzie Smith’s fielding stats to be the pinnacle of historic shortstops. While Vizquel has played in 24 seasons and Smith played 19, many of their stats are very similar, as is evident in the links of their defensive stats.
While I think that five years from now Omar Vizquel will ultimately be enshrined in Cooperstown, he is one of the players I think who will get quite a bit of critical analysis from the baseball writers who vote.
In my mind, Little O is one of the best to ever put on a Mariners uniform and the best we ever let slip away.