Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Vizquel Visits Tribe

Cleveland fans had a chance to see an old friend in action Tuesday night at the Jake. Omar Vizquel visited Cleveland for the first time since 2004, his last season with the Tribe. There always seems to be a certain nostalgia attached to the 1990’s teams that draws a crowd. The same thing happened last season when Kenny Lofton came back during an already frenzied playoff atmosphere.

I can certainly appreciate the fondness and loyalty Clevelanders have towards Vizquel and Lofton, but I wonder how much of this is because they were on a winning team in addition to being great players. Cleveland has several players of that caliber in Sizemore, Martinez, Carmona, and Sabathia, but attendance has been down even after the team started to contend again. It’s too bad Jacobs Field doesn’t draw the crowds it used to because there are some excellent ball players that so many fans seem to be missing out on. Tonight was all about Omar though and deservedly so.

Vizquel received a warm reception from the fans and the Indians organization. A highlight reel of Omar’s time in Cleveland aired before the game, followed by a standing ovation from the 29,024 fans in attendance. A gracious Vizquel soaked it all in and gave it right back: waving, smiling, and gesturing towards all parts of the stadium. In an article, Omar provided his thoughts:

It was the first situation where I felt like I was the center of attention. It was really emotional. I never expected it to be like that. It was really cool and really beautiful.

The crowd didn't quite replicate the 10 minute ovations that Lofton got for each at-bat, but all the Vizquel shirts and jerseys in the crowd made their presence known throughout the game. It was actually kind of awkward because you want to cheer Omar, but you also don’t want to see him drive in a run (like in the 8th) or make a spectacular, rally killing play (he did).

The Tribe went on to lose the game, but seeing Omar playing in Cleveland one last time is still pretty cool. The Giants are in town for two more games still, so check ‘em out.

The Cooperstown Debate or Beating a Dead Horse

As a Cleveland fan and an especially big Vizquel fan, I’ve always felt that Omar was destined for the Hall of Fame someday. Obviously I’m a bit biased, but there seems to be some serious doubt as to Omar’s chances of making it to Cooperstown. I’ve heard arguments from both the baseball community and Cleveland fans.

I can’t remember the last time I actually looked at what type of shortstops have been inducted, so I thought it would be useful to pull up Vizquel’s comparable players list from Baseball Reference. Out of Vizquel’s top ten comparables on offense, six are in the Hall. I listed those six players below, in addition to two shortstops who were listed on the 2008 ballot in Alan Trammell and Dave Concepcion.

Player Position Career FP Career OPS+ Era
Luis Aparicio SS .972 82 1956-1973
Ozzie Smith SS .978 87 1978-1996
Rabbit Maranville SS .952 82 1912-1933
Nellie Fox 2B .984 93 1949-1964
Red Schoendienst 2B .983 93 1945-1962
Pee Wee Reese SS .962 99 1940-1958

O. Vizquel SS .984 83 1989-present
Dave Concepcion SS .971 88 1970-1988
Alan Trammell SS .977 110 1977-1996

One method of measuring Omar’s chances is to look at who’s made it in the past. Former inductees may be taken into heavy consideration for modern candidates and voters often look to past ballots when casting their own. Vizquel stacks up favorably with his top three comparables: Aparicio, Smith, and Maranville. Throw in Vizquel’s top fielding percentage among shortstops, 11 Gold Gloves, most games played at short, and other distinctions and intangibles that voters tend to consider and Vizquel pulls closer still.

After looking at who Omar will be judged against when he appears on the ballot, I still think he’s a lock to get in…eventually.

First ballot inductions are fairly rare and it seems Vizquel will have to wait a few years before he gets inducted. Dave Concepcion and Alan Trammell received 16.2% and 18.2% of votes respectively in 2008. Both players seem fairly similar to Vizquel overall, although Trammell edges both players on offense.

This trio of players may be some of the last defensive-minded shortstops to be inducted. It will be interesting to see how voter behavior changes when more players in the mold of Cal Ripken and Derek Jeter start to emerge on the ballot.

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