Omar Vizquel played presumably the last of his 2,968 major-league games last week, retiring with 2,877 hits, 404 stolen bases, 11 Gold Gloves and a lot of supporters for his induction into the Hall of Fame.
I’m not one of them.
Longevity may have its privileges, but they shouldn’t include the Hall. Excellence is not defined by the length of your stay, but rather the quality of it.
Vizquel played 24 seasons, and like the last veteran of a war to pass on, he takes a bit of history with him. He was the last active player to have appeared in the 1980s — assuming MLB has retired Jamie Moyer, if Moyer won’t do so himself — and his career spanned four presidents and 12 managers (three of the latter were Rookies of the Year. Which three? Answer below.).
But in all that time, Vizquel only led his league in one offensive category: sacrifice bunts, which he did so four times. He had 256 of those — or 99 more than home runs and triples combined. Being the best at trading an out for a base doesn’t get you a plaque.
It may seem as if Ozzie Smith’s induction is precedent for Vizquel, but it shouldn’t be. Vizquel’s Gold Gloves are only two less than Ozzie’s 13, and his career OPS is even 22 points higher. But look closer: Ozzie walked 44 more times in 1,235 less at-bats, and stole 176 more bases while being caught 19 times less.
The advanced sabermetrics are even less kind to Vizquel, as unfavorable as a knockdown pitch. Ozzie is better in OPS plus (87-82) and is a couple laps ahead in WAR (73-40). Whatever offensive case can be made for Omar is a product of the era he played in.
But those aren’t as damning as the opinions of Vizquel’s contemporaries and voters, who for once, had it right: he was an All-Star just three times (Ozzie 12 straight years and 15 in a 19-season career), and received MVP votes in just one: 1999, when he had his best season, hitting .333 and slugging .438, both career highs. Vizquel was 16th in the voting with three, one more than Matt Stairs.
Ozzie received MVP votes six times, finishing as high as second in 1987. You could argue that Ozzie could have won it, but given that Andre Dawson did, you could say that about a lot of folks (13 of the 17 other players receiving votes had higher WARs than Dawson’s 3.7; Astros second baseman Bill Doran, who finished 18th in the voting, was at 4.5).
Omar’s greatest skill was staying, which is a great trait if you’re a dictator.
Not so much if you’re a shortstop.
The series so far:
Washington vs St. Louis (1-1): Can we stop talking about the infield fly rule and start talking about Bryce Harper? The Nats’ 19-year-old centerfielder is 1-for-10 with six strikeouts and one out run into on the bases. “Do I look overanxious? You think so?” Harper said to a reporter after the Cards’ 12-4 win on Monday. “Maybe you should be a hitting coach.” Not a clown question, Bryce? We’re not sure the Cards, who pounded four homers Monday, need one. They’re averaging nearly seven runs a game and get old friend Edwin Jackson Wednesday — Jackson’s 5.60 ERA in four postseason starts last year didn’t keep the Cards from winning it all then, and he’s less of an impediment now.
Oakland vs. Detroit (2-0, Tigers): A’s are in the same position they were in a week ago, down two games with three at home. This week they have to beat not only the Tigers, who won five games less than the Rangers this year, but their own recent history. The A’s have lost five of their six playoff series under GM Billy Beane, though you couldn’t tell it by watching Moneyball.
Cincinnati vs. San Francisco (2-0, Reds): Dusty Baker is under doctor’s orders to maintain a stress-free workplace after suffering a “mini-stroke” (that’s when it happens to someone else). Baker’s Reds are cooperating, but even better, so are the opposing Giants, one of Baker’s ex-teams. The Giants have two runs and nine hits in two games, and were one-hit over seven innings Sunday by Bronson Arroyo. At this pace, Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera will have time to serve on his 50-game PED suspension next year — for whoever his new team is.
N.Y. Yankees vs. Baltimore (1-1): Andy Pettitte started Game 2 for the Yankees, and his Hall of Fame campaign is more worthy than Vizquel’s. With 245 career wins and a 3.86 career ERA, it’s not good enough, but maybe if he retires and unretires again, he’ll get there. Pettitte pitched only 16.2 innings in three September starts before Monday — that’s not much of an endorsement of the other starters, upon whom the Yankee season now depends.
The three managers Omar Vizquel played for who were Rookies of the Year were Seattle’s Jim Lefebvre (Dodgers, 1965) and Lou Piniella (Royals, 1969) and the White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen (White Sox, 1985).
sources: nytimes.com, espn.com, baseballreference.com