Jan. 22 was a great day for the four players elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and it had to be an encouraging one for a former Indians star who did not get in but is getting closer.
Omar Vizquel, who played 11 of his 24 major-league seasons with the Indians, was named on 42.8 percent of the ballots turned in by voters from the Baseball Writers Association of America. He received votes on 37 percent of the ballots in 2018 in his first year of eligibility.
A player must receive votes on 75 percent of ballots cast to be elected to the Hall of Fame. Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, elected in 2019 in his first year of eligibility, is the first player in history to be named on 100 percent of ballots cast. It makes you wonder what 11 of 226 voters in 1936 had against Babe Ruth to not include him on their ballots (he and Honus Wagner were in the first Hall of Fame class with 95.1 percent, second to Ty Cobb at 98.2 percent, but that’s another column).
Pitchers Roy Halladay and Mike Mussina plus designated hitter/third baseman Edgar Martinez were also part of the 2019 Hall of Fame class named Jan. 22.
Twenty-two shortstops are in the Hall of Fame. How does Vizquel measure up compared to the others? Vizquel collected 2,877 career hits. Only three of the 22 had more hits – Wagner (3,415), Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184) and Robin Yount (3,142).
Vizquel scored 1,445 runs. Only four HOF shortstops scored more – Wagner (1,736), Ripken (1,647), Yount (1,632) and George Davis (1,545).
Davis played from 1890-1909 in a career that began with the Cleveland Spiders. Ripken played 21 seasons, all with the Orioles, from 1981-2001. Yount played 20 seasons, from 1974-93, all with the Brewers. The incomparable Wagner played most of his 21-year career that started in 1987 with the Pirates.
Those who didn’t vote for Vizquel might want to say he wasn’t a power hitter with 80 career home runs. OK, but 12 shortstops in the Hall of Fame clouted fewer than 80, and that includes former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. In fact, Vizquel bests Smith in every offensive category except stolen bases. Smith had 580 steals compared to 404 for Vizquel. Only five Hall of Fame shortstops have more steals than Vizquel.
Ozzie Smith was best known for defense. He seemingly gobbled up any ground ball hit between second and third during a 19-year career that began in 1978 – four with the Padres and 15 with the Cardinals.
Vizquel was so incredibly gifted with his glove that the memory of its flash might blind voters to what he did offensively. Plus, playing 11 years for Cleveland and five for Seattle perhaps obscure his career for some voters. It wouldn’t be fair, but it could be a factor.
A player can appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for 10 years. After that, it’s up to the Era Committee.
Vizquel has eight more cracks at it. It should not take that long. His numbers are clearly Hall of Fame worthy. The voters just have to take the time to do the research.