It is tempting to characterize Omar Vizquel as an “ageless infielder,” but let’s face it, he’s pretty aged. He will celebrate his 45th birthday in less than a month and hit .251/.287/.305 last year. Every team needs a utility infielder, and most of them don’t hit a lot better than that, so the fact that Vizquel, who reached the majors when I was a senior in high school, is around as a player-coach-professor emeritus isn’t that big a deal, but that he gets to play for at least a little while longer is astounding in and of itself.
Vizquel has played in 2,908 games. A little more than half a season of games separates him from reaching 3,000. Consider the list of players who have reached that mark: Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Hank Aaron, Rickey Henderson, Ty Cobb, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial and Cal Ripken. Who doesn’t belong?
Unless he continues to play at an advanced age, the shortstop will finish his career with around 2,900 hits, 11 Gold Gloves, two losing World Series rings and the record for games played at shortstop. His career rates of .272/.337/.353 are in some ways not representative; his defensive skills mean that he has been able to play both before and after he could hit.
Peak-period Omar is hard to identify because he was never very consistent, but if you look at the period from age 29 to 39 (1996-2006), he hit .285/.355/.382. That’s not great—those are the years of Nomar, A-Rod and Jeter, and they set the bar for offensive performance at shortstop—but when you combine that little bit of offense with Vizquel’s excellent glove work, you have a very valuable property.
Some will argue that Vizquel belongs in the Hall of Fame. These arguments are inevitably subjective and probably not worth getting into. Bill James called the Hall a self-defining institution, which means you can’t really draw a bottom line under a player and say, “Below this point, there are no Hall of Famers.” You need objective criteria for that, and we don’t have it. Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system is an attempt to provide one, but it’s a helpful guideline, not a rule.
Me, I like precedent, and there is a precedent for players like Vizquel to make it. His career is very similar to that of Rabbit Maranville, a shortstop who put in 23 years in the big leagues (1912-1935). His glove carried well past the point that his bat had died. When he couldn’t play short anymore, he made the transition to second base. He was a goofy, fun-loving guy, and managers, particularly Bill McKechnie, enjoyed having him around.
There is also Vizquel’s countryman, Luis Aparacio, whose record for games played at shortstop Omar took. He was known for stealing bases, but he was really more of a gloveman who was miscast as a leadoff hitter.
And in case you’re wondering, Ozzie Smith was a better hitter and fielder, particularly at his peak. He’s not a precedent, but I appreciate the question.
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