Omar Vizquel: Omar-velous Underappreciated Glove Wizard Returns to Cleveland

Nick DobreffContributor IJune 22, 2008

In an era dominated by juiced-up sluggers, equipped with rippling muscles that would have made the Incredible Hulk feel inadequate, and super-star shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, and Nomar Garciaparra, Omar Vizquel dazzled with a grace and style that wowed players and fans alike.

On Tuesday, he will make his first trip to Cleveland since his final season with the Indians in 2004.

Of all the players from those power-house Tribe teams of the 90's, "Little O" will be remembered as the one who stayed loyal to the city of Cleveland. The one who never took the big money and ran with it like sluggers Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.

His numbers speak for themselves. The greatest fielding shortstop in history, Omar owns the highest fielding percentage of any shortstop to play over 1000 games at .984.

His 11 gold gloves are second only to Ozzie Smith's 13. He won nine straight from 1993-2001 only to be supplanted by Alex Rodriguez in 2002 and Derek Jeter in 2004 (he only played 64 games in 2003 because of knee surgery).

A look at the statistics from those two years will show that Omar had fewer errors and a higher fielding percentage with almost the same amount of chances. 

He has since won two more gold gloves with the Giants, and, if not for the A-Rod and Jeter robberies, would be tied with the Wizard for most gold gloves ever by a shortstop.

However, the statistics do not do any justice to the way Omar played the game. With the joy and energy of a little-leaguer, he would field balls between innings using his feet to deflect the ball into his hand or use the ball like a hackisack (he was an excellent soccer player in his home country of Venezuela).

You never wanted to go for concessions between innings at the Jake because you were bound to miss Omar effortlessly doing something amazing. When fielding pop-ups on sunny afternoons, he would turn his back to home plate and use the brim of his hat to shield the sun.

His trademark was using only his bare hand to field the ball. He would use this on slow rollers, Baltimore chops, scorching one-hoppers to his right, or any time when a glove-to-hand transfer would take too long to get the runner.

As Tom Hamilton always used to say, "Omar always knows exactly how to get the runner by half a step."

He fielded ground balls with the grace of a ballerina. Watching him turn the double play was like watching poetry in motion.

He was no slouch with the bat either.

When he came up with Seattle, he was a light-hitting switch hitter. But over the years he worked to make himself a dependable hitter. He owns a modest .273 career batting average but he does have over 2,600 hits.

Never a power hitter by any stretch of the imagination, he became one of the best bunters in baseball, utilizing his speed on the bases to become second on the Indians career steals list, and found ways to get on base in front of prolific sluggers like Albert Belle, Ramirez, and Thome.

And he always did everything with a big, toothy smile on his face...A constant reminder that baseball is a kids game and is meant to be enjoyed.

When he finally walks away from this game that he's given so much to, he'll be remembered as a fan favorite wherever he went, a guy who always took time to sign autographs or take pictures, and a man whose charm, charisma, and style resonated with a Cleveland fan base that embraced him as their own.

When he dons Chief Wahoo in Cooperstown, his achievements will finally be recognized. A man who's small stature was overshadowed by a huge heart, a golden glove, and a vibrant love for life.

And he always made it look easy.

The greatest fielding shortstop in baseball history...Omar Vizquel