Soon-to-be 45-year-old Omar Vizquel is set to play a 24th season in the bigs after recently inking a minor league deal with the Blue Jays. He’s not promised anything, but it’s likely that he’ll have a roster spot in John McDonald’s old role. It’ll be his fourth straight season as the game’s oldest position player, and he could graduate to oldest overall for the first time if neither Jamie Moyer nor Tim Wakefield can nail down a job.
My guess is that Vizquel, by virtue of his longevity and defensive excellence, will pretty much waltz into the Hall of Fame after he finally calls it a career. Probably not on the first ballot, but likely by the third.
Still, I will take issue with it when it happens. I’m not someone who believes the Hall of Fame is only for the best of the best of the best — there should be plenty of room in there for Tim Raines, Alan Trammell and others — but I don’t like the idea of a player who was never really among the best in his league getting inducted.
And that’s my problem with Vizquel’s case. In 23 seasons, he’s been listed on an MVP ballot once: someone gave him an eighth-place vote in 1999. That was deserved: by Baseball-reference WAR, he was the AL’s fifth-best player in 1999, so there was definitely an argument for him getting a few more down-ballot votes.
But even in his best year, Vizquel wasn’t viewed as one of the AL’s top 10 players. In most years, hardly anyone would have put him in the top 20. Is that really a Hall of Famer? There’s something to be said for being very good for a long time, but was Vizquel even very good?
It’s the same sort of thing with Jack Morris. In his case, the revisionist history is even more stark. The pitcher of the 1980s? A dominant 250-game winner? Tell me again that I had to be there to see it, because those who were there didn’t see it either.
Morris pitched in the American League for 18 years. In that time, 432 Cy Young ballots were cast. Morris claimed the top spot on three of them. 432 chances for someone watching to say he was the best pitcher in the league in a given year and only three did. And it’s not like he ever missed out because of a dominant showing by someone else: he never finished in second place in the Cy Young balloting. His top finishes were two third places, and he lost out to Rollie Fingers and LaMarr Hoyt in those years.
Vizquel’s case is different. The momentum for Morris is largely based on Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. The driving force for Vizquel will be the 11 Gold Gloves. Ozzie Smith (13) and Brooks Robinson (16) are the only infielders with more. Offensively, Vizquel matches up nicely with Hall of Famers Luis Aparicio and Rabbit Maranville. He’s a notch below Smith.
That Ozzie was seen by many as such a no-brainer helps Vizquel immensely. After all, if Ozzie is so obviously a Hall of Famer and Vizquel was only a little worse offensively and a little worse defensively, then he must make the cut, too.
But I don’t buy that. Ozzie Smith was a Hall of Famer, but when it comes to first ballot choices, he was a little more Kirby Puckett than Cal Ripken Jr. Vizquel is enough of a step below him that I don’t think he makes the cut. Of course, others may feel free to disagree.