Omar Vizquel and the Hall of Fame

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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.

Game 6: This is why the Astros traded for Justin Verlander

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Houston’s pitching has not been their biggest problem as they’ve watched their 2-0 series lead turn in to a 3-2 series deficit. It has not been good, mind you — Charlie Morton got rocked in Game 3, the bullpen collapsed on Game 4 and Dallas Keuchel was suddenly mortal in Game 5 — but even then it’s not been the biggest concern. The real problem has been the lack of offense.

The Astros led the majors in runs (896), batting average (.282), on-base percentage (.346) and slugging (.478) during the regular season and were second to the Yankees in homers. Despite that, they have scored just nine runs and have hit only one homer. The team’s ALCS batting line, those two wins included, is .147/.234/.213. As such, facing off against Luis Severino and a rested Yankees bullpen tonight can’t give them a ton of confidence.

They do have one thing going for them, however: Justin Verlander. The same Justin Verlander who received only two runs of support in Game 2 of the series but made it hold up thanks to his 124-pitch, 13-strikeout complete game victory. You can’t really expect a starter to do that sort of thing two times in a row, but that’s what the Astros acquired him for at the end of August. In a league where there are vanishingly few horses a team can ride to victory, Verlander stands as one of the few remaining old school aces. Expect A.J. Hinch to keep the bit in Verlander’s mouth for as long as this game is close and, even then, maybe an inning longer.

Is there any reason for optimism regarding the Astros’ lineup? Sure, of course. They didn’t suddenly all forget how to hit. Every team goes through a stretch of 3-5 games where the hits don’t seem to fall. There may, possibly, be some reason for hope in the man they’re facing too. Severino lasted only four innings in Game 2, having been removed early after taking a ground ball off his left wrist. Severino said he was fine and wished that Joe Girardi hadn’t taken him out, but (a) he was acting a little odd, shaking his arm out like he was trying to shake off some pain; and (b) starting pitchers almost always lie and say they’re better than they are. I’m certain Severino is healthy enough to go, but there’s at least a small chance that he’s vulnerable, somehow. At the very least Astros hitters can walk to the plate convincing themselves of it. Any edge you can either get or imagine, right?

Game 6 seems like it will have to be a matter of a small edge one way or another for both teams, really. The Yankees are rolling, but their assignment tonight is a tough one as they try to chase a guy who fancies himself — and has often shown himself — to be a rare throwback to those 1960s and 1970s aces who only seem to get better as the ballgame goes on. The Astros, meanwhile, are tasked with solving a young, fireballing stuff monster who has something to prove after his early exit in Game 2 and, even if he can’t prove it, a corps of relief aces who are among the most formidable in baseball. Add to that the notion that Major League Baseball, Fox and most commentators and casual fans outside of Houston want to see the 12th Yankees-Dodgers World Series matchup and the Astros have to be thinking everything’s against them.

Which is OK, though, right? Ballplayers love it when no one believes in them. That’s not better than six or seven runs of support, but the Astros will take anything they can get at the moment.