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Gary Armida's Blog
Omar Vizquel, Strat, and Felix FerminPosted on October 1, 2012 at 06:07 AM.
As the 2012 season heads into the final series of the year, most of the pennant races are decided. The Tigers have all but sewn up the central division after spending most of the season underachieving. They are a team that is close to accomplishing their goal: get into the tournament and let their elite ace and slugger take over. They weren’t a team built to dominate 162; instead they were built for that short five or seven game series. The Rangers are in; the A’s are pretty close, while the Orioles and Yankees head into their last three games battling for who gets to be in the elimination game and who gets the bye to the real tournament.
The National League is even more clear. The division winners are set: Washington, Cincinnati, and San Francisco are busy setting up their rotations. The Braves clinched last week so they have Kris Medlen all ready for their elimination game. The Dodgers are keeping their flickering hopes alive, riding a five game winning streak into their season ending series against the Giants. The Cardinals, holding onto the second Wild Card spot by two games over the Dodgers. They play their division leaders in the Reds in their final series of the season.
Most of the pennant races are, indeed wrapped up, but this season has given fans good pennant chases, tremendous accomplishments, and a chance to say goodbye to some of the best we’ve seen. The season even gave us one more no-hitter as Homer Bailey continued his dominance of the Pittsburgh Pirates with a no-hitter on Friday night. Bailey’s accomplishment is certainly a highlight as he runs his career record against the Pirates to 8-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 12 career starts.
This season will also be remembered as the last for Chipper Jones, one of the game’s great players and even greater ambassadors. Jones deserves every last accolade that he gets. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s one of the best ever. He’s one of the reasons that we continued to believe in the sport, even at its darkest time.
But, as the season wanes, I find myself thinking about Omar Vizquel. Vizquel, now 45 years old, is quietly finishing out his career in Toronto as a bench player for one of 2012’s most disappointing teams. Vizquel’s career has now spanned parts of four decades. And, much like his prime, he is mostly forgotten when it comes to praising the game’s best.
The truth is, I will always remember Omar Vizquel for a different reason than most. I’ll remember him because of Felix Fermin. Yes, the two were traded for each other back in 1993, but that’s not the beginning of my connection.
My father introduced me to Strat-o-matic Baseball when I was seven or eight years old. I was immediately hooked. He didn’t waste time with the easy version of the game; he immediately taught me the advanced game with the fielding ratings and data. I played parts of the 1985 season with game. I was already playing Micro League Baseball then, having just finished taking the Yankees to the 1986 World Series against the Mets--Yankees won in seven with Mike Easler leading the way. But, the 1987 season was replayed with Strat-O-Matic Baseball. I want to say it was on my Commodore 64, but truthfully, I can’t remember if it was the good old brown machine or my first PC.
The realism of the 1987 was unreal. Mattingly and Winfield hit within percentage points of their real life counterparts. There were no playoffs that year. But, the card edition of Strat (as everyone who plays it will call it) was still alive in our family. We had leagues where we would draft players. I’d play some other random Strat games, which is where I eventually got to know Felix Fermin. He was an all-field, no-hit shortstop. I valued defense in Strat so Fermin would always be around. Vizquel was a similar player. He’d be a one or a two on defense and have a terrible offensive card. Fermin was my shortstop in one of my draft leagues with a bunch of friends. Fermin was a guy who I could roll with and find hits. For those who played Strat, you know exactly what I just said.
Both Fermin and Vizquel were on similar career paths. Vizquel was given the Seattle Mariners starting shortstop gig in 1989 and hit just .220/.273/.261. Advanced fielding metrics were still a decade away, but by all accounts, Vizquel was an Ozzie Smith clone. Fermin was similar. The Indians traded for him before the 1989 season and made him their starting shortstop. He’d hit .238/.302/.260. Fermin was three years older, but they were essentially the same player for the next couple of seasons.
Then, the Mariners made one of those deals that doesn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but was one that they would regret. They would send a 27 year old Vizquel to the Cleveland Indians for Fermin and outfielder Reggie Jefferson. Fermin would last just three more seasons in the Major Leagues. Jefferson played just one partial season in Seattle--albeit a good partial season--and would move on to Boston as a free agent.
As a kid, I only knew about this trade because of Fermin. My strat guy had been dealt.
Vizquel played 2,306 more games over the next 19 seasons. And, he turned out to be a pretty decent hitter as he hit .277/.343/.364 over those 19 years.
The Mariners did give away a potential Hall of Famer for nothing, but in fairness to them, nobody saw anything remotely close to indicate that Vizquel would be one of the best shortstops in the game over the next decade and a half. And, they did have Alex Rodriguez in the late 90’s to help them forget that bad trade.
But, Vizquel would go on to be part of the foundation of those dominant Cleveland Indians teams of the late 1990’s. During his first seven years in Cleveland, he hit .290/.360/.382 while averaging 87 runs scored, 27 doubles, 3 triples, 5 home runs, 55 RBI, and 32 stolen bases. In the height of the powerball era, Vizquel was a throwback player.
Vizquel was a player who should’ve been playing in the 1950’s. His play at shortstop would’ve been the talk. His contributions at the plate would’ve been taken as a bonus. He would’ve been described as a gritty player. But, Vizquel played in the era of the shortstop. His peers during his prime seasons were Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Miguel Tejada, and Nomar Garciaparra. Barry Larkin was also around. Vizquel couldn’t fill a stat sheet like them. And, truthfully, any player who couldn’t launch a 450 foot shot was always bypassed for headlines.
But, Vizquel was compiling a solid career offensively, far better than anyone ever expected. His development was similar to defensive wiz Ozzie Smith. For Smith’s first seven years, he hit just .238/.311/.298. In 19 years, Smith wound up hitting .262/.337/.328 while averaging 66 runs scored, 21 doubles, 4 triples, 1 home run, 42 RBI, and 31 stolen bases. Again, advanced metrics weren’t around, but Smith was obviously one of the game’s best defenders.
Vizquel, like he was during his prime, isn’t brought up in the same breath as Smith, but offensively, Vizquel is putting the finishing touches on a .276/.336/.352 career that saw averages of 60 runs scored, 19 doubles, 3 triples, 3 home runs, 40 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. Vizquel's career averages are a bit stunted because of the past four seasons spent as a bench player. But, even factoring those in, his offensive career is similar to the Hall of Famer.
Most of Vizquel’s defensive prime was spent like Smith’s. The eyes were really the only guide. Advanced metrics finally became public in 2002 when Vizquel was 35 years old. At age 39, he posted a UZR of 9.3 and DRS of plus-7. At age 40, he posted a UZR of 23.1 and a DRS of plus-16. Consider that this season’s leader, Brendan Ryan, has a UZR of 15.5 and a DRS of 29. Vizquel was just as good at age 40. One can only imagine his prime.
For the past four seasons, Vizquel has spent time more as a mentor than he has on the field. He shouldn’t be penalized for that. He had an obvious love for the game and found a role for the past five years. His knowledge of the game has been passed on to Alexei Ramirez and Elvis Andrus. He looks like he could be a future manager as well.
As for the Hall of Fame, that will be interesting. Vizquel has spent a career overshadowed by his peers. He was a 1950’s player playing in an artificial era. The perspective of his career will always be slightly blurred. His biggest strength--defense--wasn’t able to be quantified until the end of his career. And, there is always the negative perception of a player who hung on. But, those perceptions are wrong. A person continuing to play in a lesser role doesn’t diminish his career; it clearly illustrates his love for the game.
Omar Vizquel, the shortstop, does have the elite skills of Hall of Famers like Luis Aparicio and Ozzie Smith. His offensive numbers are similar. He was even an elite defender late in his career. He compiled 2,876 hits over his 24 year career. He made himself into a competent Major League hitter. His candidacy may take some time to catch on with voters, but Omar Vizquel belongs in the Hall of Fame.
In three days, he’ll say goodbye. Baseball was better for having him in the game. And, yes, he did turn out better than Felix Fermin--even in Strat-o-matic.
BORN: April 17, 1975 (38)
JOINED: Oct 26, 2003 (9 years, 214 days ago)
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