Vizquel likes what he sees at shortstop
Young stars remind veteran of how the position has changed
In the twilight of a brilliant career, one in which he has played more games at shortstop than any player in Major League history, Omar Vizquel looks around with admiration at the next generation of players at his position.
Tick off the names: Jimmy Rollins of Philadelphia, the National League's Most Valuable Player last season; Hanley Ramirez of Florida, the All-Star shortstop who hit .332 with 29 home runs last season; Jose Reyes of the New York Mets, who has led the league in steals for three straight years; Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, who hit 24 home runs and turned an unassisted triple play last season; Yunel Escobar of Atlanta, who batted .326 in his first season. Ryan Theriot of the Cubs and Cristian Guzman of the Washington Nationals, both among the league leaders in hitting this season
And that's just the NL.
"They are an amazing group of shortstops nowadays," Vizquel said. "It's fun to watch the way they play the game. They can change the game in so many ways. They can make a great play, they can steal a base, they can take an extra base, they can hit home runs.
"They are just terrific."
Vizquel has set a high bar for the position in a 20-year career that began with Seattle, continued in Cleveland and now is winding down in San Francisco. He's won 11 Gold Gloves, nine in a row from 1993-2001 and two more in 2005 and 2006, the last one when he was 39 years old. The only other shortstop with more Gold Gloves is Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, who won 13. Vizquel's .984 fielding percentage is the highest in history for shortstops who have played 1,000 games at the position, and he has turned more double plays than any shortstop in history.
In May, he broke Hall of Famer Luis Aparacio's record for games played at the position and continues to add to the record, having passed 2,600 games a couple of weeks before the All-Star Game. In a difficult offensive season, he still has the second most hits of any active player, trailing only Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr.
And just in case you think that, at age 41, Vizquel has no giddy-up left, consider that he had a straight steal of home against Oakland on June 13, the first one for the Giants since Max Venable did it 25 years ago.
Vizquel knows he is approaching the end of a career that will possibly lead him to Cooperstown. And he realizes that he has played through a dramatic change in the nature of his position.
"The last 10 or 15 years, things have changed," Vizquel said. "There used to be one standout player at the position. No more.
"When I broke in, there were two or three guys. Cal Ripken and Tony Fernandez were All-Stars every year. There were no other contenders. Now it seems like every team has a great shortstop, and a lot of them are the best player on the team."
Vizquel watches and appreciates them all.
"I don't have a favorite," he said. "They all make great plays. When you play as long as I have and win as many Gold Gloves as I have, I know how hard it is to do what they do.
"When you see a shortstop dive, it doesn't mean it's always a great play. It could be bad positioning or bad timing. It takes a while to learn the hitters and position yourself. I was a little lost when I moved from the American League to the National League."
Vizquel found himself quickly and continued the tradition of great Venezuelan shortstops, a community that includes Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Dave Concepcion.
Only Aparicio has made it to Cooperstown so far. Vizquel may be on his way.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.