CLEVELAND — Omar Vizquel will bask in the adulation of a city today when he becomes the newest member of the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame.
In an even more perfect world, he then hopes an electrifying defensive play sends those same fans home unhappy. Vizquel will swap the returning hero gig for his day job as the first base coach for the staggering Tigers once the game begins.
“We're not going through a good time, we're losing a lot of games, and I keep reminding our players that not only can a big hit change the feeling of a game but so can a great play on the field,” Vizquel said. “It can pump everybody up, it can get everybody going, it can motivate. It's a good way to get out of a slump, especially when you’re not hitting the ball well.”
Few would know better.
Tigers manager Brad Ausmus called Vizquel the “best defensive player of my generation.” It was the shortstop’s flair with his glove that made him a fan favorite on the Indians’ thundering teams of the 1990s — and a fringe candidate for another Hall.
Vizquel finished his 24-year career with 2,877 hits and 11 Golf Glove awards, including nine straight from 1993-2001.
Only five players in baseball history claim more: Brooks Robinson (16), Ozzie Smith (13), Ivan Rodriguez (13), Roberto Clemente (12), and Willie Mayes (12). Vizquel’s .985 career fielding percentage at shortstop is also unsurpassed.
Could that be enough when he becomes eligible for the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2017?
“I'm glad that I had a great career and people can talk about the numbers and compare them to some of the guys that are in the Hall — or not — and argue about the possibility for me to be there,” said Vizquel, who played for the Indians from 1994-2004. “It's great just to hear the comments. ... I think the ceremony [today] will open some eyes and [make people ] go back and see some of my numbers from my career.”
If Indians fans had a vote, he would be a first-ballot no-doubter. Vizquel remains a hit in the city and beyond, a reality reinforced as he drove from Detroit to Cleveland on Thursday.
“I stopped in Sandusky to get something to drink and the lady at the [toll booth] went crazy,” Vizquel said, smiling. “She recognized me, and she said, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe it's Omar. Please get out of the car and take a picture.’ ”
Vizquel is the 40th member of the Indians’ Hall and the latest from their renaissance era, which included trips to the World Series in 1995 and 1997. He joins Carlos Baerga, Charles Nagy, Sandy Alomar, Jr., Kenny Lofton, and manager Mike Hargrove, while more are sure to follow.
Now 47, Vizquel said he enjoys life as a coach. Even if what made him so great can’t be taught.
Asked what he looks for in a shortstop, Vizquel said, “I like to see how they improvise.”
“Everything is so mechanical these days,” he said. “We have so many computers and records and information that everybody looks like a robot. You have to play here, you have to play there. A lot of shortstops forget that that’s a decision you have to really improvise and make based on the feel of the game.
“You have to see what the pitcher is throwing that day, you have to see the condition of the field, where the wind is blowing, you have to know a lot of things in order to make a great play. I watch a lot of the shortstops looking at the coaches for where to go in different situations. So I enjoy some of the younger guys. They dive, they try to make something different happen.“
AVILA DENIES TIPPING: One perceptive fan believes he has the answer for the Tigers’ recent pitching struggles: catcher Alex Avila has been tipping pitches.
In a suggestion that has gained traction online, a reader of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk Web site commented that Avila usually pats his glove once before a fastball and twice before an offspeed pitch.
"I've heard some crazy things," Avila said before Friday’s game. "But this definitely takes the cake.”
One problem with the theory: After the Royals rocked Max Scherzer on Tuesday night, why didn’t they do the same the next day against Drew Smyly? Avila was behind the plate for both games.
“Drew only gave up two runs,” Avila said. “Wouldn’t they score more? A lot of times I’m not even patting my glove. Sometimes, I do, but I don’t do it all the time. That’s searching.”
PESTANO RECALLED: The Indians called up reliever Vinnie Pestano from Triple-A Columbus while optioning starter Zach McAllister.
Demoted after three appearances this season, Pestano earned the return trip to Cleveland by posting a 1.78 ERA in 25 innings in Columbus. McAllister is 3-4 with a 5.89 ERA.