SAN DIEGO – A short walk from where the 30 major league managers gathered a month ago for baseball’s annual Winter Meetings, Omar Vizquel participated in his own press conference. A few dozen Mexican journalists were on hand as the Venezuelan legend was introduced as the new manager of the Toros de Tijuana of the Mexican League.
The timing of the press conference was quite poetic in a sense, considering two of Vizquel’s most important goals. He was at the Hilton, where many minor-league officials stayed for their portion of the winter meetings. Major League Baseball managers and officials were staying about half a mile away at the Grand Hyatt.
At the same time Vizquel was introduced as the Toros’ new manager at the Hilton, Ted Simmons was at the podium at the Grand Hyatt being introduced as the newest person elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a modern era committee. A few minutes later, the managers’ media sessions began.
Hall of Fame dreams
If all goes well, Vizquel will eventually participate in a Hall of Fame press conference. He also hopes to land a big league gig that will require manager media sessions at the Winter Meetings. Granted, he would surely rather have his Hall of Fame press conference in New York in January, which is when the players elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are announced.
Vizquel, who was arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball during his 24-year career, is in his third year on the BBWAA’s Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. He was named on 42.8 percent of the BBWAA ballots last year in his second year on the ballot.
He fell shy of the required 75 percent of the ballots, but he is on a good pace to eventual induction. According to renowned Hall of Fame ballot tracker Ryan Thibodaux, Vizquel has gained 10 votes already from returning voters who have made their ballots public.
He received 13 votes from returning voters who didn’t vote for him last year, but he was not named on three ballots submitted by voters who voted for him last year.
With those additional votes and the other public ballots, Vizquel is at 45.6 percent on Thibodaux’s tracker. He’s making good progress.
“It’s awesome. That’s good news. Every time you have the opportunity to go up in the voting it’s great,” Vizquel said last month. “I’m not really looking to see who’s voting or what they’re saying, but it’s exciting to see your numbers at the end going up.”
Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Curt Schilling, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Scott Rolen are the only men on this year’s ballot trending better than Vizquel. That’s an impressive list.
Vizquel, 52, definitely has the resume to deserve a place among the immortals in Cooperstown, N.Y. He was an 11-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star.
During his time, he was the best defensive wizard at the most important defensive position on the diamond.
“He’s going to make it,” former major league catcher Carlos Hernandez said of his fellow Venezuelan. “Not everybody can play 24 years in the major leagues, no one. So he did it. That means he’s a person that loves the game.
“He’s a person that never had a problem with anybody. He’s a guy that follows rules since he signed. He’s a guy that doesn’t have a bad habit. I don’t remember hearing anything negative against him from nobody. He’s a guy that’s always going to have fun when he’s on the field. He’s a future Hall of Famer.”
Following Luis Aparicio
It’s pretty evident by ballot tracking that Vizquel is not going to earn a spot in Cooperstown this year. It’s important to remember, though, that even the great Luis Aparicio didn’t become the first Venezuelan in the Baseball Hall of Fame until his sixth year on the BBWAA ballot.
It may very well take Vizquel six years on the BBWAA ballot or perhaps the maximum 10 to earn induction.
For now, however, he’ll focus on his managerial career in hopes of one day becoming a major league manager.
After retiring after the 2012 season, Vizquel began coaching in the majors with the Angels in 2013. He was then on the Detroit Tigers’ coaching staff from 2014 through 2017.
He interviewed for the Tigers’ managerial position after the 2017 season, but he didn’t get that job. He then managed in the Chicago White Sox organization, first at Class A Winston-Salem in 2018 and Class AA Birmingham in 2019.
Now, he’s headed to the Mexican League, which is the equivalent of Class AAA.
“Really exciting,” Vizquel said. “I think it’s a new challenge. It’s a league that I’ve never been in before, but it has a lot of good people working there. I already know how hard the league is. There’s going to be a lot of competition there.
“But I’m sure that we got to study the numbers. We have to see what kind of team that we have. We have a pretty good team on paper. We’re going to try to give them every opportunity for them to excel and to play hard baseball, good baseball. It’s going to be pretty exciting.”