Beyond Golf — 20 January 2020 by Jim Street
My final HOF vote: Omar and  four others

In the “all-good-things-must-come-to-an-end” department, this will be my 37th and final Hall of Fame vote. This much-anticipated annual honor, which began following the 1982 Major League Baseball season — my 10th year as an active member of the Baseball Writers Association of America — ends under the new 10-year non-active rule, which replaced the lifetime voting privilege.

The revamped rule that actually helped get Edgar Martinez inducted into the HOF last summer softens the blow, but it still bugs me when a fellow scribe in Seattle who, to my knowledge, has not even attended a MLB game for the past six years yet remains an “active” BBWAA member. . .

That being said, my ballot for the HOF Class of 2020 has checkmarks for 5 of the 32 candidates: In alphabetical order they are Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Curt Schilling, Omar Vizquel and Larry Walker.

Jeter, of course, is a no-brainer and he just might join former Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera as a unanimous selection. My gut feeling is that only one other candidate will garner the 75 percent-plus votes needed to be enshrined this July.

And that would be Walker.

For one thing, the former Expos and Rockies star is on the BBWAA ballot for the 10th and final time. I believe he’ll be the 2020 version of Edgar. Better late than never.

Say what you want about Denver’s mile-high elevation playing a role in Walker hitting so many home runs during his career – 383 spread over a MLB career that started in Montreal in 1989 and ended in St. Louis in 2005.

But he was far more than a long-ball hitting machine. During a three-year stretch (1997-99) he batted a ridiculous .366, .363 and .379, winning two NL batting titles and one MVP Award. ‘Nuff said.

Moving right along, if Ozzie Smith was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which he was in 2002, then Vizquel should have a plaque on the HOF wall in Cooperstown. Omar, the former Mariner who had his best years with the Indians, is the American League version of Ozzie — minus the backward flip.

This is Vizquel’s third year of HOF eligibility – and the third time I have voted for him. In the 40 years of covering Major League Baseball, Omar was the best defensive shortstop I ever saw on a regular basis. He was a magician with the glove and had a remarkably strong arm for such a little guy.

One particular play stands out. I can still picture the bare-handed grab Omar made on a high chopper over the Kingdome mound that became the final out in Chris Bosio’s no-hitter. I doubt that 99 percent of the shortstops would have even tried to pull it off. But for the Venezuelan native it was a piece of cake.

He had the hands of a magician. When he played catch, it was like the ball never touched his glove. The ball would be in his barehand so fast. I once asked him how he became such a good fielder and he said, “Where I grew up, the fields were so bad you needed quick hands just to protect yourself.”

Let’s compare Smith and Vizquel:

* In a 19-year MLB career, Smith had a .978 fielding percentage – 281 errors in 12,905 total chances. In his 24-year MLB career, Vizquel compiled a .985 fielding percentage — 183 errors in 11,961 total chances. Advantage Omar.

* Smith was a 13-time Gold Glove winner with the Cardinals and Padres. Vizquel was an 11-time Gold Glove winner with the Mariners, Indians, Giants, Rangers, White Sox and Blue Jays. Advantage Ozzie.

* Smith had a .262 career batting average, going 2,460-for-9,396. Vizquel had a .272 career batting average, going 2,877-for-10,586. Advantage Omar.

* Smith was selected to 15 All-Star teams. Vizquel was selected to 3 All-Star teams. Advantage Ozzie.

* Smith hit 28 home runs, drove in 793 runs and stole 580 bases. Vizquel hit 80 home runs, drove in 951 runs and stole 404 bases. Advantage Omar.

* Smith played in three World Series, batting .173 (13-for-75), three Championship Series, batting .303 (20-for-66), and one Division Series, batting .333 (1-for-3). Vizquel appeared in two Word Series, batting .208 (11-for-53), three Championship Series, batting .192 (14-for-73), and six Division Series, batting .314 (32-for-102). Advantage Even.

(Note: Vizquel would have been named the Most Valuable Player in the 1997 World Series if Jose Mesa had protected a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Marlins.)

Many of my former BBWAA colleagues disagree with me regarding the most obvious cheaters of the game. I contemplated voting for the steroid users – primarily Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Manny Ramirez — and it took less than a New York minute to say, “No Way!!”















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Jim Street

Jim’s 40-year sportswriting career started with the San Jose Mercury-News in 1970 and ended on a full-time basis on October 31, 2010 following a 10-year stint with MLB.com. He grew up in Dorris, Calif., several long drives from the nearest golf course. His first tee shot was a week before being inducted into the Army in 1968. Upon his return from Vietnam, where he was a war correspondent for the 9th Infantry Division, Jim took up golf semi-seriously while working for the Mercury-News and covered numerous tournaments, including the U.S. Open in 1982, when Tom Watson made the shot of his life on the 17th hole at Pebble Beach. Jim also covered several Bing Crosby Pro-Am tournaments, the women’s U.S. Open, and other golfing events in the San Francisco area. He has a 17-handicap, made his first and only hole-in-one on March 12, 2018 at Sand Point Country Club in Seattle and witnessed the first round Ken Griffey Jr. ever played – at Arizona State during Spring Training in 1990. Pebble Beach Golf Links, the Kapalua Plantation Course, Pinehurst No. 2, Spyglass Hill, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, Medinah, Chambers Bay, North Berwick, Gleneagles and Castle Stuart in Scotland, and numerous gems in Hawaii are among the courses he has had the pleasure of playing. Hitting the ball down the middle of the fairway is not a strong part of Jim’s game, but he is known (in his own mind) as the best putter not on tour. Most of Jim’s writing career was spent covering Major League Baseball, a tenure that started with the Oakland Athletics, who won 101 games in 1971, and ended with the Seattle Mariners, who lost 101 games in 2010. Symmetry is a wonderful thing. He currently lives in Seattle and has an 8-year-old grandson, Andrew, who is the club's current junior champion at his home course (Oakmont CC) in Glendale, Calif.

(2) Readers Comments

  1. avatar

    Super excited to see Walker. You ask Canadian baseball fans in their 40s like me who their all time favourite baseball player is and 70%+ will say Larry Walker. His talent was easily hall of fame worthy. If he had just stayed healthy he would have been a no doubt hall of fame candidate. Having kids at an older age, I’m excited to take my son to cooperstown one day and show him the plaque of my favourite all time player.

    Congrats on your career and that was a great final hall of fame ballot.

    • avatar

      Thank you, Craig.

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