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!!”