At age 45, Blue Jays infielder Omar Vizquel passed the Babe for 41st place on MLB's all-time hit list, with No. 2,874 on Wednesday night against the Yankees.
Why does this number matter? Because all but two retired men (Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro) ahead of Vizquel are currently in the Hall of Fame. Craig Biggio and Derek Jeter are also ahead of him, but they will both be elected to the Hall in their first opportunities. And whenever Vizquel retires, he should be too.
Nearly playing to the quarter century mark is a feat within itself. But for Vizquel, he still contributes for the Blue Jays — just ask the Red Sox. Although he has only played in 56 games in 2012, he's suited up for Toronto in every infield position, and even played a game in the outfield. The greatest utility player of all-time? Maybe. The best defensive infielder ever — quite possibly.
While the hit total is impressive, Vizquel is more often known for his glove. From 1993-2001 Vizquel won nine consecutive Gold Glove Awards, playing for the Seattle Mariners and Cleveland Indians. During that time, the Venezuelan-born shortstop made 90 errors, all while playing an average of 158 games per season.
In 2000, Vizquel played in 156 games for the Indians. He had 648 defensive chances. Vizquel made three errors.
His career fielding percentage is .985, the second-highest ever by a shortstop. The only man ahead of Vizquel is current Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.
Most would associate the greatest fielding shortstop to be Ozzie Smith. His career fielding percentage is seven points below Vizquel's, in Smith's 24 big-league seasons, he only committed a single-digit number of errors four times. Vizquel has done that 13 times.
Outside of his 11 Gold Gloves — he won two more with the Giants in 2005 and 2006 — Vizquel has showcased his speed on the basepaths. He's swiped 404 bases in his career, and while that number only gets him to No. 70 on that career-list, it's been his utility and overall effectiveness that should make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The three-time All Star is only 126 hits away from 3,000, often considered the magic number for getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. While at age 45 it may be hard for Vizquel to reach that number, it shouldn't matter.
In his prime, he was the best defensive shortstop in the game. If it hadn't been for the likes of Alex Rodriguez (02-03) and Derek Jeter (04-06), he could have won another two or three Gold Gloves, easily surpassing "The Wizard," who has 12.
He's been a class act throughout his career, a big plus when it comes time for the BBWAA to vote. Vizquel has stayed away from the steriod era scandals, another big perk when it becomes his first time on the ballot. If Vizquel calls it quits after 2012, or stays in the big leagues until he reaches 3,000 hits, he should be in the Hall of Fame on his first try.
If not, that's just the same type of robbery Vizquel has showcased over his career.