Perhaps more than any player on this list: Omar's Hall of Fame moments came in small doses, riddled throughout his entire career. That's the way it goes with defense first players. Sure, signature plays exist: Derek Jeter's flip play, Willie Mays' back-to-home plate catch, Vladimir Guerrero uncorking a cannon of a throw: but the thing about good defenders is they keep making good plays over, and over, again. They rent a spot in your mind by constantly doing something which makes you sit back and say "wow!"
Vizquel was that kind of a defender and, as Jay Jaffe points out, he was one of the first to benefit from regular highlights on Sportscenter, and national television for a wide audience. As such, we can pull out numerous moments defensively for Omar.
Omar's 24 Seasons of Defense
How can you break down the true awe of Omar Vizquel's defense? His fielding, in the end, defines him: Omar Vizquel found ways to make the impossible play possible. Charging soft hit grounders? Omar charged the ball better than anyone. Jump throws to first base? Omar was better than Jeter at that play. Diving stops? Yea, Omar could do that too. Omar was known for his bare handed plays, but he didn't need his hands to make a play. Omar could make great catches as well.
Don't worry, I'll wait...
The fact of the matter is: you can't define Omar's defense down to one play. That first play came in 1993, Omar's first Gold Glove season. The catch play? His last game, at the ripe age of 45, in as a Toronto Blue Jay. Omar made plays as a shortstop long after most shortstops either moved to other positions or retired (heck he made plays as a coachafter he retired). His defense, in his era, was legendary, so legendary: he won 11 Gold Gloves, including straight for Seattle and Cleveland. He won Gold Gloves at 40 (although it was technically his age 39 season). Omar truly was a fielding maestro.
1997 ALDS, Game 4
Omar rarely wowed with the bat, but he did notch one quite notable hit in the postseason in Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS. The game tied at 2 against the Yankees, Omar Vizquel singled off Ramiro Menendez to plate Marquis Grissom and win the game.
Vizquel was at the plate for another famous moment, in Game 3 of the ALCS against Baltimore in 1997, when Grissom stole home to win the game (Vizquel squared for the bunt, but missed).
Overall, Omar Vizquel's case is as much visual as it is about numbers. You cannot help but marvel at the plays Omar Vizquel made throughout his career, and there are too many to recount on this post. Omar was a tremendous defensive shortstop both by the numbers, and living rent free in our memory (with some assists from the internet). I could dump an hour or more of great Omar Vizquel plays on this page and probably convince most people he was the best defensive shortstop in baseball history: and the reality is, by looks, I'm sure Omar Vizquel is the best regularly recorded shortstop (visually) in baseball history.
Omar also has the accolades to back it up. Omar's 11 Gold Gloves is second to Ozzie Smith, tied with Luis Aparicio for second most all time at his position. However, the defensive statistics (those dastardly numbers) paint a different story. Despite the Gold Gloves: Omar Vizquel only led the league in putouts as a shortstop once, double plays once. He never led the league in assists. He never led the league in range factor, as a shortstop. Overall, Omar Vizquel's defensive reputation is a visual one, not a statistical one. Many like to compare Omar to Ozzie Smith (and I can see why) but I actually find the defensive comparison to Luis Aparicio more telling. Aparicio led the league in assists seven times, putouts four times, double plays twice, and range factor for times. Many will boast of Omar's fielding percentage: and he did lead the league in fielding percentage four times. Luis Aparicio led the league eight times.
Overall, it's pretty clear: Omar Vizquel was no Ozzie Smith. Heck, he was no Luis Aparicio either. I think it's fair to say Omar's defensive reputation is inflated, partially by his many fans and advocates (and I should know: I'm one of them). Overall, I could not support inducting Vizquel on the quality of his defense alone. It helps that Omar's hit total exceeds any shortstop not named Derek Jeter and Honus Wagner. The thing is, Omar was not a better hitter than Ozzie Smith or Luis Aparicio either.
Omar Vizquel's .272/.336/.352 career batting line resembles both Aparicio and Smith's, the thing is: Vizquel's career OPS+ of 82 is the same as Aparicio's, and would be among the worst in the Hall. Now, I do feel people make a bigger deal out of this than they should: Omar Vizquel batted 2,000 more times than either player, because Omar chose to hang around into his mid forties. If you take out Omar's last few years, his OPS+ sneaks ahead of Luis Aparicio's: and if you equal out Vizquel's and Aparicio's careers by age: Omar takes a small four point gain over Aparicio. Vizquel's prime seasons: from '93-06 were an 86, about as good as Smith's entire career. Omar's best season offensively was 1999, and he accumulated 13 rBAT which is as good as Smith's best season's as well.
Overall, I believe Omar was a better hitter than Luis Aparicio, and about as good as Ozzie Smith. At the end of the day, this matters little: none of the three could hit much for their careers.
Vizquel's bigger issue is, despite stealing about as many bases as both Aparicio (it less than Smith): Vizquel was not a particularly good baserunner. For his career he's 6 runs below average. Again, if you take away his seasons as a utility player he creeps into the positive range, but the reality is: Luis Aparicio is one of the best baserunners of all time, and led the AL in steals every year until he reached his 30s. Smith was not quite as prolific as Aparicio (compared to his peers) but was still a much better baserunner than Vizquel.
Overall, Vizquel leaves us with a career that's less defensively prolific as many would like to believe, and obviously deficient offensively. In any other position: Vizquel would fall well short of Cooperstown. However, Omar's fortunate: he's a shortstop, and shortstops tend to get the benefit of the doubt, when players at other positions get penalized. However, Omar would also pretty easily be the worst shortstop ever inducted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA. So for me, statistically, Omar is not just a hard no: but he's the least qualified player to earn significant consideration from the BBWAA, likely since Catfish Hunter.
Now, if there's a silver lining to Omar it's this: he's highly unlikely to provide an avenue for other unworthy players to enter the Hall of Fame. Why? Vizquel's 11 Gold Gloves. Without them I doubt Vizquel would even make a second ballot. With them, his case becomes compelling (before his defensive statistics receive scrutiny). The only other player I can see benefiting from Omar's induction is Mark Belanger: and Belanger has an argument for the best defensive shortstop of all time. So Omar's poor JAWS score will not suddenly increase the odds of Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Tejada, and Rafael Furcal entering the Hall any time soon.
The Hall does not have to be a zero sum game: Omar's gain does not immediately damn other players. And there are not exactly a massive number of defensive shortstops unfairly being denied entrance to the Hall of Fame, while Omar gets all the attention. There's room for Omar, and all of the other borderline cases on the ballot this year. Which is why, while I cannot support Omar's candidacy: I will not be particularly disappointed if he earns induction. It will be fun when the Indians retire his number, and to see Omar give a speech on the shores of Otsego Lake.