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PLAYMAKER
Tim Kurkjian
April 01, 1996
As millions of fans discovered in last year's World Series, Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel is such a good fielder he sometimes doesn't even need a glove
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April 01, 1996

Playmaker

As millions of fans discovered in last year's World Series, Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel is such a good fielder he sometimes doesn't even need a glove

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His hands are not big—they're the size you would expect for someone who's 5'9" and 165 pounds, as is Vizquel—nor are his fingers gnarled from bad hops and sliding runners. The fingers are unmarked, as smooth and supple as they are steady and lightning-fast. "When I signed with the Mariners [as a 16-year-old in 1984], the guy who signed me, Marty Martinez, had some ideas on how players could improve their hands," Vizquel said. "We'd throw a rubber ball or tennis ball against a wall and run and catch it barehanded. If you dropped it, it was a run."

Then there are his feet, quick and nimble. "His balance is exceptional," says Bell. "His feet are always under him." Like his father and namesake, Vizquel was a good soccer player in his native Venezuela. "Good hands are important to have if you play shortstop," Vizquel said, "but if you don't have good feet, you're dead." Just ask Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Gregg Jefferies and dozens of other major leaguers who were drafted as middle infielders but were moved to first base, third base or the outfield because they had slow, clumsy feet.

Then there's Vizquel's glove, a Rawlings Pro SXSC model, which fits snugly. It's smaller than most shortstops' gloves—in fact, it's not much bigger than Vizquel's left hand—and has a very shallow pocket. There's nothing worse for an infielder than having the ball get stuck in the pocket. "The first time I put this kind of glove on my hand six years ago, I fell in love with it," he said. "Rawlings doesn't make this glove anymore, but I told them, 'I don't care, just keep making them for me.' " Some players use the same glove for several years; Vizquel breaks in a new one every season.

But it's not his glove that has made Vizquel a defensive genius; it's his work. "Players say they played from morning to night, but with Omar, I believe it because he loves the game so much," says Bell. "He cares about winning. He cares about doing things right. He's very intelligent. He wants to be the best."

That's why Cleveland, which acquired Vizquel from the Mariners in a trade after the 1993 season, gave him a five-year, $15.35 million contract extension last December. The Indians believe that he isn't the type of person who's going to get into trouble off the field or get out of shape in the off-season. He's a game-preparation freak. "When he's taking ground balls before games, he has a plan," says Bell. "I could watch him take grounders all day."

It's more fun to watch Vizquel's highlight tape. Produced by the Indians' video department, it features Vizquel's best plays in his two seasons with the Tribe. "I have another tape of the plays I made with Seattle that's even better than this one," said Vizquel, who played in relative obscurity there, dazzling Mariners fans while the rest of the country didn't know what it was missing. It wasn't until 1993 that he won the first of his three straight Gold Gloves.

In the first highlight on the Indians' tape, Vizquel backhands a vicious one-hopper hit by the Texas Rangers' Jeff Frye and flips to Baerga, who relays to first for a double play. Two highlights later there appears to be a replay of the first one. "Same play! Same hitter! Same game!" Vizquel said of burning Frye the second time.

It took Cleveland's first World Series appearance in 41 years for Vizquel's skills to become widely appreciated. Even though he was one of the weakest hitters (.266) in baseball's most potent lineup last season, Vizquel was the Indians' most fascinating player to watch. In Game 3 against the Braves he made a diving stop of Ryan Klesko's ground ball up the middle and threw Klesko out. In Game 4 Vizquel was running to cover second on a steal play when a one-hop shot up the middle by Luis Polonia required that he reach back across his body to grab the ball and throw out Polonia. In Game 6 he ranged behind second to nab a grounder hit by Rafael Belliard and flipped the ball with his glove to Baerga, who barehanded the toss and turned the double play.

In every game of the World Series, Vizquel made at least one difficult play look easy. "I got a lot of compliments after the World Series," he said. "People compared me to Ozzie Smith and Luis Aparicio."

On the big-screen TV in the Vizquels' bedroom, where Omar has been joined by his wife, Nicole, and their six-month-old son, Nicole, the highlight tape has run for 15 minutes, and Omar the Playmaker has made 10 plays that had to be seen to be believed. When pressed for an answer, he couldn't name the play he thought was the best of his career. "Guys on my team have asked me, 'How did you make that play?' " said Vizquel. "I tell them, 'I don't know. You saw it, I didn't.' "

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