OMAR VIZQUEL'S HANDS ARE NOT BIG—THEY'RE THE SIZE you'd expect for someone who's 5'9" and 165 pounds—nor are his fingers gnarled from bad hops. They are 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 had some ideas on how players could improve their hands," Vizquel says. "We'd throw a rubber 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 former Indians coach Buddy Bell. Like his father, Vizquel was a good soccer player in his native Venezuela. "Good hands are important if you play shortstop," Vizquel says, "but if you don't have good feet, you're dead."
Then there's his glove, a Rawlings Pro SXSC model. It's smaller than most shortstops' gloves—in fact, it's not much bigger than Vizquel's left hand—and has a 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 says. Some players use the same glove for 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 wants to be the best."
It took Cleveland's first World Series appearance in 41 years for Vizquel's skills to become widely appreciated. 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 Carlos Baerga, who turned the double play. In every game, Vizquel made at least one difficult play look easy.
When pressed to name the play he thinks is the best of his career, Vizquel balks and then smiles. "A few years ago, in winter ball in Venezuela, I went into the hole," he says. "I knew I couldn't get the guy at first, so I reached down, barehanded the ball down by my ankles, jumped and threw to second for the force. It was a good play."
It had to have been better than that. It must have been magic.
From SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, April 1, 1996