Do you appreciate what Omar Vizquel has done? That is to say, do you really, really appreciate it?
Last Saturday, the Blue Jays were in the middle of scoring six runs in the ninth inning against an imploding Marlins bullpen, to break a 1-1 tie and roll to a 7-1 win. With one out in the inning, one run already in, and runners on second and third, the Jays called on a little-used utility infielder, then hitting .228/.267/.228, to pinch-hit for pitcher Darren Oliver (whose career batting line is actually a tick better than that, but being an American League middle reliever, he hasn’t swung a bat since 2006). The pinch-hitter grounded into a fielder’s choice, with the runner on third gunned down at home, but would later come around to score on Colby Rasmus’ three-run homer.
That unsuccessful pinch-hit appearance isn’t the kind of thing that would generally kick off a Baseball Prospectus piece (especially four days later), and I can’t think of a single reason why it ever should, except that the pinch-hitter in this case was Omar Vizquel. And Omar Vizquel is 45 years old, and still (occasionally) playing in a major-league middle infield. On Tuesday, Vizquel announced that he planstoretire after this season.
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A writer who never saw Jack Morris pitch watches him in action for the first time and comes away even less convinced that the traditionalist case for his candidacy should earn him a call to Cooperstown.
Well, allow me to make amends there. I don’t pretend to have the problem solved. I’m not sure any of us will ever see it truly solved. But I think—or at least, hope—this can point us in the right direction.
A look at how a sabermetrician would have viewed a memorable Saturday afternoon game at Wrigley Field nearly 26 years ago.
It started as an ordinary Saturday afternoon game between a third-place club and a fifth-place club—sure, there were NBC broadcasters there, but not the main announcing team of Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola. They were in Atlanta calling the marquee matchup between Fernando Valenzuela and Pascual Perez, while this game featured a rookie starter looking for his first major-league win, and a nondescript veteran with a career 54-57 record. Before it was over, however, one player would hit for the cycle, another would stroke a bases-loaded pinch-hit single in extra innings to win the game, and neither would be remembered as the game’s hero. This Cubs/Cardinals tilt at Wrigley Field was one for the annals, and if you’ve ponied up the cash to log onto CompuServe to read this you probably want more detailed analysis than you’re likely to find in Monday's USA Today—and that’s what I’ll try to provide, along with some statistical tidbits from the recent cutting-edge work of “sabermetricians” Bill James, John Thorn, and Pete Palmer.
With all due respect to Ingraham, you cannot compare the achievements of the
two players. Superficially, they do seem similar: both are defensive
geniuses with decent offensive skills. However, the similarities exist more
in the mind than in reality. For example, Ingraham wrote:
If the baseball writers vote like our STATLG-L Hall of Fame participants did
this year, one more player just might make the grade. I am pleased to
announce that catcher Gary Carter just squeezed over the STATLG-L
bar, joining the Wizard as our choice for enshrinement in Cooperstown.
Reach the 75% plateau for election to the Hall required 1,911 votes. This
year's total of 2,548 ballots was more than 150% above the number cast last
year. As expected, Smith finished well above that mark with 2,120 votes
(83.2%). Carter's vote total came to 1,936 (76.0%), a mere 25 votes above
the required number. It's possible, though, that his "true" margin might
have been even narrower.