On the field, Omar Vizquel is a work of art. Off the field, he creates it. Widely regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops ever to play the game, Vizquel has captured 11 Gold Gloves over a career that has seen him play more games at the position than anyone else. Still silky smooth and creative in the middle of the diamond at the age of 42, Vizquel ranks first all-time in fielding percentage among shortstops with at least 1,000 games played. Currently in his 21st big-league season and his first with the Rangers, the former Mariners, Indians, and Giants standout is poised to pass Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio as the all-time hits leader among Venezuelan-born players. Equally talented out of uniform, Vizquel is a multi-media visual artist whose work has been displayed in galleries across the country.
David Laurila: How would you describe Omar Vizquel?
Omar Vizquel: Well, I think I’m a really active guy. I never like to be steady for more than a few minutes, and I always like to be thinking of weird ways to try to get the enemy. You know, I like to do different things. I like to dress differently; I like to say different things, too. So, all about me, I think, is different than the regular, average guy, I would say.
DL: How does that personality fit within the parameters of a professional baseball environment?
OV: On the field, it feels pretty good, because sometimes you do things that other people aren’t used to seeing on the field, and I think that’s why sometimes people like you a little bit better. You know, you’re always aware of that little detail that might make the play a little bit more interesting. Throughout my career, that has been one of my trademarks. People are always watching and making comments about the way that I make a particular play, or just do something different in the field.
DL: How would describe your style in the field?
OV: Really original. Easygoing. Fluid. Not thinking too much about it-about taking a ground ball or technique. It’s just the fact that you have to make the play and get the guy out at first base.
DL: Do you have the same personality both on and off the field?
OV: Yes, I think I’m the same everywhere. As you see me on the field, I’m the same outside on the streets.
DL: How would you assess the career you’ve had in the big leagues?
OV: Awesome, man. I think I’ve had a really successful career. I’ve been away from trouble; I’ve stayed away from trouble. I’ve had a clean career on my public image. Playing 21 years in the big leagues… it tells you how much of a worker, and discipline, and character that you have to have to stay for so long in this difficult game.
DL: Is image important to most professional athletes?
OV: Well, yeah. You have to carry yourself like a professional. It’s not like you have to really be a role model for everybody, because everybody has got their style, but I think you really have to take care of yourself and let people know who you are, both outside the field and on the field. You have to show them how you carry yourself.
DL: When you look at what you’ve accomplished on the field, what are you most proud of?
OV: I think it’s the fact that I have played over 2,600 games at one position, shortstop, and playing 20 years… not many people can say that they played this long. The fact that I’m 42 years old and just became the oldest shortstop to be in the starting lineup is something that gives me a lot of confidence in how I feel about myself.
DL: You’re often compared to Ozzie Smith. How do you view that?
OV: Well, you know, when they see the numbers, and they see the style of game that I play, I’m feeling proud that they compare me to one of the best shortstops in the history of the game. But, like I said, everybody has their differences and I couldn’t do the things that Ozzie Smith did, and maybe Ozzie couldn’t have done some of the ones that I do.
DL: Do you feel that you’re more similar to Ozzie Smith or to Luis Aparicio?
OV: I’m probably more like Aparicio, because he was also a little guy, about 5’9″ or 5’10”, and he had a little bit of speed and hit the ball all over the field. Of course, we both come from Venezuela, which makes us different and awesome.
DL: Had you played in the 1950s and 1960s, would you be in the Hall of Fame right now?
OV: I think so, because that’s probably the era that I fit into the most right now. I’m not one of those guys who hits a lot of home runs, and I’m not 6’2″ or something like that. Most of the shortstops nowadays hit for power and are recognized for how big they are and how well they move. I think I’m more fitting into those old stages.
DL: How has the game changed since you broke into pro ball during the 1980s?
OV: Well, we’ve seen a lot more stronger people, including shortstops, hitting for power. We don’t see too many shortstops who are little anymore. Everybody is strong. Everybody is better prepared; they have better programs and diets that can help you develop a lot quicker, so a lot of 21- and 22-year-old kids these days are better prepared, and stronger, to take the challenge of going to the big leagues.
DL: Who is the best double-play partner you’ve had?
OV: Probably Robbie Alomar. I played with Robbie for three years in Cleveland, and he was one of those guys who improvised all the time. He played the same game that I do, so we didn’t really need to take too many ground balls together in order to be able to turn double plays. We understand the mechanics of turning a double play, which is getting rid of the ball quick and putting the ball wherever the other guy needs to have it in order to make a strong throw to first base. By that, I mean a throw that is easy for him to handle.
DL: What is more important in infield defense: mechanics or the mental part of the game?
OV: It’s the mental part of the game. I believe that you have to have some good mechanics to pick up a ground ball, but at the time you’re getting ready to field it, you shouldn’t really be thinking about mechanics. It should come natural to you. If you’re not thinking about it, mentally, everything should come naturally.
DL: You’ve obviously won a lot of Gold Gloves. What is your opinion on how they are awarded?
OV: I think the criterion is kind of weird. The guy who makes the least amount of errors… that doesn’t necessarily mean that he deserves a Gold Glove, because it doesn’t show the types of plays he makes in the field. As far as you can dominate the infield, as far as going to your right or to your left, back and forth, and turning the double plays, and making every play that is possible, then you should have a pretty good chance to win a Gold Glove. If you are lacking in any of those categories, maybe the voting isn’t going to be the same, but I don’t really agree too much with how they pick it.
DL: What are your thoughts on the recent advances in defensive metrics?
OV: I was reading something about that last year, about chances that you get around your position-your range and how many balls you can get to. It was really interesting for me to see, because it also shows you the location of the player. So, if you locate yourself a little better than others, you have a better chance to get to other balls. I want somebody to put it out in the eyes of everybody so that they can rank people better than what they’re doing now.
DL: You’re not only an artist with the glove, but also an accomplished painter who has had his work described as having “sensitivity to humanity, romance, and the larger questions of our existence.” What does that say about you?
OV: Art, to me, is like an escape from all the pressure that happens in baseball. Maybe I reflect a lot of sadness and a dark side of me when I do art, because sometimes you can be a little frustrated or you are not having a good time when you paint. That’s a comment I get from a lot of people who have seen my art. But, to me, I like the figurative kind of work. I like a lot of bodies. I like the contour of the shapes, the round shapes, and maybe I try to express something about the particular body that I’m painting. It’s really just a way of expression. I’m not really painting because I need to, or because I’m trying to let people know a particular subject. I do it because I have fun doing it and sometimes you find yourself creating stuff that you don’t even think about while you’re doing it. But when you actually finish the piece, you can sit back and kind of have a conversation with your painting about the things that you did.
DL: Are there particular painters that you emulate, or do you approach art first and foremost as an individual expression?
OV: That’s one of the things about art. You always have to try to find your own language. You’re not trying to imitate any particular painter or anything like that. You just want to try to define your own style and ways to express yourself. You’re not necessarily following one particular artist, because there are so many of them that can make an impact on your life. You need to find your own way.
DL: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
OV: I’ll probably be managing a baseball team. That’s one of my goals. I’ve spent my whole life around baseball and I think I’ve learned a lot about the game. It would be great to put all of that in practice with a team. It would be a great opportunity for me to be able to do that.
DL: You see your future being in baseball rather than art?
OV: Yes I do, but still both. I’m still going to be painting and sculpting. I’m still going to be searching for that language. But managing will be my next career.