You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1967, Omar Vizquel was born.
Omar Vizquel has the greatest hands I’ve ever seen. And, after Ozzie Smith, Vizquel is the best defensive shortstop I’ve ever seen.
“I could watch Omar take ground balls all day,” Buddy Bell once told me.
And let’s not forget, Bell had great hands, and was one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. Vizquel told me those great hands were developed as a kid in Venezuela. He had no money for a glove, he carried a rubber ball around with him wherever he went, and would throw it against walls and catch it bare-handed.
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When Seattle’s Chris Bosio threw a no-hitter in 1993, the final out was made when Omar Vizquel, on the dead run, caught Ernest Riles’ high-hopper barehanded, and threw him out at first. Vizquel would later tell me, “that wasn’t a hard play. Watch when I bare-hand a ball. I don’t bare-hand it here (above his head) or here (behind his leg), I bare-hand it next to my face. I can see it. When you can see it, it’s not hard to make a bare-handed play.”
That’s easy for Omar to say, he has amazing hands. In January 1998, a few months after the Indians had lost in Game 7 of the World Series, I went to Seattle to write a story about those amazing hands. I brought my glove with me, like I was nine years old. I needed to play catch with him to personally see this sleight-of-hand thing he does where the ball doesn’t appear to enter his glove, then it’s back in throwing hand, and on its way back to me. It was cold and rainy that day, Omar hadn’t picked up a glove since October. On his driveway, we played catch. At least 50 throws, and not once did it seem like the ball entered his glove. I couldn’t see it. I asked him to show me how he did the sleight-of-hand.
Here’s what he was doing: he was deflecting the ball off the heel of his glove, and into his throwing hand, which was several inches below his glove. I’ve seen other infielders do variations of this, but not like Omar: 50 throws, and not one entered the pocket of his glove.
“Omar,” I asked, “how can you do this?”
“Oh,” he said, “that’s magic.”
Then he picked up a soccer ball in his garage and dribbled it, without the ball hitting the ground, for about two minutes. When I asked him when was the last time that he dribbled a soccer ball like that, he said, “about 10 years ago.” He later explained that other players have great hands.
He said that Orioles shortstop Jose Iglesias’ hands are just as good as his.
“But my feet are better,” Vizquel said. “My feet are better than my hands.”
Other baseball notes from April 24
In 1944, Bill Singer was born. He got the first official save, which weren’t recorded until 1969.
In 1972, Chipper Jones was born. He hit a home run on his 40th birthday.
In 2017, Brewers first baseman Eric Thames hit his 10th home run. They came in his first 19 games as a major leaguer. He was a star in South Korea. He was so popular there, a male fan asked for a selfie with Thames while Thames was kissing a girl. Thames, ever polite, did have to tell the guy, “Hey, I’m working here.”
In 1952, Pat Zachry was born. Good pitcher, great guy. In 1982, he had a no-hitter going with two outs in the eighth inning at Wrigley Field. The Mets had been in existence since 1962, and had never had a no-hitter. But it was broken up by Bob Molinaro. After the game, Zachry whispered to Marty Noble of Newsday, “I’m kind of glad that it was broken up.” Why? “I thought the eighth inning was the ninth inning,” Zachry said. Which means, if he had gotten the last out of the eighth, he might have leaped into the arms of the catcher, thinking he had thrown a no-hitter.