No stopping short in praise of Vizquel

Guillen more than praises Vizquel

CLEVELAND -- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen had heard all the praise that people heaped on former Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel for setting a Major League record on Sunday.

All the praise was deserved, Guillen said.

Yet he seemed of a mixed mind as he sat in the visitors' dugout and talked about what had brought Vizquel this praise. It was the record he had set for most games played as a shortstop, a record that had belonged to their Venezuelan countryman Luis Aparicio.

"I was proud," Guillen said. "But I don't want to talk like all of a sudden Vizquel is better than Aparicio. I might get in trouble."

Get in "trouble" -- Oswaldo Jose Guillen?

Nonsense.

The mere thought of it drew laughter from the covey of journalists who crowded around Guillen at Progressive Field. For they knew trouble was never anything that would stop Guillen from saying his piece.

And it didn't.

"Well, to me, Vizquel is better than Aparicio," he said. "Not because the game he's playing -- look at the starts and what the numbers were."

The numbers do tell plenty about Vizquel and Aparicio, a Hall of Fame shortstop who borders on a deity in baseball-crazy Venezuela. Aparicio had a splendid career in the Major Leagues, a career he built mostly as a White Sox. His glove ranked him among the best ever to play the game, and so does Vizquel's.

At 41, Vizquel continues to play on with the Giants. He's still displaying more skills than men 15 or more years his junior, and remains the standard for judging Gold Glove shortstops, as Aparicio was during his heyday.

The chance to talk about his countrymen "Little O" and "Little Louie" left Guillen welling with pride. He knows for sure now that Venezuelans will soon have two ballplayers with plaques in the Hall of Fame, he said. But Guillen also knew Cooperstown was years off for Vizquel.

"I think this guy is going to play for the next three years," Guillen said.

He saw no signs that Vizquel, as fit as ever after arthroscopic left knee surgery during Spring Training, would be hanging up his spikes and his leather until his record 2,585 games at shortstop sped toward 3,000.

His career has him two Gold Gloves short of the record (13), which Ozzie Smith holds. But Vizquel's total of 11 -- eight with the Indians -- is more than either Aparicio or Cal Ripken, and his resume shows Vizquel has a better fielding percentage than all three.

"And every year, it seems like some Venezuelan player does something for their country -- batting title, Gold Glove, Cy Youngs, manager talking [garbage]," Guillen said, laughing. "You know what I mean?"

Joking aside, Guillen realized that Vizquel's record was a nice distraction for a country that has the socioeconomic problems that Venezuela does. The record has given people there plenty to talk about -- plenty to be proud of, too. None could be much prouder than Ozzie Guillen, who partnered with bench coach Joey Cora to buy Vizquel a bottle of champagne as a salute.

"It makes our country have a little flavor and have good days," Guillen said. "It's something that was amazing, because the next call is going to be for him in Cooperstown."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.