One of the Indians' all-time greats Omar Vizquel, shares his best Manny and Albert stories
By PAT McMANAMONFS Ohio
Q. How did you develop your defensive skills, especially the bare-handed play?
A. I think playing back in my town, playing without a glove and in really rough fields with a lot of rocks and stuff, We used to have a field that was close to my house and we’d make these balls out of tape. And you’d play with no glove. You try to catch the ball barehanded all the time, and I think that’s how the whole thing started.Develop the feet coordination or the hand-eye coordination to field the ball. Obviously when you get here, you make a play like that and people say, ‘Wow how do you do that?’ You’re like, I don’t know. You instantly catch the ball and make a play.
Q. Did coaches tell you not to catch the ball bare-handed?
A. Yes. Coaches hated it. My coaches said if I ever dropped a ball or something like that, they were going to punish me. Especially when I took a fly ball one handed and I snatch it. Lou Piniella got really mad at me one time. We got bases loaded, two outs, the game is on the line, 3-2. I catch a fly ball like that, three outs. He just ran straight to me. He didn’t shake anybody’s hand or anything. He said, ‘If you ever drop a fly ball you will never play on my team.’
Q. Do you coach anyone to try the bare-handed play?
A. No. They haven’t even asked me about it. It’s hard to teach a play like that. If players ask, I would tell them how I approached the ball. But it’s not something I’m really proud to teach.
Q. Does anyone ask?
A. They asked me if I had swollen fingers. Sometimes you get nails broken, the tip of your fingers. You don’t want to stay out of the lineup for a week or so because you tried to make a barehand play and you didn’t know how to do it.
Q. How did you avoid jammed fingers and that?
A. I opened my hand really wide and tried to catch it going backward. What I tried to teach people is you got to treat the ball like an egg. You can’t just break the egg in your hands. You have to try to be as soft as possible.
Q. How did you learn to get rid of the ball so quick?
A. used to pay a game that is called the wall. You stand up 10 feet away from the wall and you play with another guy. Try to bounce the ball as quick as possible to the wall and try to make him make an error. If you catch it, he does the same. It’s a quickness-reaction drill that I’m teaching my kids now when I go to all different levels. We used to do it with rubber balls. The ball bounces and you can exchange in a quick way the ground ball.
Q. Not a lot of people would wear the number 13.
A. Not only 13, but also 23, which is the number that I used in Caracas (Venezuala). Now Drubal (Asdrubal Cabrera) is using it, which I’m very happy about. The number kind of got lost a couple years when I left. Then when he came they gave it to him and that was great. To see it back on the field, as a shortstop.
Q. Are you an Indian at heart?
A. There’s something in Cleveland that is still in my heart. It was just from playing many years on the team, it gave you a different feeling about or connection with the people and the city and everything else.
Q. How did you feel when you were released?
A. I felt hurt. I wanted to retire as an Indian. Sometimes business doesn’t allow you to be where you really want to.
Q. Then you played nine more years.
A. I didn’t think that I was going to last as long as I did. I thought I was going to play some more baseball because I was still young. Then I went on to San Francisco and won two more Gold Gloves, the oldest shortstop to win a Gold Glove, at 39.
Q. How much do you think you contributed to the team chemistry in the ‘90s?
A. Everybody felt that chemistry was important. And we had so many different personalities that chemistry came from all over the place. We had some really funny guys, some really intense guys. But when you see the team playing together and you see what happened in the dugout between innings and the way that people laughed and play against each other, we just looked like kids. We looked like the Big Bears … what was that movie … the Bad News Bears. But winning games instead of losing games. I mean, how many times you see a catcher go out to the mound and grab the catching mask and hit him (the pitcher) in the face with it. You don’t see that very often. Tony (Pena) used to do that with guys that were out of control. You go out there and grab the catching mask and you hit him in the face with it. The pitcher was like, ‘What’s wrong with you? This is a game? You’re not supposed to hit me in the face with it.’
Q. What is your favorite Albert Belle and favorite
Manny Ramirez story?
A. Wow. That is hard. There’s so many. … My favorite Albert story was he was 4-for-4 one day and the last at-bat he popped out to second base. He was mad. He threw his bat, he threw his helmet. We won the game. We came in to eat and Albert was so mad he turned the whole food table over. He break every plate and we didn’t have any food.People were really mad.
And Manny, one of the favorite Manny stories. … Well Manny could have a whole day of stories. One of my favorites, he’s on first base, 3-2 count, one out and they give him the sign to go. So Manny’s going, and there was a line drive to left center. The center fielder goes after the ball and he dives and he catches it in the air. Manny was across second base going to third; now they tell him back, back, back. So Manny’s running all the way from third, across the mound and diving in first base, headfirst. And they called him out. I think he’s still arguing the play.
Q. Carlos said before your first playoff game you guys were all taunting Roger Clemens from the dugout. Do you remember that?
A. Yes, I remember that. Every day was entertaining. Every day was something happening in that dugout that really entertained.
Q. Did other teams not like you guys?
A. Teams really hated the way that we played, or the way sometimes that we show up the other team. The way that some of the guys hit homers and they just throw the bats up in the air. It was really hard for the other team to take that. I think that’s why they just wanted to beat us so bad.
Q. Why do you think you had such a close identification with the fans?
A. I think because I played the longest. There were some guys who were here for a while, but I stayed here for 11 years.