Vizquel eager to start second career

If Omar Vizquel wanted to retire amid maximum public adulation, he erred by spending the 2012 season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Vizquel, 45, is receiving far less acclaim than the other legend who has said this will be his final season: Chipper Jones, an All-Star and (still) productive everyday third baseman with the Atlanta Braves. Jones, 40, is an icon in Atlanta, the only city he’s called home over 19 major-league seasons. Vizquel plays sparingly in Toronto, which hasn’t been at the centre of the baseball universe since 1993 — Vizquel’s last season as a Seattle Mariner.

Fortunately for Vizquel, he isn’t motivated by adoration. He simply wants to continue his association with the sport. For now, that means filling in for Kelly Johnson, Yunel Escobar and Brett Lawrie on the Toronto infield. But soon, perhaps as early as next year, Vizquel intends to become a major-league manager.

In that respect, Vizquel couldn’t have chosen a better time to trade his lithesome glove for a ballpoint pen.

Vizquel could interview for managerial and coaching jobs as early as October — within days or weeks of his final game. The Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals could be advancing through the postseason at the same time. Why is that significant? Well, those clubs are managed by former Gold Glove winners — Robin Ventura and Mike Matheny, respectively — who had never coached or managed professionally before accepting their positions last offseason.

If Ventura and Matheny are qualified to manage, then Vizquel is, too. Vizquel is older than Ventura, 45, and Matheny, 41. For the record, he also owns more Gold Gloves (11) than the two of them combined (10). And he’s already drawn praise for the way he mentors young players, such as All-Star shortstop Elvis Andrus, a teammate for one season in Texas.

“I want to manage now,” Vizquel said during a conversation at Rogers Centre earlier this year. “I just can’t.”

That should change soon. All he has to do is retire. To begin his new career, Vizquel would like to serve as a coach for his native Venezuela at next year’s World Baseball Classic. (Former big leaguer Luis Sojo is expected to manage the club, as he did in 2006 and 2009.)

Vizquel said he would like to manage a major-league team close to his home — he lives outside Seattle — or one with which he’s already familiar. Vizquel is most closely identified with the Cleveland Indians, with whom he spent 11 of his 24 seasons. He also played for the Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Chicago White Sox before joining the Blue Jays. Unless the Indians fire Manny Acta, the Houston Astros might be the only plausible landing spot for Vizquel this offseason; the Boston Red Sox likely would seek an experienced manager if they dismiss Bobby Valentine.

Great players don’t necessarily become successful managers. In fact, the opposite can be true. But Vizquel’s willingness to continue playing well past his prime reflects an abiding commitment to the sport. The Indians let him walk in 2004, thinking he was just about finished. He has survived eight more seasons, thanks in large part to wisdom and savvy. That will serve Vizquel well in his next vocation.

Vizquel said Felipe Alou, the sagacious former Giants manager, was his favorite in the major leagues — largely because of the way he handled players.

So, what kind of skipper will Vizquel be?

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have a style yet, as a manager. I don’t know how the players are going to make you react, how they’re going to make you feel. I’m going to have a wide-open communication with all of them. That’s the only way you’re going to learn about your players.

“You have to implement respect, so they respect you, but you have to be able to talk to them anytime about what bothers them, what they like, when they want to play. Do they want to play seven days a week, or would they rather take a break? Who do they feel comfortable against? Which pitchers do they (not) want to face? You have to know what’s going on with your players — same with the pitchers.

“You are the manager. You have to be able to know about pitching, running the game, fielding, catching.  Everything. You have to know everything.”

Clearly, the responsibility of the job won’t catch Vizquel by surprise.

Vizquel’s appointment as a major-league manager would nudge baseball closer to the day when the share of minorities in management positions more closely resembles its on-field diversity.

As of Opening Day this year, nearly 25 percent of all major leaguers were born in Latin American countries. But those same nations were responsible for only 10 percent of the field managers: Manny Acta (Dominican Republic), Fredi Gonzalez (Cuba) and Ozzie Guillen (Venezuela).

Vizquel, a hero in Venezuela, isn’t motivated to manage by an obligation to his country. (“Not really,” he said. “I want to do it for my own self, because I’ve been in this game for a long time. I really want to apply what I’ve learned.”) Yet, at a time when big-league clubhouses are more multicultural than ever before, bilingual candidates should have an advantage.

Some baseball observers believe in-game strategy is one of a manager’s easiest tasks. Relating to multimillionaire players — supporting, motivating, disciplining when warranted — is more difficult. Those who are fluent in two languages are better equipped to master the nuanced communication that occurs every day.

“No doubt,” Vizquel said. “I believe players who play in Latin America, they’ve been in the clubhouses and the cities, they know where we’re coming from — when we get mad, the way we react when we get hit by a pitch. They’ve seen that before, so they relate better than a person who had never been in Latin America or played winter ball. Players who speak two or three languages have a little advantage over other people who don’t.”

At a minimum, Vizquel hopes to interview for a managerial job this offseason. Major League Baseball mandates that clubs interview minority candidates for high-level positions — including manager and general manager — under a policy instituted by Commissioner Bud Selig in 1999.

“If there is an opportunity, I would like to have an interview — to see what they really look for, learn the system,” Vizquel said. “You have to know what the general managers expect from you as a person. I’ve been talking to a few coaches about what they ask you. You have to be prepared. You’re not going to go out on a limb and make a fool of yourself.

“Sometimes, interviews are overrated. It doesn’t matter how well you respond to questions. If you don’t have the (guts) to make the decision, you’re going to fail.”

Omar Vizquel has (guts). He has proved that during a quarter century in the major leagues. But very soon, he’s going to be a rookie all over again, hoping for the chance he deserves.