Vizquel’s unlikely quest for 3,000 hitsby Paul Francis Sullivan
June 29, 2011
Omar Vizquel's Hall of Fame credentials are becoming more and more valid as he hangs around the major leagues. Undeniably an elite defender and Gold Glove regular at shortstop, his hit total keeps climbing.
He already has more hits than Hall of Famers such as Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Lou Gehrig. And he has long surpassed his fellow countryman Luis Aparicio.
Now of course, Vizquel was never an All-Star nor an elite player because of his bat; he has never had a 200-hit season (the closest being a 191- hit campaign in 1999). So his quest for 3,000 hits (he is currently 172 hits shy) would be without that magic number.
I assumed that if he reached that goal, he would be the lone 3,000-hit man without a 200-hit season. Besides, reaching 3,000 would mean averaging 150 hits over 20 seasons. And seeing that most hitters tail off toward the end of their careers, they would need some high hit totals to meet that average.
And a quick glance at the 3,000-hit club shows players who were regulars in the batting race and elite offensive players. So I actually began writing this piece with the premise that Vizquel's 3,000 hits would be unique.
It's a good thing I actually did some research. As of this writing, there are 27 players in the history of the major leagues who have 3,000 hits. Once Derek Jeter comes back and gets six singles, it will be 28.
Of those 28, five never had a 200 hit season. And their names caught me off guard.
Cap Anson never had a 200-hit season, but nobody can hold that against him. Some of the seasons he played in were fewer than 70 games. He never had more than 500 plate appearances in a single season until he was 32. So the fact that he churned out 3,435 hits over 27 seasons was quite remarkable.
It is safe to say that he played in an a different era. He made his debut with the 1871 Rockford Forest Citys. That team played 25 games in a season just six years removed from the Civil War. I do not believe the team was integrated.
This truly stunned me. When I was a kid growing up in Boston during the late 1970s and 1980s, Carl Yastrzemski was a demigod. He won multiple batting titles. He was the last Triple Crown winner. He had the league's best OPS and OPS+ four times (although none of us knew that then).
He was the first American Leaguer to get 3,000 hits and 400 home runs. And while he was a solid defender (he won seven Gold Gloves in his career) he was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame because of his bat.
Yaz did indeed pile up hits, two times leading the league in hits, and he did so in a crazy pitchers' era. When he won the batting title in 1968, his average was .301! His career high in hits was 191 in 1962. Over 23 years he averaged 167 hits, good for 3,419 in his career.
Another Hall of Famer from my youth surprisingly never passed 200 hits in a season. One of the truly consistent power hitters of the 1980s, he contended for the 1984 batting title with teammate Don Mattingly. That was the year he reached a career high of 193 hits. Dave Winfield is one of the great talents in sports history. Drafted by the NBA, ABA and NFL, he went to the Padres and skipped the minor leagues to become a regular MVP candidate.
He did everything in the majors, winning Gold Gloves, making multiple All-Star teams, getting a World Series-clinching hit for Toronto and collecting 3,110 hits and 465 home runs on his way to Cooperstown. Somehow 200 hits eluded him.
Vizquel and Winfield's teammate on the 1995 American League Champion Cleveland Indians, Eddie Murray was a model of offensive consistency. His average always hovered around .300 during his prime. His home run total was always in the 20s and 30s. He would always drive in 90 to 100 runs. His nickname Steady Eddie seemed remarkably apt.
But I also remembered that he played 21 seasons, and many toward the end of his career were plagued with injuries that were normal for a 40-year-old slugger. I also remembered he had some subpar seasons with the Dodgers and the Mets. So to reach 3,255 hits and average 174 over 21 seasons, there must have been a few 200-hit seasons to balance everything out.
He never reached 200. Amazingly he never got 190 hits in a season. He just consistently got hit after hit, being a reliable force from his early 20s to his 40s. And along the way, he threw in some World Series heroics in three different decades.
The greatest leadoff hitter of all time (there is no debate over this) scored more runs than any player in baseball history and stole 468 more bases than Lou Brock. No other player has 1,000 steals. Rickey Henderson has 1,406.
Only Barry Bonds was walked more often than Henderson and even that needs to be taken with a grain of salt when you consider how many intentional walks Bonds received. In other words, nobody got on base, moved over and scored better than Rickey. You may have rolled your eyes when he said "I am the greatest of all time," but was he wrong?
Rickey did a lot of hanging around at the end of his career but still managed to put up some good numbers. In 1998, his final season with the Oakland A's, he led league in walks and stolen bases at age 39. At age 42 he got his 3,000th hit with a double on the last day of the 2001 season. He played for two more seasons, one with the Red Sox and one with the Dodgers. (Raise your hand if you remember Rickey as a Red Sox or a Dodger.)
He led the American League in hits during the strike-shortened 1981 campaign with 135. His career high was 172 in 1985, his first season with the Yankees. But Rickey's game never seemed to about piling up hits. He just wanted to get on base and score. And that's what he did. And he was the greatest.
So what do those players all have in common? They were all considered to be elite offensively during their day and all made the Hall of Fame based on what they did with their bats.
If Omar Vizquel gets in, it will be based on his glove, but he would be able to join the 3,000 hit club with the elite hitters. No 200-hit season required.
References and Resources
Baseball Reference. Baseball Almanac.