Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Is it a tribute? Or just an excuse to sell more MLB-licensed Vizquel jerseys?

The Caribbean Series is over (the Escogido Lions of the Dominican League now have bragging rights as champions of Latin American baseball), while spring training for the U.S. major leagues is a couple of weeks away (actual games won’t start until March 2).

Yet on this day when Chicago is dominating the national newscasts because we’re getting hit with the heaviest snowstorm of this winter season, I want to forget the wintry weather. So my attention span is moving ahead to the summer months, when for the first time in decades, uniform “Number 11” may be patrolling the infield at shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.

IT DOES NOT mean that a 70-ish Luis Aparicio has decided to pull a Michael Jordan and try an athletic comeback.

But the White Sox haven’t used that uniform number since Aparicio got elected to theHall of Fame in 1984 (although in between Aparicio’s retirement from baseball and that Hall of Fame induction, such unimmortals as Greg Pryor and one-time player/manager Don Kessinger used it on the backs of their uniforms).

Aparicio, aside from being one of the few players associated primarily with the White Sox to make the Hall of Fame (many of the White Sox Hall of Famers also had significant playing time with other ballclubs), brings back the memories of the 1950s when he was paired up with second baseman Nellie Fox (Number 2, also retired) to create a middle-infield combination that is one of the best professional baseball has ever seen. It also brings to mind that White Sox team of 1959, which until five years ago was the only White Sox team to win any kind of championship that living Sox fans had any recollection of. Those teams of 1906, 1917 and 1919 are worth remembering, but how many people still living still do?

THE WHITE SOX , in one of their off-season moves to bolster their club for 2010, picked up the aging one-time star shortstop Omar Vizquel. Back in the 1990s, he was arguably the best shortstop in the game (I don’t want to hear from Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Nomar Garciaparra fans).

Now, the White Sox hope his years in professional baseball somehow rub off on his teammates and help the team use its potentially star pitching staff to contend for a championship in ’10.

Vizquel has always taken pride in being a native of Caracas, Venezuela, which also is the native country of Aparicio.

It was with that that when Vizquel could not get the uniform number he has worn throughout his career (number 13, already taken by manager Ozzie Guillen, who is another one-time ballplayer from Venezuela who excelled at shortstop), he asked for, and got, Aparicio’s number.

VARIOUS REPORTS INDICATE Aparicio doesn’t have a problem with it, although some people (most likely the kind who get offended by everything) are throwing hissy fits at the thought of a retired uniform number being recycled.

As much as anyone else, I appreciate the thought of a ballclub paying tribute to its star players of the past. I believe that this past (the American League is the “junior circuit” because it declared itself a major league in 1901) is actually one of professional baseball’s greatest strengths.

But somehow, the idea of feeling the need to wear a number to bring to mind somebody else seems like a lame tribute. While just about every two-digit number has been used by some ballplayer during the 80 or so years that players have worn uniform numbers, I’d like to think Vizquel would be better off creating his own identity in Chicago.

For all this appropriating of Aparicio’s number has done is created many jokes how Aparicio himself could probably play better shortstop these days than the aging Vizquel (who is only old by athletic standards – he turns 43 on April 24).

SEEING “NUMBER 11” on the playing field is going to make me look to the outfield wall at U.S. Cellular Field where star players of the past are honored and remember that the real “Number 11” hasn’t taken the field since I was a young boy.

Now one of the factors that has been brought up is that this is a Venezuela thing. One star ballplayer from the land now taken over by Hugo Chavez honoring another from his homeland. It is a tribute to potentially the best Latin American ballplayer ever to play for the White Sox.

Which makes the team on the South Side more respectful than the other ballclub from Chicago that claims “major league” status. Their greatest ballplayer from a Latin American country is undisputed – it is one-time egotistical outfielder Sammy Sosa, who back in his day wore uniform “Number 21” as a tribute to the one-time Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder from Puerto Rico, Roberto Clemente.

For the first couple of years after he left the Cubs, the team didn’t use that number. But in recent years, it has been used by Jason Marquis and the now-departed Milton Bradley. This year, it is tentatively set for use by Tyler Colvin – a 24-year-old outfielder who made his major league debut back on Sept. 21.

CONSIDERING HOW MUCH Sammy’s colorful image WAS the reason why the Cubs and their fans used to arrogantly position themselves as the only team in Chicago that mattered, it seems like shabby treatment.

No matter how much people want to screech “steroids,” the fact is that era happened and can’t be erased. Considering how big Sosa’s image used to be in Chicago, it just seems all the more odd that the day has arrived when a White Sox star gets more respect than the (in his own mind) all-time greatest Chicago Cub.


EDITOR’S NOTES: These are the ballplayers who in 2010 could be wearing the uniform numbers made famous ( by two of the biggest-name ballplayers ( for Chicago ballclubs from Latin American countries.

Omar Vizquel will have spent his ballplaying career honoring the memories of fellow Venezuelans Luis Aparicio ( and Dave Concepcion through his uniform.

A little more about “Little Luis” and his defensive career in various ( American League infields for 18 seasons.

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