Mar 5, 2016

Mid Nineties Mets Infielder: Jose Vizcaino (1994-1996)

Jose Luis (Pimental) Vizcaino was born on March 26, 1968 in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. The versatile six foot one switch hitting infielder was signed by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1986. Vizcaino spent two seasons in A ball batting a best .291 in 1987 getting pushed up to the AAA level. He hit .283 while playing great defense at AAA Albuquerque in 1989 getting a September call up to the Dodgers.

He spent two seasons in Los Angeles as a part time player, then was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Greg Smith in 1991. After two seasons as a backup he got a starting role in 1993, seeing playing time in 151 games batting .287 with 153 hits, 131 of them singles (9th most in the league). He also had nine sacrifice hits, second most in the league, plus 12 stolen bases, 57 RBIs & 19 doubles.

During the 1993 season, the Mets had Tony Fernandez begin the year at short stop but then he departed to go win a World Series in Toronto. Tim Bogar then played the majority of games at short stop, but for 1994 the Mets traded pitcher Anthony Young & minor leaguer Otis Smith to L.A. for Vizcaino. 

In New York Vizcaino would become the Mets primary short stop for the 1994, playing in 102 games at the position, sharing time with Bogar, & Luis Rivera. He started out with a bang getting two hits on Opening Day, including a two run HR, batting in the leadoff spot in the Mets 12-8 win over the Cubs at Chicago. 
 Vizcaino hit safely in his first five games, adding another HR in Houston in an 8-2 Mets win on April 9th. Overall he would hit safely in 15 of his first 20 games as a Met and be hitting .300 at the end of April. In May he put together three four game hit streaks & went into June with a thirteen game hit streak.

On May 24th, after Ryan Thompson hit a 9th inning HR to tie a game in Pittsburgh, Vizcaino drove in the go ahead run with a single off the Pirates Jeff Ballard. He drove in two more runs the next day & another in the series finally. On June 3rd, he drove in Bret Saberhagen with what was the games winning run, in a 4-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds. 

In the month of June he had four multi RBI games, although the Mets lost them all. He drove in a total thirteen runs that month. On July 6th he had big four hit day in San Francisco against the Giants, scoring two of the Mets four runs in a 4-1 win. On August 3rd he had a game winning base hit off Atlanta's Mark Wohlers giving New York a 3-2 lead. The season ended in mid August due to the Players strike. 

He finished the year batting .256 with three HRs 13 doubles 33 RBIs & a .310 on base %. At short he played 102 games posting a .970 fielding %, turning 55 double plays. 

In 1995 he was the Mets opening day short stop batting second, getting a hit with an RBI in the Mets 11-9 loss at Colorado. He improved both defensively & offensively, leading all N.L. short stops in fielding (.984) & assists (411).

He began the year with a three hit game in early May soon followed by a three RBI day, leading the Mets to a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Braves. He fell off to a .238 average by late May but got things going by June. He had a five game hit streak, then a six game hit streak & a stretch where he drove in a run in each of the three games in a series against the Phillies. In July he had a twelve game hit streak, then a three RBI game in Colorado during a 12-1 Mets win. In August, Vizcaino drove in seventeen runs, 

On August 20th he helped the Mets to a 5-3 win against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with a three run HR off Hideo Nomo in a game at Shea. The next night he had the game winning hit off San Francisco Giants closer Rod Beck, with a walk off RBI single. The next night he drove in the Mets lone run in a 4-1 loss to the Giants. That August he had eight multiple hit games, including an August road trip to Philadelphia where he had nine hits in the three game series. In September he closed out the season with a twelve game hit streak, including a big five hit day against the Marlins on September 29th in Florida. 

Vizcaino finished the year, leading the club in games played (135) at bats (509) & hits (146) batting a solid .297. His 13 sacrifice hits were third most in the NL & he was fifth in the league in singles with 117. He hit a career high 21 doubles, with 56 RBIs, but also led the team in grounding into double plays & getting caught stealing (11 times). At short stop he led all NL players at the position with a .984 fielding % & 411 assists in 134 games there (4th in the NL). 
 In 1996 he had a good April batting .326 with a .382 on base % & ten RBIs. On April 20th he had another game winning hit, a walk off single against the Colorado Rockies John Habyan. Vizcaino was off to one of his best seasons batting .303 with 110 hits, a career high six triples, 12 doubles & nine stolen bases at the end of July, when the Mets traded him & Jeff Kent to the Cleveland Indians for Carlos Baerga. The trade was a bad one for the Mets. 

Trivia: Vizcaino would come to the plate during the days of Grunge, to the tune of Alice In Chains’ “Rooster” as the crowd would hum along. His antics included a mimic of passing out beers when he hit a rare HR, and crushing his flexible glasses after running out to shortstop. 

Vizcaino became a journeyman utility man over the next decade playing with the Cleveland Indians (1996), San Francisco Giants (1997), then back to Los Angeles again (1998-2000). Midway through the 2000 season he was sent to the A.L. New York club for Jim Leyritz. He spent just enough time in New York to get to play in the 2000 Subway World Series. 

Post Season: He was a huge thorn in the side of his old Mets team when he got the game winning hit in the bottom of the 12th inning of Game #1 of the 2000 World Series. His RBI single off Turk Wendell was the only RBI he had in the Series, overall batting .235 (4-17). 
 He moved on to sign as a free agent & spend five seasons in Houston with the Astros as an all round infielder batting over .270 three times, including a best .303 in 2002. He would get to three more post seasons in Houston, going 11-62 overall at the plate.

In 2005 he got to another World Series & in Game #2 he had another game tying base hit. With two outs in the 9th inning Vizcaino had a pinch hit single off closer Bobby Jenks, scoring two runs to tie the game. He was so excited as the inning ended he ran to his position with no cap on. But the Astros went on to lose the game after Scott Podsednick walk off HR. 
 Vizcaino’s versatility kept him around for 18 seasons retiring in 2006 with the Cardinals. In 1820 career games played, he hit .270 lifetime with 1453 hits 204 doubles 47 triples 36 HRs 480 RBIs 74 stolen bases & a .318 on base %.

The versatile fielder saw action in 948 games at short, 434 games at second, 227 games at third & 39 games at first base. He played in six post seasons batting .221 in 37 games overall. 

Retirement: After his playing days he has worked in the front office for the Los Angeles Dodgers, as a Special assistant of baseball operations since 2008.

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