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When the White Sox dismissed Omar Vizquel shortly after completing his second season as a manager in the White Sox system, I figured it might’ve been the rare mutual parting of ways. We made fun of that phrase when the Sox used it to describe their firing of Rick Renteria, but it made some sense with lower stakes. The aggressive, old-school form of baseball that Vizquel implemented to fantastic results in Winston-Salem in 2018 produced rapidly diminishing returns for Birmingham a year later. Numerous prospects stalled, and the baserunning numbers were atrocious.
With the the White Sox intent on advancing Justin Jirschele to Double-A, and with Vizquel’s further aspirations lacking a path to Chicago, it seemed like it was in the interest of both parties to move on, and so I didn’t think much of Chris Getz’s description of the decision.
“We felt that it was best for both sides to make a change,” White Sox director of player development Chris Getz told MLB.com Wednesday, calling the parting an amicable one.
“Listen, Omar, ultra-talented player, very good instructor, created a good environment for our players,” Getz continued. “We just felt with where things are at, our player development system, that it was time to go separate ways. But not only for himself, but for the organization as well and we wish Omar well. He was a positive influence while he was here.”
It’s worth revisiting the White Sox’s rationale now, because buried in an explosive report into domestic abuse allegations against Vizquel by The Athletic is a different reason for the firing.
Omar and Blanca moved to Birmingham, Alabama, when Vizquel was named manager of the Double-A Barons for the 2019 season. His tenure with that White Sox farm team, however, lasted only one season.
Toward the end of the season, the organization learned of an alleged incident involving Vizquel and a male clubhouse worker. The team suspended Vizquel with pay while probing the incident then terminated him in mid-September, after the season ended.
When reached by The Athletic, the clubhouse worker, who is no longer with the team, said: “I have to stay silent about this.”
Vizquel, when asked about the situation, said: “I can’t really say anything about that because it really — nothing happened.”
That’s a smaller episode in a much larger, messier story about Vizquel. His wife fled from Vizquel in October, alleging through her Instagram account and Venezuelan media that Vizquel abused her for years. I’d seen her claims surface in my Twitter feed from Latin American reporters, but without knowledge of Latin American news outlets nor much faith in Google Translate for such a sensitive subject, I wanted to see whether the story would merit further examination from media sources better equipped to parse and investigate.
The Athletic did just that. In a statement after the story went live, Vizquel denied the allegations and regarded them as a smear campaign during a tumultuous divorce, although incidents that required police response in 2011 and 2016, as well as descriptions from neighbors in Washington, are working against him.
Regarding the White Sox’s slice of the story, the team didn’t produce a response for The Athletic.
The White Sox declined to answer questions about the incident, Vizquel’s exit or any response by the organization to what occurred. The team also would not disclose whether it was aware of the incidents in 2011 and 2016 when he was hired to manage the Barons.
This response — or lack thereof — is a little concerning. I wouldn’t blame team officials for declining to weigh in during divorce proceedings, especially if the club thought it did its part to distance themselves from toxicity by firing him before his contract lapsed. But between the clubhouse worker saying “I have to stay silent about this” and the club not having an answer for whether they were aware of Vizquel’s 2016 arrest, it’s harder to connect dots to create a thoroughly defensible conclusion.
The overall story isn’t going to go away, partially because Major League Baseball is investigating the incidents. Vizquel isn’t an employee of an MLB team, but the league could impose disciplinary actions in future roles.
There’s also the matter of Hall of Fame voting. Vizquel is on the ballot for the fourth time, climbing to 52.6 percent his last time out. He’s currently running at 51.2 percent in the early ballot returns tracked by Ryan Thibodaux, and the results of the voting will be announced by the BBWAA on Jan. 26. Vizquel stood a chance of receiving the second-highest share of the votes before all this broke, so his support will be examined no matter which direction it moves, with inquiries about the investigation and divorce proceedings likely to follow. They may be separate topics, but Vizquel is one of the people connecting the two.
Additionally, a representative of Vizquel reached out to The Athletic to provide “a brief presentation with some of the background on the allegations against Mr. Vizquel.” That 11-page PDF document is titled “The facts on the smear campaign against Omar Vizquel.” It includes bullet points that note, among other things, that “Vizquel was accused of fourth-degree assault, the least serious level.” The “conclusions” section of the presentation highlights that Vizquel is a finalist for the Hall of Fame.
(Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire)