There was no beer in The Common Man’s household on Friday, and so TCM politely asked his beloved Uncommon Wife to pick some up while she was at the store. He left her with the cheery instructions to “just get anything that looks interesting.” She returned with a six pack of Goose Island 312.
312 is a wheat ale that has garnered a lot of attention recently because it was the beer Barack Obama exchanged with British Prime Minister David Cameron following the US-England tie in the soccer World Cup. Hailing from the President’s adopted home in Chicago, 312 was an apt P.R. choice to give the Prime Minister.
Too bad the beer itself is undeserving of this kind of honor, much like Omar Vizquel is undeserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Like 312, Vizquel calls Chicago home these days, as a utility infielder for the White Sox. Vizquel has had a long and storied career. He debuted with Ken Griffey Jr. in Seattle in 1989, two years before the Seattle franchise’s first winning record. Underappreciated in the Emerald City, Vizquel was dealt to the Indians for Felix Fermin in a challenge trade that Cleveland handily won. Vizquel would become a stalwart part of the Cleveland infield for 11 years, helping the club establish its mid-nineties dominance over the AL Central. He continued to play effectively up until 2008, when he really began to suffer the effects of his age.
Somewhere along the way Vizquel, like Goose Island 312, earned a reputation he didn’t deserve as the best or second best fielding shortstop of all time. 312’s brewers claim that it reflects the “active lifestyle in the city” and is “very accessible to a wide range of people,” such as “people who don’t generally drink craft beer. This would lead you to think that the beer is incredible, since it's so popular. But it falls into that same nebulous category as The Blind Side or CSI:, which appeal to a broad spectrum of people, without actually being that good. They are good enough, with broad appeal and enough of an edge to make viewers feel dangerous for watching them, without the ambition to make them great.
And despite what his supporters may tell you, Omar Vizquel has never been great (with the very brief exception of 1999). He has long simply been a mediocre hitter and a very good fielder, who has managed to rack up 11 Gold Gloves. However, as Keith Law pointed out today in his epic Twitter fight with Vizquel’s army of irrational supporters (following his ESPN.com article on Vizquel’s unworthiness for the Hall of Fame), the Gold Glove voters have recently chosen to honor Derek Jeter and Michael Young at the most important defensive position, undercutting the credibility of the award. And in a time when the nature of the shortstop position was in flux, as Vizquel-types generally gave way to Jeters, and Garciaparras, and Tejadas, and A-Rods, Vizquel was never nearly as valuable as some of his heavier hitting colleagues. As such, he made just two All Star teams.
Yet Omar’s supporters continue to want to claim that he was as good, or almost as good as Ozzie Smith with the glove. This is likely because they never saw Smith or because time makes perspective get all wonky. Or because of some enthusiasm and emotional attachment that causes them to overlook more rational analysis. According to FanGraphs, Vizquel is the 13th best defensive SS in MLB history, and his 48.4 Wins Above Replacement has him tied with luminaries like Del Pratt and Cupid Childs. Even for a Big Hall guy like The Common Man, that’s probably a bridge too far, particularly when WAR ranks him as the 32nd best SS of all time. He’s a good player, a championship caliber player, but he’s not an elite player, and he never was.
Likewise, while Goose Island 312 is a good beer, and a drinkable one, there is not a lot to recommend it for any kind of diplomatic gifting. It’s light and drinkable, but it’s a little dry on the back end and bitter up front, walking a fine line between good and unpleasant. It also has a low ABV (4.2%), which means that you get less kick for the inflated price. And there’s really nothing especially memorable about it. In the end, you’re left to wonder what all the fuss is about. It’s not a beer to honor, let alone immortalize. It will do its job and quench your thirst; and that should be good enough.