Vizquel to wear Aparicio's No. 11

Vizquel to wear Aparicio's No. 11

CHICAGO -- No. 11 holds a special meaning in the annals of White Sox history.

It was once worn by Jim Essian, Greg Pryor and Don Kessinger, solid players, if not exactly infinitely memorable in franchise lore, and was last fashioned by Rudy Law, the single-season White Sox stolen-base leader, during the 1984 season. At that point, the number was retired by the organization in honor of its most famous and accomplished owner in shortstop Luis Aparicio.

But while the only native Venezuelan to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame will not be coming out of retirement at age 75, his jersey will be back in action for the 2010 campaign.

The White Sox announced Monday that Aparicio has given his consent for Omar Vizquel to wear No. 11 in his first year with the White Sox, as the number will be un-retired by the organization for Vizquel to wear in tribute. Vizquel termed such largesse coming from his countryman as a "tremendous honor," speaking during a Monday afternoon press conference, and then went on to explain how the un-retirement of No. 11 came about.

Vizquel and Aparicio have been friends for a while now and have been connecting for the past couple of years, according to the new White Sox utility player. Vizquel attended the recent opening of a Little League field featuring Aparicio's name in Venezuela and then attended a function honoring Aparicio in his hometown of Maracaibo on Nov. 11, 2009.

That's 11/11, to be exact. So, what better time for Vizquel to broach the topic concerning this special number.

"I was sitting around with some of his friends, and I was talking about how I wanted to honor Luis in some way," Vizquel said. "I wondered if No. 11 would be available.

"We thought about it. On one of those days hanging out, I had the courage to ask him to let me wear the number."

Aparicio thought about it for a while, and with a little smile, said Vizquel's idea was a great one.

"If there is one player who I would like to see wear my uniform number with the White Sox, it is Omar Vizquel," said Aparicio in a statement. "I have known Omar for a long time. Along with being an outstanding player, he is a good and decent man."

"It will be nice to have No. 11 come out again on the field," said Vizquel, recounting Aparicio's words to him. "I was surprised to hear Luis talk about his number, but this is a chance to celebrate his name and all he did for baseball in the United States and in Venezuela, where he was baseball's biggest icon."

The passing down of No. 11 from Aparicio to Vizquel makes sense on a cultural and an international level. Vizquel figures to be the next Venezuelan to receive Hall of Fame enshrinement, unless Davey Concepcion goes in via the Veteran's Committee.

Career numbers for Vizquel and Aparicio are remarkably similar. Aparicio played 18 seasons in total, with 10 coming for the White Sox. He hit .262 with 2,677 career hits, 506 stolen bases and 10 All-Star appearances, earning the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 1956, while also picking up nine Gold Gloves for his elite defense at shortstop.

His Gold Glove total stands two fewer than Vizquel's amazing total of 11 at the same position. Vizquel, who turns 43 on April 24, has a .273 career average, 2,704 hits, 389 stolen bases and three All-Star appearances. He stands as the all-time leader among shortstops in games played at 2,681 and with 1,722 double plays.

After agreeing to a one-year, $1.375 million deal with the White Sox back in November, Vizquel is set to begin his 22nd season in the Majors. Vizquel wore uniform No. 13 for the first 21 years, but with manager Ozzie Guillen already wearing 13, there was little chance of that number becoming available.

Make that, there was no chance of that number becoming available.

"When I signed here, the first thing Ozzie said is, 'Forget about No. 13. That is going to be my number,'" said Vizquel with a laugh. "I would love to wear it, but what Ozzie has done for the White Sox, with the World Series championship, No. 13 already has a name.

"To me, it's another Venezuelan wearing it. It's in good hands."

This action marks the second time the White Sox have unretired a uniform number, having done so in 1996 and 2000 for Harold Baines' second and third stints on the South Side, after his uniform No. 3 originally was retired in 1989. Baines now wears No. 3 as the White Sox first-base coach.

At the time of Aparicio's retirement following the 1973 season, Vizquel was a 6-year-old in Caracas who only had heard talk of Aparicio's greatness from his father. Vizquel also heard tales of Chico Carrasquel, who began this Venezuelan shortstop tradition of excellence with the White Sox from 1950-55.

Carrasquel wore jersey No. 17, with Guillen eventually taking No. 13 in honor of Concepcion and Vizquel doing the same for both Concepcion and Guillen. Now, Vizquel will be playing for one of the players he truly respected, while receiving special dispensation to wear the number of a legend both in his new baseball home and in his home country.

"Every kid in Venezuela has to follow the tradition of shortstops and Luis Aparicio was on the top of the list. You have to know about Aparicio," Vizquel said. "It's a huge privilege to come to this organization and follow the shortstop tradition and become another one of that group."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.