Esta página no está disponible en español.
March 25, 2005
Baseball could use a little more Roberto Alomar right now.
Thanks to Jose Canseco, juiced is how we are destined to remember baseball in the 90s, perhaps even with asterisks following the HR statistics. So obsessed was baseball with home runs, it was willing to ignore the transformation of the bodies, jawbones and foreheads of its cleanup hitters.
Not me. Id rather remember Roberto Alomar as the standard for how the game should be played. In a decade when even shortstops began hitting for power, Alomar was a throwback to a time when players possessed all five tools.
After a 17-year career highlighted by two World Series victories (1992-1993 with the Jays), 10 Gold Gloves and a career .300 average, the 12-time All-Star (every season from 1990 to 2001) second baseman announced his retirement last week, following an erratic spring training start with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
In his farewell press conference, he told the media this.
"I've had a long career. I'm real proud of myself, the way I handle myself on the field," Alomar said. "I couldn't play [any] more at the level I want to play. So I decided to retire."
"I remember the good, the bad -- because in the game of baseball, you're going to have some ups and downs," he said. "And when I get home, I can sit at home in my bed and say, 'You know what? I gave everything that I could. I gave my best and I [enjoyed] it.'"
His offensive numbers were enough to remember him by. Destined for Cooperstown, he retired just 276 hits shy of the 3,000-hit mark. In his 17 seasons he hit 210 home runs, had 1,508 runs, 1,134 RBIs, 474 stolen bases and 2,724 hits.
But it was his defense that he was most proud of.
"I've always loved playing defense," Alomar said. "Sometimes when you make a great play, you get a real kick out of it."
Alomar took great delight in turning a double play. He played second base with the joy of a Little Leaguer, but with super-human reflexes and eye-hand coordination. In 1992, the first year he helped the Blue Jays to the World Series, he committed just five errors in the entire season. Opposing teams knew not to hit between first and second when Alomar was out in the field. Anyone who watched him play, even just once, can remember the sight of Alomar stretched out horizontally in the air, his glove trapping a ball in the air that would have been destined for the outfield on anybody elses watch.
"He was the best [second baseman] ever ... offensively, defensively, great instincts," said Mets executive Tony Bernazard, Alomars compatriot, who also played second base. "A complete player ... he could walk, bunt, hit a home run, steal a base and beat you with his Gold Glove."
Alomar offered Little League textbook lessons on patience and finesse in the clutch. In 11 post-season series for three different teams, he batted .313 with 32 runs and 33 RBIs. The Salinas native finished with the third highest batting average in the regular season in 1993 with the Jays (.326). He hit .336 with the Indians in 2001 and .328 with the Orioles in 1996. Although he had a few "power" seasons (he hit 22 home runs with the Baltimore Orioles in the 1996 season and knocked 24 out of the park with the Indians in 1999 with 120 RBIs and a league-leading 138 runs scored), Alomar was at his best hitting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup and manufacturing runs out of thin air.
He won over fans in Toronto by beating the tag most nights and diving face first into first base. Jays fans admired his hustle and his speed on the basepaths as he inevitably stole second and sometimes even third. He was second in the league in steals in 1993 (55) and is fourth on the all-time career list for second basemen with 474.
He knew it was time to retire last Friday when he committed two errors in the first inning of a spring training game versus the team he elevated to glory, the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I knew I was done, but I tried it once more time this spring. I just can't go anymore," he added. "My back, legs and eyes aren't the same."
Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar told reporters the team would make a space for Alomar within the organization, should he desire.
"We wanted to give him a chance," LaMar said. "For 17 years he has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, second basemen ever to play the game. We would be honored to keep him with the team in some capacity."
In his retirement press conference, Alomar addressed the one issue that reporters still haunt him with nine years after the fact: the day he spit in umpire John Hirschbecks face in a heated discussion over a called third strike versus the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I wish it never happened," he said. "I hope that's not how people remember me."
Alomars mother, dona Maria Velazquez, said she thinks her youngest son has not yet even begun to reflect on all hes accomplished in his career.
"He gave his body and his soul to baseball," said Velazquez. "I dont think he has any idea how great a baseball player he was. He had no other hobbies, his whole life was about baseball. He would come here and shut himself up in his room and watch videos of his games, searching for some error or mistake he might have made or some way he could improve his game."
She said her sons Hall of Fame potential has not yet sunk in, something Alomar echoed in his comments.
"To me, the Hall of Fame, I never expect that," Alomar said. "When I came to play baseball, I just want to play baseball -- and now everybody is talking about the Hall of Fame. To be in the Hall of Fame, surrounded by the best players in the game -- that, to me, will be my ultimate goal. I don't know what I would say when I'm sitting there with all those guys that I respect. It would be an honor, and it would be the best gift I could give my family."
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.