Roberto Alomar | 2B | 1991-1995
Roberto Alomar was born February 5, 1968, in Ponce, Puerto Rico. His father Sandy Alomar had a 15-year career in the major leagues as a middle infielder for several teams and has been a coach for many teams. . His brother Sandy Alomar, Jr. was a major league catcher for 20 years and was acting manager for Cleveland, in Terry Francona’s place, last year.
Roberto was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres as players born in Puerto Rico weren’t eligible for the draft.
The Padres called him up in mid-April of 1988 to take over at second base from Randy Ready at age 20. Ready was a good player but not much of a defensive second baseman. Alomar was slightly better than average offensively at second, he had a 105 OPS+ his rookie year and he came in 5th in Rookie of the Year voting. He had two more seasons with the Padres that were a little better than average with on-base averages of .347 and .340.
After the 1990 season, the Jays’ general manager Pat Gillick made maybe the biggest trade in Jay history. The Jays had been a good team the few seasons before that coming in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd the four previous years but not quite being able to get over the hump and into the World Series. It was an amazing trade, each team trading 2 great players; the Jays sending great shortstop Tony Fernandez and first baseman Fred McGriff, who had hit 105 the previous 3 seasons for Alomar and Joe Carter. You rarely, if ever see a trade like that anymore; generally, stars are traded for prospects. General Managers are scared to make trade stars for stars, worried that they will be the loser in the deal and look bad.
I didn’t like the trade at the time. Fernandez was a better player than Alomar then and McGriff looked like a potential Hall of Famer, hitting 35 home runs and taking 100 walks a year. But we got 2 World Series wins over the next 3 years, so I would say we won. It was funny that that trade was made by someone that Jay fans were calling “Stand Pat Gillick” up until then.
Alomar’s first season with the Jays, 1991, he hit much the same as he had with the Padres, maybe slightly better, with a line of .295/.354/.436, he scored 88 runs and drove in 69, he had 41 doubles, 11 triples, and 9 homers along with 53 steals (2nd in the AL). The Jays finished first in the AL East and lost out to the Twins in the ALCS in 5 games. He was terrific in the ALCS hitting .474. Roberto won the Gold Glove for best defensive second baseman in the AL, was named to the All-Star team, and came in 6th in MVP voting.
In 1992 Alomar’s batting eye took a large step forward; he took 87 walks compared to 57 walks the year before. He hit .310/.405/.427, scored 105 runs, drove in 76, and stole 55 bases. He was an All-Star again, won the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger award for best hitting second baseman in the AL. He came in 6th in MVP voting again. This was our first World Series season, Roberto was terrific in the ALCS win over Oakland, hitting .423/.464/.692, with 2 homers and 5 steals in the 6 game win. He was named ALCS MVP and had a big home run off A’s standout closer, Denis Eckersley. I put a video clip of the home run at the end of this post.
He didn’t hit as well in our World Series win over the Braves, batting just .208. But then who cares, we won. It was just a terrific season for Alomar; among AL batting leaders he was in 7th in batting average, 4th in on base, 8th in runs, and 5th in steals.
1993 was our second World Series winning season and Alomar’s numbers improved again, he had his best season as a Jay. What improved the most was his power, up until then his career-high for home runs was 9, and that season he hit 17. He had a great season hitting .326/.408/.492, having an OPS+ of 141, scored 109 runs, drove in 93, and stole 55 bases, all career highs to that point. It was one of the best seasons ever by a Blue Jay. He won the Gold Glove and was named to the All-Star team, but lost out to Carlos Baerga for the Silver Slugger, although he was easily the better hitter that season. And, for the third season in a row he came in 6th in the MVP voting, but this time he trailed two Jays Paul Molitor, who was 2nd in the voting, and John Olerud, who was 3rd. We had a heck of a team.
Among the AL batting leaders Roberto was 3rd in batting average, 7th in on base, 8th in runs, 4th in hits, 2nd in stolen bases, and 6th in runs created with 125. In our playoff run, he was, once again, terrific hitting .292 in the ALCS, with 4 steals against the White Sox and, turning it up a few notches in the World Series, hit .480/.519/.640 against the Phillies. That wasn’t enough to win him World Series MVP as Paul Molitor hit .500 and slugged 1.000. But the ring is the thing I’m sure.
In the lockout-shortened 1994 season his numbers fell off some, hitting .306/.386/.452, though still very good numbers for a second basemen. He was an All-Star and Gold Glove winner again. 1995 was his last season with the Jays and his numbers dropped again hitting .300/.354/.449 He was an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner again, but he didn’t want to be in Toronto anymore. He would sulk and not play hard. Personally, if I am GM, I get rid of a player like that as quickly as I can. Rookie GM Gord Ash, on the other hand, didn’t. Alomar would have had a lot of value in a trade, but he signed as a free agent with the Orioles after the season. I was so irritated at Ash for not trading him. Might as well get something back for him, instead of letting him walk.
Roberto had 2 great seasons with the Orioles, helping them to the World Series. By his third year there, he didn’t seem to want to be there anymore and had a very average year with an OPS+ of 100. After the season Baltimore traded him to the Cleveland Indians where he had 3 good seasons, getting them to the playoffs twice, but losing out in the ALDS both times. From Cleveland, he was traded to the Mets but by then he was no longer an elite player. From the Mets he went to Arizona, then White Sox, and then signed with Tampa Bay before the 2005 season.
He had a series of injuries and medical problems and maybe personal problems from the time he was with the Mets on to the end of his career. His ability to hit and field seemed to fall off suddenly in New York, which was attributed to not being able to handle the spotlight in New York (yeah, right). After that, he signed with Tampa, but he had back and vision problems and retired at 37. His decline was quite swift. He last good year was at age 33, when he had a 7.3 bWAR, he never again had a WAR above 0.6.
After 1993 Bill James wrote that Alomar could “get 4000 hits or 400 home runs or 1000 stolen bases”, well he never got near any of those numbers.
Roberto, I think, would have been a great leadoff hitter, for the Jays. He got on base very well, he had great speed and had a good base stealing percentage. He was a very smart base runner. But Cito Gaston liked Devon White in the leadoff spot despite his lesser ability to get on base. Roberto hit 2nd in the order almost all his time as a Jay. I know I obsess over batting orders more than it is worth, it doesn’t affect the number of runs scored as much as we fans would like to believe it does, but I do think it is a shame.
Alomar had a great reputation for defense, he won 10 Gold Gloves but the numbers never backed up his rep. His range factor was always in the lower half of second basemen and often right near the bottom of the list. But he could make plays look spectacular. Of course, Gold Glove voters have never looked at stats, so a player that makes highlight-reel plays get the award. I always preferred the guys like Devon White who were so good they rarely made spectacular plays because they got to the ball easy and didn’t feel the urge to try to make it dramatic. Anyway, in my view, Alomar was a decent defensive second baseman, definitely above average, good, not great. But then baseball is entertainment and he was entertaining.
All that is not to say he wasn’t a great player, Bill James had Alomar ranked as the 80th best player in the history of baseball and 10th best second baseman ever in his New Historical Baseball Abstract, and 8th best player of the 1990’s. Among the fun little things Bill James did was to rank baseball families, he had the Alomars as the 9th best baseball family. Rob Neyer had him as the best second baseman in Jay history, and so do we.
Why isn’t he ranked higher on our list? Well because I decided to rank on career value. Alomar had only 5 seasons with the Jays and 2 of those were strike-shortened. He had 1 amazing season (11th best Jays season ever by bWAR), 3 very good seasons, and one better than average season.
He had a great 17-year career, making the Hall of Fame in his second year on the ballot, getting 90% of the vote. He went in wearing a Blue Jays cap.
Alomar has been an ambassador and special assistant for the Blue Jays for the past several years. The Jays retired his number 12 in 2011.
On the list below we see that Roberto is 3rd in team history in sac bunts. I can’t imagine any worse decision than to make Roberto bunt. With that bat, he should have never bunted.
Roberto Alomar’s place among Blue Jay batting leaders:
bWAR: 9th, 22.3.
Batting Average: 2nd, .307
On Base %: 6th, .382
Slugging Average: 17th, .451
OPS: 10th, .833
Games 28th, 703
Plate Appearances: 23rd, 3105
Runs: 15th, 451
Doubles: 25th, 152
Triples: 5th, 36
Home Runs: 40th, 55
RBI: 23th, 342
Walks 14th, 322
Stolen Bases: 2nd, 206
Sac Bunts: 3rd, 39