Alomar's Hall pass anything but certain
Despite stellar career, off-field incidents may stand in way
Roberto Alomar sounded great on the telephone from Tampa, Fla. His voice was healthy and clear.The youngest son of Sandy Alomar Sr., the former big league infielder and coach, is heading up the this year's Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2010. He's one of 13 players on it for the first time. Just like the 25 other hopefuls, Alomar will find out on Wednesday whether he's been elected this year by a 75 percent vote. Fans can watch the announcement live at 2 p.m. ET on an MLB Network simulcast on MLB.com.
Meanwhile, Alomar would like to counter an allegation made early this past year by a former girlfriend. He does not have AIDS. He's not even HIV-infected.
"I am real healthy," Alomar told MLB.com in a recent interview. "I am married. If I wasn't, I'd never do that to my wife. I don't have AIDS. I was the victim of my own celebrity. It's not something I really want to get into at this time. All I can tell you is that I'm in great health. I feel fine."This past June 1, Alomar, now 41, married Maripily Rivera, an old friend from his native Puerto Rico, inheriting her 8-year-old son. The allegations that he was sick came in a $15 million lawsuit that was filed last February by Ilya Dall, a former live-in girlfriend. Dal claimed in court documents that Alomar tested positive for the disease. The matter is still in litigation. Sandy Alomar Jr., Roberto's older brother by two years, also said there was no truth to these charges. His brother is healthy. "It just shows you that you have to be wary about the people you live with," Sandy Jr. told MLB.com. Sandy Jr., a six-time All-Star catcher and now a coach with the Indians, said it's a shame that the accomplishments of his brother's career may be overshadowed by these rumors and the 1996 incident in which he spat at umpire John Hirschbeck. Roberto accumulated 12 consecutive All-Star appearances, 10 Gold Gloves, a .300 lifetime batting average, 2,724 hits and a .984 fielding percentage "It's sad," said Sandy Jr., who was his brother's teammate for a short time in San Diego and two years in Cleveland. "A lot of people have the wrong impression about Robbie. He was a quiet guy in the locker room. He was never a troublemaker. I never saw it. The reality is that for the single [spitting] incident he had, we all suffered. For the Hirschbeck family and our family, it was a tough situation. That incident made it seem that Roberto had problems all the time when he never had problems." The spitting incident occurred near the end of Roberto's first year with the Orioles on Sept. 27, 1996, in Toronto, during an escalating argument about a called third strike. Alomar was suspended for five games, although he claimed at the time that Hirschbeck called him a derogatory name that caused the instant reaction. The two long ago have moved past the incident, have shaken hands publicly at home plate before an Orioles game on April 22, 1997. Hirschbeck went on to become the first president of the World Umpires Association and was the home-plate umpire in San Francisco on Aug. 7, 2007, when Barry Bonds hit his 756th homer to pass Hank Aaron into first place on the all-time list. "I wish I had a Hall of Fame vote, because I would certainly vote for [Alomar]," Hirschbeck recently told the New York Daily News, adding, "I have to say if the spitting incident was the worst thing Robbie ever did, then he's lived a real good life." Alomar claimed back then and still maintains to this day that he didn't know Hirschbeck had lost his son to adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) -- a genetic neurological disease that strikes one in nearly 18,000 young boys worldwide each year -- prior to the incident. It is the only element of Alomar's career that he regrets. "Unfortunately, I can't erase that moment," Alomar said. "All I could do was apologize, and I did apologize. The only person that needed to forgive me was John, and he did forgive me. He's been real supportive of me, and I've been very supportive of him. I got to know his family. We established a foundation to find a cure for the disease that took his son's life. And to me, that's the importance of it. "As long as he forgave me and we became friends, that's what matters to me." The brothers Alomar came up in the Padres organization before they were dispatched to Cleveland (1989) and Toronto ('90), respectively. Sandy Jr. was traded to the Indians in a deal for Joe Carter by then-general manager and manager Jack McKeon, because the Padres already had an All-Star catcher in Benito Santiago, also from Puerto Rico. "I never wanted to trade Sandy," McKeon recalled this past week about trading the elder of the brothers. "I told the Indians that they could have their choice of either Sandy or Benito. They took Sandy, because they wanted to go younger."
"As far as Robbie is concerned, he ranks right up there as a second baseman with the best I've ever seen. He may even be No. 1. Of all the guys I managed in the big leagues, this guy had the greatest instincts for the game. You didn't need to coach him. He was his own coach. A slam-dunk Hall of Famer, as far as I'm concerned."|
|-- Jack McKeon, on Roberto Alomar|
A year later, McKeon was no longer in the organization when his front-office replacement, Joe McIlvaine, made this blockbuster trade: Carter and the younger Alomar to the Blue Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. McIlvaine, who was trying to remake the franchise, said at the time that the Padres wouldn't have been able to afford Alomar when he reached free agency."There's no way I would've traded Robbie Alomar," McKeon told MLB.com. "He and Tony Gwynn would've been the greatest players to spend their careers in San Diego. I had been relieved of my duties earlier that year and the rumors were flying, although I never believed that that would happen. I was in the car when the bulletin came over the radio. I almost drove off the road." McGriff and Fernandez were traded in 1993 during one of the Padres' infamous fire sales. But Carter and Alomar helped remake a Blue Jays franchise that won the World Series in '92 and '93, the latter coming on Carter's walk-off Game 6 homer against Phillies left-hander and now MLB Network commentator Mitch Williams. Alomar remained in Toronto for five seasons and would undoubtedly be the first player to go into the Hall wearing a Blue Jays cap. Those Blue Jays were stocked with future Hall of Famers Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor and possibly now Alomar. But Cito Gaston, back in his second tour as Blue Jays manager, said those teams wouldn't have won without Carter and Alomar. "No question," Gaston said when reached at his home in Palm Harbor, Fla., this past week. "I would have liked to have kept all four players. Tony Fernandez came back in 1993 and helped us win a World Series, as you know. People probably thought we were crazy when we traded them. But bringing in Joe and Robbie turned the whole club around. They beat you any way they could." The Alomar family hails from Salinas, Puerto Rico, near the southern coast of the island, and Roberto Alomar would be the first native of the commonwealth to be elected by the eligible members of the BBWAA since Roberto Clemente was enshrined in a special 1973 election that came just shortly after his death in a New Year's Eve plane crash. "If I get in, it will be not just for me, but in recognition of my entire family," Alomar said. "We will all get in. It will be a big Alomar victory and a big Puerto Rican victory." A switch-hitter, Alomar's final offensive line makes him a hot prospect to be selected as a first-timer, particularly at second base. He certainly measures favorably with Ryne Sandberg, the last second baseman elected by the writers in 2005, his third year on the ballot. Sandberg, who played his entire 16-season career with the Cubs, had 2,386 hits, 282 homers, 1,061 RBIs, 344 steals and a career average of .285 in 2,164 games. Joe Morgan, certainly the standard among second basemen in the post World War II era, had 2,517 hits, 268 homers and 1,133 RBIs in 2,649 games during his 22-year career, eight of them with Cincinnati's great Big Red Machine. Morgan was elected by the BBWAA in 1990. Alomar's .984 fielding percentage also is right there with Sandberg's .989 and Morgan's .981. McKeon and Gaston maintain that Alomar was such a complete player, the off-field allegations about his health and spitting incident should not keep him from getting into the Hall of Fame, even on the first ballot. "Defensive-wise, his head was always in the ballgame," said Gaston, whom Alomar noted had the greatest influence on him as a manager. "He was just a great player. I never had problems with Robbie in the clubhouse. He had friends, but he did his own thing most of the time. I don't see that. You talk about great second baseman, I think he's right there [with Morgan and Sandberg]. He could steal bases. He could play the field well. He could hit home runs. Robbie could do anything he wanted to up there." Among other fine Latin players, McKeon signed the Alomar brothers and Santiago as free agents at a time when Puerto Rican youngsters still fell outside the First-Year Player Draft. He brought in Sandy Sr. as a coach just to make sure Roberto signed. "Even as a kid, you could see the talent was there," McKeon said. "It's such a great family. It was a wonderful thing to have all three of them as members of the Padres. "As far as Robbie is concerned, he ranks right up there as a second baseman with the best I've ever seen. He may even be No. 1. Of all the guys I managed in the big leagues, this guy had the greatest instincts for the game. You didn't need to coach him. He was his own coach. A slam-dunk Hall of Famer, as far as I'm concerned."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.