T.O. was good for Alomar

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:01 AM ET

He should have cried. He should have talked about what Toronto meant to him, about the friends he made and the managers he saw come and go over his 17 seasons.

He should have goofed up by calling the Rogers Centre the SkyDome in his teary retirement speech, rendered with his jersey No. 12 hanging behind him.

Roberto Alomar should have retired a Blue Jay. He should never have left.

It's so easy to see now.

He bolted after the 1995 season. For what? More money? He took a $700,000 US paycut in his first year to play for the Baltimore Orioles. For more titles? He never got to the World Series again after winning two with the Blue Jays.

Staying in the same town buys you grace. The steep decline of the past three years would have been overlooked, or at least acknowledged with a nod toward a brilliant past.

Tom Cheek would have referred to him as Old Reliable and in the lean years would have at least been soothed by the nightly miracle that was, except for the very end, Roberto Alomar playing second base.

How many hundreds of thousands of fans would he have brought to the ball park? How could one man have stemmed the tide away from the game and bridged the generations?

Instead, Alomar announced his retirement yesterday in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the camp of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who can make the same claim on him that Spain can make on the Eiffel Tower.

Always stats-conscious, Alomar certainly chose to quit now rather than see his career average fall below .300.

He is a player without a city to call his own, a nomad who made his name with the San Diego Padres, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians and the Jays, and then devalued it with stays in New York, Arizona and Chicago and one last aborted run with Tampa Bay.

Seamheads say his rookie season with San Diego, when he hit just .266 but delivered air-tight glove work, may have been the best season ever by a 20-year-old second baseman. Only once, when he scored 138 runs with the 1999 Cleveland Indians, did Alomar lead the American League in a major offensive category.

His brilliance, of course, lay in the dazzling volume of his talents. A winner of nine Gold Gloves during a 10-year span, he was a stunning middle infielder who could hit for average and power from both sides of the plate.

He was a fearsome basestealer, a gifted, instinctive base-runner, a superb clutch performer and the backbone of the Jays' back-to-back World Series titles.

He also was vain, astonishingly petty and stunningly insensitive, never more than in 1996 when, upset of the calls of home plate umpire John Hirschbeck, he spat in his face.

Alomar spent an unforgettable five years here and the sum of his stats is no less impressive. There are 17 second basemen in the Hall of Fame. Measured against that stellar field, Alomar would stand seventh in runs (1,508), eighth in hits (2,724) and fourth in both homers (210) and stolen bases (474). He might be the best of the bunch with the glove.

"I've been watching baseball for 60 years," the great Orlando Cepeda once said. "He's the best I've ever seen."

The five years here were the longest he spent in one place. A lifetime connection with the Jays would have lent to Alomar an additional cachet. He should have been, like Alan Trammell and Barry Larkin, Ryne Sandberg and Lou Whitaker, players who were synonymous with not only excellence in the middle infield, but with the cities in which they played.

BAD JUDGEMENT

He could have been an institution whose lapses in judgment were smoothed over by time. Instead, they will remember him at his worst in Chicago and New York and Arizona.

Alomar's two years with the Mets featured some of the most objectionable and indifferent play seen with the franchise. Toward the end, he was benched against lefthanders with even middling stuff and there were loud whispers about his corrosive clubhouse persona.

How far Roberto Alomar could roam became a staple of his best years. It became, in a tragic way, the defining element of his later ones.


Videos

Photos