TORONTO - Pat Hentgen holds court in the early innings as the Blue Jays relievers sit, observe and learn.
The bullpen coach answers questions whether it be “what would you throw here?”
Lately, as the big board in centre shows highlights of Robbie Alomar diving, sliding, hitting homers and throwing people out, questions are about the Blue Jays second baseman who will be inducted into Cooperstown next Sunday.
Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp will ask.
Some nights Marc Rzepczynski too: “How good was he? As good as Dustin Pedroia?”
“Better than Robinson Cano?”
Hentgen, former Cy Young Award winner, could win an award if there was one for talking ball, as Roy Halladay said earlier this season.
He handles questions with the same ease he used to field comebackers.
“I tell them Robbie was a career .300 hitter, a clutch hitter, a guy who could hit for power, a great base runner and base-stealer ... and (pause) his best asset of all was his glove,” said Hentgen on Friday night.
Alomar had nine seasons with double-figure home-run totals, won 10 Gold Glove awards and 12 times was an all-star.
“Robbie was so good in 1992-93 that, not only was he an elite, future Hall of Famer, but I thought we had the best player in the league. I didn’t follow the National League, but he was the best in our league,” Hengten said.
“If I was starting a team and had one player to pick, Robbie would have been the one.
“The amazing thing about him if he was leading off an inning, he’d hit like a leadoff hitter, draw a walk, or bunt for a hit. If he was up third, he’d hit like a No. 3 hitter and drive the ball.”
All of which was a surprise from when Hentgen heard of the December 1990 trade with the San Diego Padres.
“I knew Joe Carter was a good hitter because he’d been in Cleveland but I thought: ‘Wow, we traded Fred McGriff AND Tony Fernandez for Carter and Alomar?’ ” said Hengten, who got into some games in the spring of 1991 on the way to triple-A Syracuse.
“I saw Robbie on a regular basis and realized how steady a defender he was, growing up in Michigan, I didn’t follow the San Diego Padres.”
Alomar’s final season with the Padres was George Bell’s last with the Jays. After one season with the Chicago Cubs, Bell crossed town, playing for Chicago White Sox in 1992-93.
“I’d talk to his brother Sandy and say: ‘I hear your brother is better,’ ” Bell said this week.
“When Robbie got to Toronto he gave the team a spark. I used to say there was no where in the world for him to play — the big leagues were too small. He was too good for the game.”
Bell played with Cubs’ Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg in 1991.
“Ryne hit a lot of home runs and had real sure hands,” Bell said, “but he was not as good defensively as Robbie. I saw a lot of good second baseman: Willie Randolph, Bobby Grich, Lou Whittaker and Ryne Sandberg. Robbie was the best.”
Besides the all-star selections and gold gloves, Alomar won the hearts of countless Jays fans.
Why? Because he did so many things no one had ever seen before or since.
Infield playing back. Hard hit ball to second.
Alomar would throw out the runner at the plate.
Man on second. One hopper to Alomar.
He’d throw the runner out at third.
Man on first. Ball in the gap to the wall. The runner would round third and stop.
Alomar would take the relay and throw behind the runner for the out.
During batting practice, he’d field grounders between his legs.
He had his first hit April 22, 1988, a single off future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan with Jays broadcaster Allan Ashby catching for the Houston Astros.
He had his 2,724th and final hit, a double off Seattle’s Bobby Madritsch, former indy leaguer from the Winnipeg Goldyes, on Sept. 3, 2004.
In between, enough hits, stolen bases and leather to be named on 90% of the Hall of Fame ballots, only the 26th player to gain such an endorsement.