If it was up to Jack McKeon, Robbie Alomar never would have made the Hall of Fame.
Not with a Blue Jays’ logo on his cap.
McKeon was fired as general manager by the San Diego Padres new ownership group on Sept. 22, 1990.
And 74 days later Joe Carter and Alomar were dealt by new GM Joe McIlvaine to the Jays for Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez.
“I never would have traded him,” McKeon said from Citi Field before his Florida Marlins played the New York Mets this week.
“No way I’d have ever traded him. I saw a future Hall of Famer when he was 19, he was coming into his own when the Padres traded him.
“If he had stayed it would have been a toss up between him and Tony Gwynn as the most popular San Diego Padre ever.”
McKeon was in his car driving from downtown San Diego to his home when a bulletin came on the radio Dec. 5, 1990 that the Padres were about to deal Alomar and Carter for McGriff and Fernandez.
McKeon laughed ... the stuff people come up with at the winter meetings.
Five more miles down the road ... the deal was official.
“Almost drove off the road,” McKeon said. “We traded two guys that would carry the Padres to a pennant, for McGriff and Fernandez? Might have been the worst trade San Diego ever made,”
Only 366 days earlier McKeon had beaten the Jays in acquiring Carter — moving Robbie’s brother Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Chris James to the Cleveland Indians, again at the winter meetings.
McKeon said Alomar was available because manager Greg Riddoch didn’t want Gary Templeton, so they needed a new shortstop (Fernandez) and since Sandy Alomar was fired as a coach along with McKeon, management was worried how Robbie Alomar would cope.
Baseball, it is a game of straight lines, but often people come full circle.
Inside the Major League Baseball studios in Secaucus, N.J., this June at the draft, three people were brought together from 1990.
McKeon was there to announce the Marlins’ picks after commissioner Bud Selig did first-round honours.
Alomar was representing the Jays.
McIlvaine represented the Twins.
“Robbie and I are standing and along comes McIlvaine,” McKeon said. “Joe says hello, Robbie says ‘hey, you’re the guy who traded me.’”
At the draft McKeon, a special advisor to Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, told Alomar he’d see him in Cooperstown. Two weeks after the draft Edwin Rodriguez resigned as manager and McKeon, 80, was managing again.
“Last time I was set for Cooperstown was 2003 to see Hal McCoy of Dayton win the J.G. Taylor Spink award (but) I came back to manage,” said McKeon, whose Marlins beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
This weekend McKeon’s Marlins host the New York Mets in Miami.
McKeon compared Alomar to others he’s managed: George Brett, Harmon Killebrew, Jim Kaat and Gywnn, saying: “Four Hall of Famers, Kaat should be in.”
“Robbie had the greatest instincts of any player I had,” McKeon said. “He was very unselfish. He didn’t need a base coach, he had eyes in the back of his head.”
The McKeon-Alomar relationship dates to the 1970s when McKeon managed winter ball in Puerto Rico and Robbie’s father Sandy was on the team.
“Robbie drove us crazy running around the clubhouse at age 10,” McKeon said. “His mother and father deserve credit, I know they’re very proud of both Sandy Jr. and Robbie.
“Robbie had that one incident with the ump, but we all blow up once in a while.”
As a Baltimore Oriole, Alomar spat on ump John Hirschbeck after being ejected in a heated argument at the SkyDome.
That’s not how McKeon remembers Alomar.
“I’ve seen him many times come off second on a grounder to first, the guy bobbles it, or has his head down and Robbie comes around and scores,” McKeon said. “Or on an attempted double play with runners on first and second, he knows he can’t make the double play, he’ll come up throwing to third.”
McKeon wishes he could have seen Alomar longer in a Padre uniform.