Whom to compare Alomar to?
“Usually you don’t see prospects at second, we really didn’t scout too many second basemen,” said Centeno. “Usually shortstops short on range, short on arm are moved over to second.”
Centeno, now Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau supervisor in Puerto Rico, remembers how Alomar stood out when he and other scouts saw Alomar playing American Legion ball in 1984.
“He was very interesting, very easy to project as a major leaguer,” Centeno said. “American Legion was 16-to-18 age grouping. At 15, he looked better than the oldest players.”
Centeno recalls Alomar’s tremendous maturity, his plate discipline, his ability to made contact, his good hands and how intelligent he was when it came to instincts in the field.
“In big situations he was a very sure bat,” Centeno said. “The only thing he did not have at that age was power.”
Alomar found the power, hitting 22 homers with the 1996 Baltimore Orioles, 24 in 1999 with the Cleveland Indians and 20 in 2001 with the Indians. He hit 210 homers in all.
Carlos Baerga, nine months younger than Alomar, attracted scouts as well.
“Baerga had more power as a teenager,” Centeno said, giving Alomar the edge when it came to hands and fielding.
“Alomar was the more complete package. Baerga would have been a better catcher.”
Alomar becomes the third player from Puerto Rico to make Cooperstown, joining the late Roberto Clemente, elected in 1973 — a year after dying in a plane crash en route to a charity mission in Nicaragua — and Orlando Cepeda, selected by the veteran’s committee.
“Baseball people are very excited on the island, it’s a great honour, baseball is our No. 1 sport,” Centeno said. “Any place I go people are talking about it.”
Orlando Alvarez, who scouts for the Philadelphia Phillies, is nine years younger than Sandy Alomar, Robbie and Sandy Jr.’s father.
“I remember his dad bringing him to games when I was with San Juan when Sandy played for Santurce,” said Alvarez, 59. “He showed a lot of tools, I saw Robbie when his team played near my house in Rio Grande.”
Alomar joined the Jays in December of 1990 as Howard Starkman, the Jays crack P.R. man, stepped to the microphone at the winter meetings inside the Hyatt Hotel in Rosemont, Ill. and announced, without a release yet printed:
“The Toronto Blue Jays have traded Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff to the San Diego Padres ... (pause) ... in exchange for Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar.”
As trades go, this blockbuster turned the franchise around, but what would have happened had Alomar signed with the Jays on Feb. 16, 1985 rather than the Padres?
Jays Latin American scout Epy Guerrero hired Jorge Rivera in November of 1986.
“We wanted him,” Rivera said. “But the father wanted a combination deal.”
The Padres gave Sandy a coaching job and signed Sandy Jr. in the fall of 1983 and 16 months later signed Robbie.
“At that time we only liked Robbie, Sandy was a tall, skinny kid, we thought he was too tall to be a catcher,” Rivera said. “They didn’t know they had another big leaguer on their hands.”
Rivera said perhaps there was a better fielding second baseman than Alomar, but if there was “he could not hit with Robbie.”
“You know,” Rivera said. “The father did a good job with those two boys. He was the fixture of the family. He taught them the ins and outs of the game. He wasn’t extravagant with his money, he bought a gas station, looked after his family.”
Sandy Johnson, the Padres executive, who signed Sandy Alomar, remembers Robbie being around, any time San Diego worked out Sandy.
Johnson left the Padres in winter of 1984 for a job with the Texas Rangers.
“Robbie was special, at age 14 or 15, special right out of the box,” Johnson said from Baltimore. “He was so polished. He had his father’s actions around the base.”
Every Sandy Alomar workout with Padres scout Luis Rosa — who doubled as coach of Alomar’s Legion team — and Johnson ended with Robbie asking “for a few more grounders,” or “can I run the 60 again?”
“He was a natural,” Johnson said. “I’ve never seen a better second baseman and I’ve been in the game 53 years. Who is the best second baseman ever? I’ve talked to guys who say Joe Gordon, but Gordon never had Alomar’s speed. Bobby Doerr?
“In my mind it is Alomar.”
Tom Boswell once described the antics of middle infielders as a ballet of bruises. Alomar would leap, dodge and use an escape hatch to avoid runners bearing on him as he attempted to turn two.
“People forget how acrobatic he was in the field, I never saw a player with his body control,” Johnson said.
Alomar would jump and throw, dive and throw, go into the air and throw off balance.
What amazes Johnson, who signed Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago among others, was Alomar’s ability to track down shallow pop ups hit in shallow centre or right.
“Balls over his head that off the bat were certain hits,” Johnson said. “You look up and say how did he make that play?
“He got to pop ups he had no business coming close to, for years and years second basemen were shortstops without enough arm.”
Robbie Alomar changed that.