Robbie's flip a game-changer

Robbie Alomar flips the ball to first, but it was his back-hand flip that defied convention,...

Robbie Alomar flips the ball to first, but it was his back-hand flip that defied convention, according to Mike Flanagan. (QMI Agency file photo)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:02 AM ET

TORONTO - As a starter in the Blue Jays rotation, Mike Flanagan was always the smartest man in the room.

Even if Tom Henke was in the clubhouse.

Now, a Baltimore Orioles broadcaster, Flanagan is paid to analyze.

“I was thinking the other day about changes I’d seen in the game since I started playing,” Flanagan said. “The only one I can think of was brought in by Robbie Alomar.

“On a ground ball up the middle, how he’d field the ball and do a back-hand flip to the shortstop on a double play grounder.”

Alomar was the first Flanagan ever saw make the play and without breaking stride, use his glove to flip towards second.

“Before Robbie Alomar, second baseman were taught to stop, pivot and throw,” Flanagan said. “Most do it now ... or try to do it.”

Like Bobby Orr changing the way the defensive position was played.

Flanagan saying it was the first major change in the game covers come ground. He was first drafted in 1971.

“The split finger? Elroy Face had that pitch in the 1960s. Robbie is the only person I’ve seen do anything different others have picked up,” Flanagan said.

Two hours later, an Alomar highlight was shown on the scoreboard promoting Sunday afternoon when the Blue Jays will retire his uniform number.

Alomar’s name is already on the Level of Excellence at the Rogers Centre, but now, no one else will wear the Hall of Fame second baseman’s No. 12.

In the clip, Alomar ranged behind second, gloved the ball and tossed a chest-high flip to Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken — a good 10 feet behind the base. Ripken then threw on to first.

No way Alomar could have stopped, regained control, squared up his shoulders and thrown out the runner at first.

It was the routine 4-6-3 first out of an inning.

Sandy Alomar, Robbie’s father, remembers making the same flip play to shortstops. “The first guy I ever saw do it was Cookie Rojas,” he said.

Jays coach Luis Rivera said Robbie was the first second baseman he’d ever seen race towards the first-base line, field a roller and toss a shovel pass to first for the out.

Watching from T-dot

A week ago Sunday, Robbie Alomar gave a moving induction speech at Cooperstown.

He thanked a lot of people, such as his mother and father and Jays president Paul Beeston, who were all there.

Then, he looked into the Major League Baseball Network cameras and into Cito Gaston’s living room to thank his former manager.

“I told Robbie the other night he had everyone crying at our house,” Gaston said this week.

Everyone?

Yep.

Gaston’s wife, Lynda, their friends Michelle and Guy Gallagher, visiting from Dunedin.

And of course Gaston, who could not make the trip due to recent back surgery.

“From Day 1 (when the Jays acquired him 1991) we got along,” Gaston said. “He was easy to manage.”

My lasting memory of Alomar — who was knocked in San Diego for refusing move to shortstop when Gary Templeton was injured — came in 1993 the night shortstop Dick Schofield suffered a season-ending injury.

Backup Alfredo Griffin could play for “a few days,” but after that?

“We’re not sure,” Gaston said in the manager’s office.

Then, there was a knock as Gaston’s door.

“Hey Cito, if you want me to play short, let me know,” Alomar told Gaston.

A few days later, shortstop Tony Fernandez was re-acquired in a trade from the New York Mets in exchange for outfielder Darrin Jackson.

After Cooperstown

While the Alomars headed to Toronto from upstate New York when the ceremonies ended, Pat Gillick and wife, Doris, headed to Philadelphia.

Gillick was given a copy of the 2008 World Series trophy (cost $30,000 US) and a victory lap in the back of a convertible around the warning track of Citizens Bank Park before Wednesday’s game.

And on Sunday, as Alomar’s number is retired, the Gillicks head to Prince Edward Island on vacation.

The Women behind Gillick

Behind every good man stands a good woman.

Or in the case of a Hall of Fame GM, a crack executive assistant stands beside him.

Gillick assistants were Susan Turjanica and Fran Brown (Jays), Ellen Harrigan (Orioles), Debbie Larsen (Mariners) and Adele MacDonald (Phillies).

Larsen told a story in Cooperstown how she had planned a vacation. So Gillick suggested that Larsen phone his travel agent.

“By the time I was finished talking to her, I had a Seattle-Cosa Rica first class for $400 and, the last day before I left, he gave me a card. I opened it and inside was $400,” Larsen said.

And how Gillick would pick 12 weekend home dates, put names of the Mariners baseball operations staff in a hat and staffers took turns picking. They had the GM’s suite for the night and could invite 15 friends to eat and drink for free.

“Pat would sit in an unused broadcast booth or the press box,” Larsen said.

And finally, Flanny

Flanagan didn’t miss a second of the telecast from Cooperstown last Sunday.

He was drafted in 1971 by Gillick, scouting director of the Houston Astros, in the 15th round.

And in 1987 at the trade deadline, the Jays dealt Oswaldo Peraza and Jose Mesa to the Orioles for Flanagan.

“When I got here, Pat said: ‘Finally, I got you,’” said Flanagan, who went 26-27 with a 3.76 ERA in four seasons.

His best outing was a no decision as he pitched 11 innings, allowing one earned run in Game 161 of the 1987 season at Tiger Stadium.

His final year of pitching was with the Orioles in 1992.

“I saw a lot of Robbie in Baltimore,” said Flanagan.


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