Ump stumps for Alomar

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:40 AM ET

Everyone knows about Robbie Alomar losing his temper as a member of the Baltimore Orioles and spitting at John Hirschbeck at the SkyDome on Sept. 27, 1996.

Not every Hall of Fame voter knows about what happened a few years later when Alomar joined the Cleveland Indians and Hirschbeck began a their friendship.

"When he signed with the Indians (in 1999) I was working second one night at Jacobs Field, I reached out, just: 'Hi how you doing? How's your family?' " Hirschbeck said while seated in the umpires' room at Rogers Centre.

(It was the first time the two had spoken since April 22, 1997. That night in Baltimore, the first game involving both men since the incident, Alomar stopped by at the start of the game, shook Hirschbeck's hand and apologized.)

The two began talking again that night in Cleveland.

They haven't stopped.

They talked Jan 6, moments after Alomar missed being elected, by eight votes, to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Alomar was named on 397 of 539 ballots (73.7%) by Baseball Writers' Association of America voters with 10 years experience. To be elected, a player must receive 75%.

They talked because that's what one friend does when another is down in the dumps.

"I told him he'll get in next January," Hirschbeck said. "If I'm not angry, why should writers be? Why give him a slap on the wrist? Why should anyone hold it against him when I don't?"

Hirschbeck and his family live in Poland, Ohio. After Alomar's three-year deal with the Orioles ended, he joined his brother Sandy Alomar with the Cleveland Indians. Hirschbeck researched Alomar, talking to Jack Efta, who ran the Jacobs Field umps' room.

"I told this story so many times," Hirschbeck said. "I asked Jack and he said Robbie was one of the two nicest people he'd ever met in the game."

Because Hirschbeck has told the story so many times he pauses, even raises an eyebrow for effect.

"I asked Jack: 'Who is the other?' Jack said: 'You.' "

Does Hirschbeck, now in his 27th year, think Alomar belongs in Cooperstown?

"I've never seen a better second baseman, he could do so many things," said the third base ump for the Royals-Blue Jays game on Tuesday. "I had Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, but mind you that was near the end of his career.

"If what happened that day between Robbie and I at home plate is the worst that he ever does in his life, he'll have lived a pretty good life," Hirschbeck said.

Hirschbeck's son, John Drew, died from adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare nerve disorder, before the spitting incident. Michael Hirschbeck, another son who also has the unfair disease and had a bone-marrow transplant, served as the Indians bat boy and would high five Alomar routinely after he scored a run. Michael is now 23.

Alomar donated $50,000 to ALD research. Both Alomar brothers were willing participants when it came to charity auctions in the Ohio area, according to Hirschbeck.

The second baseman always has said his best seasons were his three years in Cleveland (a career-high 120 RBIs in 1999 and 100 two years later), but if he was ever elected he would like to go into Coopers town wearing a Jays cap because three times the Jays reached post-season, winning the World Series in 1992 and 1993 during his five years here.

With Hirschbeck's endorsement, next year will be Alomar's year.

Over the Hill

Windsor lefty Evan Rutckyj set down rehabbing Jays second baseman Aaron Hill three times (strikeout, a ground ball and a popup) as the Canadian national junior team lost 4-0 to the Jays extended spring team at the Bobby Mattick facility in Dunedin before 55 scouts and college recruiters.

Rutckyj's fastball was clocked at 89-90 m.p.h. Windsor right-hander Joel Pierce was 90-91 and Whitby lefty Evan Grills was 86-88. Andrew Tinnish of the Blue Jays was among the scouting directors in the crowd, as was Canadian scout Jamie Lehman.

BOB.ELLIOTT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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