|Spit Incident Delayed Alomar’s Hall Trip||| Print |||Send|
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on August 05, 2011
After a storied 17-year career, second baseman Roberto Alomar has had a busy last few weeks. While the honors he received were certainly earned, the question of why he had to wait so long is perplexing.
He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown along with Bert Blyleven and Pat Gillick on July 24, and he had his No. 12 jersey retired by the Toronto Blue Jays on July 31. Fittingly, Gillick, the former Blue Jays general manager, tried to sign Alomar when he was just 14 years old. Alomar later signed with the Padres at age 17.
Until Sunday, the only number retired by the Blue Jays in their 35-year history was Jackie Robinson's No. 42. Though great players like Carter, George Bell, Carlos Delgado and Dave Steib suited up for the Jays, the team decided to bestow the honor upon Alomar as their first true retired number. His Hall of Fame plaque became the first to depict a Blue Jays cap.
Jays team president and CEO Paul Beeston called Alomar "arguably the best second baseman of all-time." When looking at the numbers, Beeston's claim is supported.
The 12-time All-Star finished his career with over 2,700 hits and a .300 batting average. The switch hitter was more known for his defensive skills, racking up 10 Gold Gloves, the most of any second baseman in history.
In his five seasons with the Blue Jays, Alomar was an integral part of the team's back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. He joined Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda as the only Puerto Rican-born ballplayers in the Hall of Fame.
So with all these great accomplishments and accolades, why was Alomar forced to wait an additional year for the Hall to come calling?
Many analysts believe that he was a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Famer. However, his career was marred by one incident that will remain with him for the rest of his life.
Alomar was playing with the Orioles -- against the Blue Jays no less -- in late 1996 when he was called out on strikes by umpire John Hirschbeck. After a heated argument, Alomar spit in Hirschbeck's face, a gesture that remains one of the most unsportsmanlike moments in sports history.
Alomar claimed that Hirschbeck uttered a racial slur and that the umpire was bitter over losing his son to Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). Hirschbeck had to be physically restrained after hearing what Alomar had said.
The two men publicly apologized and shook hands at home plate before a game in 1997. Alomar received a five-game suspension, and later he donated $50,000 to ALD research.
Though Alomar finished his career with the stigma of the spitting incident following him, he urged fans and the media to put the incident behind them. He said he let his emotions get the best of him and that people who knew him realized the good-natured person he was.
However, when it was time for the writers to vote for Alomar on last year's Hall of Fame ballot, many remembered the spitting incident vividly. Alomar cried on his couch after he was denied admittance on his first chance.
Of the 18 second basemen now in Cooperstown, only four, other than Alomar, ever appeared in a game after 1970: Rod Carew, Joe Morgan, Ryne Sandberg and Bill Mazeroski. Carew, who actually played more career games at first base, and Morgan were the only two first-ballot Hall of Famers of this group.
When comparing the players, Alomar is easily in the same class as Carew and Morgan and should have been rewarded at the first eligible chance. He served his suspension, openly apologized and wound up doing charitable works with Hirschbeck on several occasions.
It is human nature to make mistakes, but the real men admit their faults and go out of their way to make amends, like Alomar did. There's no doubt that he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the writers made him pay for his one mishap.
In the end, Alomar will forever live on in baseball lore as one of the greatest second baseman of all time. No one will remember whether or not he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but that he is enshrined nonetheless.