Friday, January 7, 2011

Roberto Alomar

Don't worry, this post won't be as long as yesterday's.  For good reason: His selection to the Hall was a no-brainer.  His career stats are very good, though not mind-blowing, sort of like Frankie Frisch.  A quick glance at his sheet lays it bare: 12 straight All-Star appearances; 10 Gold Gloves in 11 years.  (Who broke the string in 1997?)  It's that simple.  The fans and his contemporaries thought he was the first or second best 2nd basemen in the league for 12 straight years.  That's dominance.  His contemporaries and sportswriters thought he was the best fielding second baseman in the league 10 out of 11 years.  That's dominance. 

Add to that 2,700 hits, 500 doubles, a .300 batting average, base-stealing excellence, bat mastery and run-scoring ability, not to mention that he passed the eye test (attributed greatness from those who watched him play, in the park and on television), and you have a sure Hall of Famer.  Simply stated, he is the best fielding second baseman I've ever seen, period.  He made it look easy.  He made it look graceful.  He made a highlight reel play there every day, literally.  He got to balls no one else has since; he made throws from short right to first base all the time.  He could play that far right of second because of his unnatural ability to cover a ton of ground up the middle and turn his body like a ballerina and throw to first, all in one motion, often in mid-air.  He deserves to be in the Hall for his defense alone.  He is the Ozzie Smith of second basemen.  Plus, if that wasn't enough, he's one of the best hitting second basemen I've ever seen (with Ryne Sandberg, Jeff Kent--and Pedroia in a much shorter career so far). 

Another easy litmus test: Ryne Sandberg is in the Hall, and played alongside Alomar for a bit of their careers (Sandberg started about 5 years earlier).  At the very least, Alomar hit his prime just after Sandberg was finishing up.  Anyway, you can very easily and quickly compare them; this is a comparison that Alomar very clearly wins.  He was the best second baseman in the 1990s, period, and perhaps the best ever.  Announcers at the time would speak of his greatness during the game.  It was an established feeling that everyone had.

A sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer did not make it on the first ballot because of The Spit, of course.  Though I'm not a fan of the sportswriters using the power of their votes to moralize, it should be noted that

a) The Hall does have a moral clause in its benchmarks that voters are asked to follow.  (If they followed this clause fully, Ty Cobb, George Sisler and others would not be in the Hall; it's why Pete Rose isn't.)  And--

b) The Spit really was that shocking.  I remember seeing it live on television; I remember being shocked to silence for many moments, my mouth literally agape.  The announcers were shocked and angry.  So were the fans.  It is still, to this day, the one action of my baseball-viewing career that so totally shocked and angered the sport.  Fairly or not, he will be remembered for it.

I am okay with the writers stating their displeasure, years later, by making him wait a year, and not letting him be a first-balloter because of it.  I have to also suspect that they suspect that perhaps that moment was a temporary rage caused by something besides the umpire, if you know what I mean.  This alone would make the writers pause a year before opening the door.  I'm okay with that, too.  It's a message, sure, but as it says these two important things, I'm okay with it.  It says, "We suspect."  (And look at the very sudden collapse at the end of his career, almost immediately after an MVP-caliber year.  That's all I'm sayin'.)

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