Reflection and awe over the Alomar years

Jul 31, 2011; Roberto Alomar has his number 12 retired in a ceremony with his parents beside him before the game against the Texas Rangers at the Rogers Centre. Photo: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

In the final analysis, Roberto Alomar‘s three years as a Baltimore Oriole may be described as enigmatic.

A superlative 1996, an injury-plagued 1997, and a sub-par 1998 that will forever be the subject of debate as to whether it was sub-par because of a lingering injury, or because he had turned against Manager Ray Miller. This had something to do with Miller allegedly calling the team “crybabies.” There was also a reported clubhouse confrontation between the two, the details of which are hazy.

That is, maybe they’re hazy because they’ve never been found out, and maybe they’ve never been found out because the media had a tendency to report what the team fed them and not be able to dig further for a while.  And not be able to dig further because of a threat, either implied or real, of having their access to the team limited if certain information was published. These situations are commonplace in many relationships between teams and the media, or any other organization and the media.

Those behind-the-scenes revelations did not often see the light of day at that time. What I do recall happening is that Alomar shut down his running game in 1998 in addition to hitting only .282, and that cooled off the team’s offense and essentially got Miller fired. I clearly recall being at a team function in 1998, and Miller was in a panel discussion. Among his comments in describing a lackluster season were, “… and Alomar doesn’t run anymore,” without a reason being too clear.

Robbie had somehow decided not to do Miller any more favors by playing as well as he had in ’96. In ’97, he was hurt for part of the year in addition to sitting out the first five games of the season on suspension for spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck in September of 1996. Alomar played in 112 games, and Jeff Reboulet played the bulk of the season at second.

But in his first year in Baltimore, for that one year, Alomar was the most special second baseman other than Joe Morgan I’d ever seen on a baseball field. He hit over .400 all the way up to about mid-August before ending up at .328 with a .411 on-base percentage, he scored a franchise-record 132 runs, and there was never a rally he wasn’t in the middle of. And his defensive gifts? Sight to behold. Manny Machado is evolving into the Roberto Alomar of third base before our eyes.

A question lingers. Why now? Alomar has been retired far longer than the 5-year waiting period for induction into the team’s Hall of Fame. It has been speculated that the club is a little dry on candidates to induct, since 14 consecutive losing seasons tend not to produce superstars, and the careers of Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis, the team’s best players of the losing years, are still going on.

Another question also lingers. Why can’t the current Orioles pitch like they did in 1996-’98? Lament 1997 if you will from an Alomar perspective, but that was the wire-to-wire year. Mike Mussina went 15-8, Scott Erickson 16-7, and Jimmy Key 16-10. Today’s pitchers are praised for going 7 innings. Yesterday’s news was Zach Britton up, Zach Britton down, the latest to turn in 5 innings followed by a meltdown.

Zach Clark, the UMBC graduate and 9-year minor league veteran, was called up to take Britton’s place and joined the team in Seattle today after what he called a “crazy” 5-hour flight. He’d never been on a cross-country flight, at least not as far as we know for baseball purposes.

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Topics: Baltimore Orioles, Roberto Alomar

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