Catching Up

Sandy Alomar Jr.’s career started slowly, but landed him on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot

December 07, 2012
2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame Candidate Sandy Alomar, Jr. (NBHOF Library)

Baseball never came easy for Sandy Alomar Jr. But success evolved through more than 40 years of hard work and determination.

It was a work ethic that led Alomar to an indelible place in the game’s history – and to the edge of Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame.

“It’s not that I’m that bad, I’m just not The Natural,” said Alomar during his playing days. “There were at least three players on my Little League team better than me.”

Alomar was accustomed to being surrounded by talent. His little brother, Roberto Alomar, played 17 big league seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2011. Now, Sandy Jr. debuts on the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Hall of Fame ballot.

Alomar is one of 37 players on the 2013 Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot for the Class of 2013 at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. BBWAA members who have at least 10 years of tenure with the organization can vote in the election, and the results will be announced Jan. 9. Any candidate who is named on at least 75 percent of all BBWAA votes cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2013. The Induction Ceremony will be held July 28 in Cooperstown.

Born June 18, 1966 in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Sandy Alomar Jr. was the son of Sandy Alomar Sr., who spent 15 years in the big leagues as a durable middle infielder in the 1960 and 70s. Sandy Jr. grew up around the game, but unlike his brother Roberto – who caught the baseball bug early – Sandy found other interests, like dirt bikes and karate, as a youth.

But when a friend talked him into playing American Legion ball, Alomar’s talent quickly surfaced. He signed with the San Diego Padres as an amateur free agent in 1983, and within four years was a big league prospect behind the plate. The Padres, however, already had a catcher: The 1987 National League Rookie of the Year, Benito Santiago.

Alomar tore up Triple-A pitching for two seasons while the Padres looked for a trade partner. Then on Dec. 6, 1989, the Padres sent Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Chris James to the Cleveland Indians for slugger Joe Carter.

Nine months later, Alomar was unanimously selected as the 1990 American League Rookie of the Year. That season, Alomar hit .290 with nine homers and 66 RBI. He threw out 34 percent of runners who tried to steal against him – en route to a Gold Glove Award – and was named the AL’s starting catcher in the All-Star Game, the first rookie catcher to earn that honor.

Injuries dogged Alomar for the next five seasons as the Indians assembled one of the top young teams in the American League. Rotator cuff problems, back surgery and knee issues prevented Alomar from appearing in more than 89 games in any of those seasons – though he was named to the All-Star team in both 1991 and 1992. The Tribe won the AL pennant in 1995 – Cleveland’s first trip to the World Series in 41 years – and Alomar hit .300 in 66 games during the regular season.

Finally healthy again, Alomar appeared in 127 games in 1996 – earning another All-Star berth while leading Cleveland to the postseason for the second straight year. Then in 1997, Alomar put it all together when he hit .324 with 21 homers and 83 RBI, finishing 14th in the AL Most Valuable Player vote while compiling a 30-game hitting streak and becoming the first player to win the All-Star Game MVP in his own ballpark. The Indians again advanced to the World Series, where they lost in seven games to the Marlins.

“I still haven’t gotten over it,” Alomar said in 1998. “Every time I think about it, I get angry all over again.”

Alomar was named to his sixth-and-final All-Star team in 1998, and after two more seasons in Cleveland bounced from the White Sox to the Rockies back to the White Sox to the Rangers and Dodgers and the White Sox again before finishing his career with the Mets in 2007.

His totals: 20 seasons and a .273 batting average, with 112 home runs among his 1,236 hits.

“How could I have ever dreamed I would be an All-Star,” Alomar asked. “I didn’t think I’d ever be a Major League Baseball player.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum