Hats Off To Robbie
Jim Turner - March 22, 2005

Blue Jays fans, mark down February, 2010 on you calendars.

As of that month, Roberto Alomar will have been retired five years and should proceed directly into the hallowed Halls of Cooperstown, becoming the first Blue Jay so enshrined.

Sure, there are Jays already in the Hall. Phil Neikro was the first to bear a TOR on his plaque, and while that was a nice milestone for the franchise, Neikro's meagre 12 innings in Toronto blue hardly inspired a lot of warm and fuzzy memories during his 1996 induction weekend.

Next came Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. Between Winfield's lone season in Toronto and Molitor's 15 seasons as a Brewer, it was fairly obvious that neither would sport a Blue Jays cap on his Hall plaque, but fans certainly had a much more tangible connection to both players, and Toronto was a big part of the induction speeches of both men.

Alomar though, will be the first Blue Jay to reach the Hall AS a Blue Jay. Finally, among the 250 or so bronze plaques, there will be a tiny Blue Jay with a maple leaf hanging with the likes of Ruth, Aaron and Mays. Alomar spent only five of his 17 seasons in Toronto, but that's two more than he spent anywhere else. (Alomar would, in fact, become the first Hall of Famer to spend as few as five seasons with any one club.) With the Hall of Fame now deciding which hat a player will be inducted with, and with Alomar having gained much of his fame, and his two championships, with the Jays, it's almost inconceivable that he would be inducted as anything else.

Is Alomar a first-ballot Hall of Famer? His offensive resume: .300 AVG, 2700 hits, 500 2Bs, 200 HRs, 450 steals, 1500 runs, 1000 RBIs, 1000 walks - would deserve serious consideration if he were a corner outfielder. Add in a record 10 gold gloves at second base, an ALCS MVP, an All-Star MVP and two World Series rings, and he's nothing short of a lock.

Granted, Alomar had faded over his last three seasons, and he didn't stick around long enough to collect the 3000 hits that make one an "automatic" Hall of Famer, which may hurt him in the eyes of some writers. At the same time, there's something to be said for gracefully stepping aside with some ability still intact, rather than chasing the "big number."

On a baseball field, there was simply nothing that Roberto Alomar couldn't do, whether dropping down a bunt, stealing a base or swatting a home run. On defense, he had an endless creativity and flair for innovation, throwing behind runners, flipping the ball behind his back to start a double play, or diving and shovelling the ball along the ground with his glove to make an otherwise impossible putout.

Alomar's greatest moment stands as a turning point for the franchise.

In game 4 of the 1992 ALCS, the Jays trailed Oakland 6-4 in the ninth. On the mound was uber-closer Dennis Eckersley, who had doused a 3-run rally in the eighth and punctuated it with an emphatic fist-pumping.

With a man on in the ninth, Alomar responded by crushing an Eckersley offering into the right field seats, throwing his arms into the air the second the ball left his bat. This was a no-doubter. Alomar's gesture served as poetic payback for Eckersley's celebration, and as a signal to Jays fans that THIS playoff would be different, that this team wouldn't disappoint. Two weeks later, the Jays were sipping champagne as World Series Champions.

Sadly, after leaving Toronto, Alomar's relationship with the fans soured. His exit strategy left something to be desired, and he was booed mildly upon returning to Toronto with the Orioles. Those boos would reach a crescendo during September of 1996. After being ejected from a game for arguing balls and strikes, an irate Alomar spit in the face of homeplate umpire John Hirschbeck. The "Loogie heard 'round the World" shattered any remaining goodwill that Alomar had with Jays fans. The following night, Alomar, having appealed his suspension, homered in extra innings, clinching a playoff spot for the Orioles and cementing himself as the #1 villain on Toronto's sports landscape.

Time and apologies couldn't heal this particular wound, and Jays fans continued to boo Alomar throughout the rest of his career, at first with a passionate fervor, and later with a Pavlovian indifference usually reserved for animated delivery truck races on the JumboTron.

The spitting incident, while inexcusable, is not unforgiveable. Ted Williams was reviled in his day, and actually spit at members of the Fenway faithful, and he was eventually forgiven. Perhaps nine years of boos is penance enough for Alomar. Since 1995, fans have witnessed exits by Roger Clemens, David Wells, Damon Stoudamire, Tracy McGrady and some guy named Vince, which have made Alomar's departure look positively graceful by comparison. With so much competition for the title of Most Hated Toronto Athlete, attitudes toward Alomar may soften now that he's retired. Of course, he may not stay retired. He won't turn 37 until next month, and a contender in need of a second baseman might coax him out of retirement for the stretch drive. The Yankees leap to mind.

But if his career is in fact over, Alomar should reach Cooperstown on his first try, and he should be brought back to Toronto at the first opportunity, so that his number 12 can be honoured, and Blue Jays fans can finally forgive the best player to ever don the uniform.