It's been a strange couple weeks in sports, particularly in baseball. From the reported Michael Phelps (Olympic swimmer) marijuana use to Brett Favre's (NFLer) second retirement to all the off-the-field news in Major League Baseball, you have to wonder when we'll actually hear stories that actually concern sports rather than all the scandals and controversies dealing with athletes.
But, no A-Rod (who admitted taking steriods in 2001-03 after SI outed him) or Miguel Tejada (who pleaded guilty in federal court today to misleading Congress about doping) in this piece here.
I want to talk about, to me, the most shocking news in the past week: the Roberto Alomar story.
Sure, names of alleged steriod users in baseball that are leaked should no longer be a surprise anymore. After all, the last decade or so had been the "Steriod Era."
But who saw the Alomar story coming?
The story came out today that Alomar's ex-girlfriend filed a lawsuit claiming the ex-Toronto Blue Jay second baseman insisted on unprotected sex for four years despite having AIDS.
Alomar having AIDS? Whoa.
Okay. Correction. I don't want to talk about this particular story.
I want to talk about Roberto Alomar the baseball player, one of the true greats of the last decade. A legend, in my (and many other baseball fans') book(s).
I will admit, I never liked Alomar when he was playing in the Majors. However, you don't wish for this kind of thing, this AIDS story, to happen to anyone. Not even to someone like Alomar.
Why did I dislike Alomar? Well, he was the best second baseman in baseball in the early 1990s, playing on the Toronto Blue Jays, a team that I despised.
The Blue Jays were winning championships while my Boston Red Sox were suffering from the so-called Curse of the Bambino. (Could you imagine at the time, the Jays won back-to-back World Series, the Royals had one, the Twins had a pair, but the BoSox had been shut out since 1918?)
I was jealous because Alomar could make spectacular defensive plays, hit for average, deliver in the clutch, and was a true winner. Meanwhile, my Red Sox were always stuck with the likes of the Jody Reeds, Scott Fletchers, Steve Lyons, and others at second. A mediocre bunch indeed.
In 1992, the Blue Jays were probably on the way to another choke job in the postseason (after blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Royals in 1985 and getting thumped in the 1989 and 1991 ALCS against the Athletics and Twins, respectively).
The Blue Jays trailed the A's 6-1 in the late innings in Game Four of the ALCS. Sure, the Jays had a 2-1 series lead. But had the Jays lost, the series would have been knotted, with Oakland's big game pitcher Dave Stewart (who would never lose a game in LCS play) going back to the mound for Game Five.
Toronto would most likely have been down 3-2 in the series going into the sixth game.
The Jays rallied to make the score 6-4 going into the top of the ninth inning in Game Four, when Alomar hit one of the biggest home runs in Blue Jays history.
In what is truly one of the most underrated moments in postseason baseball history, Alomar drilled a two-run homer off 1992 American League Cy Young and MVP winner Dennis Eckersley, one of the best closers of all-time, stunning the A's and tying the game at 6-6.
Toronto went on to win the game in extra innings, and won the AL pennant with a convincing 9-2 triumph in Game Six.
For his efforts (.423, 2 HRs), Alomar won the ALCS MVP, and the Blue Jays went on to capture the first of back-to-back World Series trophies.
While Paul Molitor and Joe Carter starred in the 1993 World Series, Alomar did his part, batting .480 in the Jays' six-game triumph over the Philadelphia Phillies.
You couldn't help being jealous of the Blue Jays and of Alomar at that time, if you were a Red Sox fan like me.
Though the Blue Jays had guys like Dave Winfield, Carter, Molitor, John Olerud, Tony Fernandez, Rickey Henderson, and Devon White, the one player I didn't want to see come to bat the most was Roberto Alomar.
I watched hundreds of Blue Jays games during that era, and it seemed every time Alomar came up to the plate, he always delivered, causing me to cuss at the television set. When he was on the bases, he would steal third if the pitcher wasn't paying attention to him. If the Jays needed a home run, he would seemingly hit one out (like he did in the 1992 ALCS against Eck).
And boy, did Alomar want to win. Yes, he did lose his temper when he struck out in clutch situations (which were rare). At least he showed he cared. And in 1995, when the fading Blue Jays traded ace pitcher David Cone, Alomar reportedly sulked because team management had given up on the season. He wanted to win badly, and would return to the postseason the next two years with the Baltimore Orioles.
Well, there are those who will say Jeff Kent (who, ironically, was a backup to Alomar on the 1992 Blue Jays) was a better second baseman than Roberto Alomar. Those fans are obviously obsessed with Kent's power numbers and/or didn't get a chance to see Alomar play.
Yes, Kent won the 2000 National League MVP and had numerous 100-RBI seasons. But defensively, it's not even a debate. Alomar was the best in the game in the 1990s, and some will say probably among the greatest of all-time at that position. (Any Astros fan might say too, that Kent's lack of range at second base might have cost Houston in the seventh game in the 2004 NLCS against the Cardinals.)
Nope, Alomar didn't win any MVP awards. He drove in 100 runs "only" twice. But the thing was, Alomar batted No. 2 in the lineup most of the time while he was with the Blue Jays, and set the table for RBI men like Carter and Winfield (and later Molitor).
Of course, when Alomar hit in the No. 3 slot for the Indians in 1999 (behind Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel), he responded with an MVP-type season with 40 doubles, 24 homers, 120 RBIs, and 138 runs scored. Oh yeah, he batted .323 too. (This time, though, the Red Sox finally triumphed over Alomar, upsetting his Indians in the ALCS. Alomar did his part, however, batting .368 in a series that was lost by Cleveland thanks to Mike Hargrove's mis-managing of the Tribe's pitching staff.)
Roberto Alomar was one of the true greats of the game, and one who seemingly did it all. Defense. Base-running. Base-stealing. Clutch-hitting.
It's too bad he will always be linked to the 1996 incident when he spit in umpire John Hirschbeck's face.
Too bad his career went into decline after he moved on to the Mets.
And it's too bad this story about the AIDS stuff came out.
"This is a very private, personal matter and I greatly appreciate all the support I have received in the past few days from my family, friends and colleagues in baseball," Alomar said in a statement. "I am in very good health and I ask that you respect my privacy during this time" (Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2009).
We can't really speculate too much about the story unless more comes out, but the ex-girlfriend reportedly claimed Alomar "had purple skin, was foaming at the mouth and was too sick to walk, forcing him to need a wheelchair to get around at an airport" (Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2009).
By all accounts, when Alomar appeared in the Jays' home opener in 2008 when he was honored by the team, he looked perfectly fine and in good health.
Hopefully, there won't be any more shocking revelations to come out of the baseball (and sports) world anytime soon. In the meantime, Blue Jays fans everywhere (and a former Blue Jays hater like myself) hope that Alomar will be all right and look forward to seeing him in a much more pleasant situation.
When he makes it to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In the meantime, what (non-sports related) sports story will make the headlines tomorrow?
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