No. 82: Roberto Alomar
Sandy Alomar Sr. was a player with some skills. He could field (he played second base but had almost 200 games at shortstop), he could run a bit and and he could bunt when called upon. His weakness, if you will, was that he could not hit a lick. Every generation seems to have a handful of these kinds of middle infielders who can’t hit at all but who for some reason or another — defense, base running, general leadership or something unexplained — appeal to teams enough to get a bunch of plate appearances in the big leagues.
In recent years, these have been Cesar Izturis and Neifi Perez and Rey Sanchez.
In the the 1970s and 1980s, you had Ozzie Guillen, Alfredo Griffin, Tim Foli, Mark Belanger and Roger Metzger.
In the 1960s, you had Sandy Alomar and Ed Brinkman and others.
Alomar was just 5-foot-9, 140 pounds and he managed to get 5,160 plate appearances in a 15-year career, no mean feat with a career 69 OPS+ .He hit .245/.290/.288 in his career. His .288 slugging percentage ties Bud Harrelson for the second lowest of any player since Deadball with 5,000 plate appearances (Belanger slugged .280). But teams kept picking him up anyway. For his defense. For his speed. For his charisma. He got more than 500 plate appearances for the 1975 Yankees. He LED OFF for the 1970 and 1971 Angels and led the league in plate appearances both years. One year he hit .251/.302/.293 and made the All-Star team.
But, of course, his biggest contribution to baseball was being the father of All-Star catcher Sandy Alomar and Hall of Fame second baseman Roberto Alomar.
Aren’t you fascinated by baseball fathers and sons? There have been seven father-son combos in baseball history where the both made the All-Star team at the same position (counting all three outfield spots as the same). In the outfield, you have Felipe and Moises Alou, the Ken Griffeys, the Gary Matthewses and Bobby and Barry Bonds, At first base, you have Cecil and Prince Fielder. At catcher, you have Randy and Todd Hundley.
And then, at second base, all alone, you have Sandy and Roberto Alomar. That must be some feeling, not only seeing your son succeed at your sport, but succeed at your position. Of the group, you would have to say other fathers and sons seem more similar than Sandy and Roberto Alomar. The most similar is probably Bobby and Barry Bonds — both extraordinary speed-power players who won Gold Gloves in the outfield (Bobby in right, Barry in left) and were pretty deeply disliked by many people around the game. Cecil and Prince Fielder share a lot too — both heavy first baseman with great power. It’s interesting that in both cases, the father hit right-handed, the son left-handed.
Robbie Alomar was a much better player than Sandy, though much of this simply came down to physical tools. Robbie was bigger than his dad (6-foot, 184 pounds), probably a bit faster and definitely much stronger. Sandy hit 13 home runs in his career. Robbie hit more than 13 home runs in seven different seasons. But once you look past Robbie’s clear physical advantages (he also played in significantly better hitting environment) there really are striking similarities. Sandy was a switch-hitter and he taught Robbie to switch hit. Sandy stole more than 200 bases in his career, Robbie stole almost 500. Sandy was a great bunter. Robbie was one of the best bunters of his time, perhaps any time. It’s pretty clear who taught Robbie Alomar how to play baseball.
And it was there from the start. At age 20, Roberto Alomar played a full season for the San Diego Padres, posting an above average OPS+ while playing sparkling defense. He was more or less a finished product already. He would get better with experience, but right away he was a good Major League Baseball player. I wonder how much being around clubhouses all his life helped that. I wonder how much being prepared by a Major League father (and a Major League brother) helped.
Here’s something: Alomar’s career statistics are shockingly similar to Barry Larkin’s.
Larkin: .295/.371/.444, OPS+ 116
Alomar: .300/.371/.443, OPS+ 116
Larkin score 379 bases in 456 tries (83%). Alomar stole 474 bases in 588 tries (81%).
You’re just not going to find two players much closer than that. Alomar won 10 Gold Gloves at second while Larkin won three at shortstop … but the defensive numbers suggest Alomar was a bit overrated as a fielder, Larkin a bit underrated.
So, how do you separate the two? WAR gives Larkin a four-win edge because of defense. But I chose Alomar because of his presence. I don’t mean “presence” in the vague fourth definition of the word (impressive manner) but in the most obvious one (being present in a place or thing).
Larkin had four seasons with 150-plus games, Alomar had eight. Alomar, in a shorter career by years, played in 200 more games. This allowed Alomar to have a bigger impact on specific seasons. Alomar created more than 100 runs for the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays, and they both won the World Series. He created 139 runs for the 1999 Indians (who won 97 games and made the playoffs) and 138 runs for the 2001 Indians (who won 91 games and made the playoffs too).
In all, Robbie Alomar created 100 runs seven different times, and all seven teams won at least 88 games, five of those teams made the playoffs. Larkin created 100 runs four times. In an imaginary scenario, where I know going in that both players will be healthy all year and play at least for 155 games, I might take Larkin. But imaginary scenarios are just that. And one of the most underrated talents in baseball, and probably in life, is showing up.