Hall of Fame
The true measure of Roberto Alomar’s career will likely come in 2011 with his expected enshrinement at Cooperstown, but his selection to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is an apt recognition of his most impactful days as a player.
There are some who believe his dramatic ninth-inning home run off Oakland Athletics closer Dennis Eckersley in Game 4 of the 1992 American League Championship Series was the pivotal moment in turning the Toronto Blue Jays from post-season floppers to two-time World Series champions.
With one swing he seemed to free the franchise of its past failures, and propel it to new heights.
“I don’t think there’s any question about it,” Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston said Thursday, after the Hall’s selections were announced. “It really was a watershed moment for the franchise because we had been close since ’85 but always found a way to disappoint ourselves and our fans.
“It was like, we can play with you and we’re not going away.”
Joining Alomar in the Class of 2010 is longtime reliever Paul Quantrill of Port Hope, Ont., former Minnesota Twins owner Calvin Griffith and statistical analysis pioneer Allan Roth, the latter two both Montreal natives honoured posthumously.
The induction ceremonies are June 19 in St. Marys, Ont.
Alomar’s selection comes only a few weeks after he missed out on being named for induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., by a mere eight votes. That was likely because some voters didn’t want to give him the honour of being a first-ballot pick, perhaps as punishment for a 1996 incident in which Alomar spat at umpire John Hirschbeck’s face.
The two have since reconciled and become friends, and Alomar is considered a virtual lock to be selected next year.
While the Hirschbeck incident took place in Toronto, it came after he signed with the Baltimore Orioles as a free agent following his remarkable five-season run with the Blue Jays.
He blossomed into a star instantly after arriving along with Joe Carter in the blockbuster Dec. 5, 1990 trade that sent shortstop Tony Fernandez and first baseman Fred McGriff to San Diego, playing some of his most complete baseball.
Statistically his best seasons came between 1999-2001 in Cleveland, but none of his hits reverberated like the homer off Eckersley – which tied the game 6-6 in the ninth inning of an eventual 7-6, 11-frame victory.
“I had some great seasons with Baltimore and the Cleveland Indians, but overall I think Toronto to me is where I started becoming a better player,” said Alomar. “I got some great memories and I won two World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays, so I think (that) is where I had the biggest impact as a ballplayer.”
One of the most complete second baseman of all-time, Alomar dominated defensively by gobbling up what seemed to be every ball hit to the right side of the infield. At the plate he was a dynamo, able to play the catalyst role by bunting his way aboard and stealing his way into scoring position, or driving a ball into the gap to bring runners home.
As a measure of his ability to deliver in big situations, he batted a collective .313 in 58 career playoff games. The soon-to-be 42-year-old – his birthday is Feb. 5 – was a 12-time all-star, won 10 gold gloves and added four Silver Slugger awards.
He’s looking to do some coaching work with the Blue Jays this spring and has launched his own clothing line of sports apparel with his wife Maria.
Quantrill’s induction follows that of Larry Walker last year, part of a group of Canadians who were at the front end of the current golden era for Canucks in the majors.
The dependable right-handed set-up man ranks first among Canadian pitchers with 841 games in the majors, a total that leaves him 35th all-time in the big-leagues. He made 386 of those appearances with the Blue Jays from 1996-2001, going 30-34 with 15 saves and a 3.67 ERA.
Over 14 seasons with Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, the Dodgers, Yankees and San Diego, he was 68-78 with a 3.88 ERA over 1,255 2-3 innings.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the amount of work I did over my career fairly consistently,” he said. “I tell young players if they want to focus on one single stat as a relief pitcher, it’s the number of games because if you’re not pitching well, or of you have a bad ERA, there’s a very good chance you won’t be in 80-plus games.”
Quantrill is now part of the national junior team’s coaching staff and is finding his work with the youngsters very rewarding. He’s also impressed with how baseball has changed north of the border.
“It’s wonderful to see how much it’s grown in Canada and that so many young men in Canada are getting opportunities,” he said. “The real reason that happens is because of the Larry Walkers and now the Justin Morneaus, Matty Stairs, it’s the big-name players.
“That’s who grabs the attention and really brings our kids into he game, and we’ve got tons of wonderful athletes up here it’s just that hockey kind of takes over.”
Roth loved both hockey and baseball and worked as a statistician for the NHL at night while selling ties during the day, according to his son Michael.
He broke into the majors in 1947 when he was hired by legendary Dodgers owner Branch Rickey, in part because he intrigued his boss by explaining how to use stats to determine matchups, and in arguing why on-base percentage was more important than batting average.
“He had a passion for baseball and statistics and just started keeping track of things and began developing his views,” said Michael Roth. “When he had an appointment with Rickey he had some charts, expressed his views to him and basically Rickey said they’d give it a shot.”
Clark Griffith, the son of Calvin, laughed at how much his dad disliked the work of Roth and his ilk.
Born Calvin Robertson in Montreal in 1911, he was the nephew of another Clark Griffith, the former big-leaguer and owner of the Washington Senators. He was adopted by his uncle in 1924 after his father Jimmy Robertson died.
He worked his way up the Senators organization and was handed ownership of the team after his uncle’s death in 1955. Griffith moved the Senators to Minneapolis in 1961 and served as president and principal owner of the Twins for 24 years.
“Calvin hated the analysis that went on. He preferred rather a seat of the pants, eyeballing type of analysis,” said the younger Clark Griffith. “I’m very pleased that a sabrmetrician is being honoured, I think it’s a very important part of the game.”
Calvin Griffith sold the Twins to the late Carl Pohlad for $38 million in 1984, something he later regretted.
“The rise in player salaries shocked him, he predicted this would be a problem,” said Clark Griffith. “He was constantly in shock by that. He was also surprised by the incredible rise in baseball revenues. About the time he died in 1999, he actually admitted to me if he had knowledge of the rise in revenues he never would have sold the team.
“He was a great Twins fan right to the end.”