Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #15 Sandy Alomar Jr.
Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Sandy Alomar Jr.
By Craig Gifford
When you think of Sandy Alomar Jr., the first thought likely is “what if?”
What if Alomar, who spent 11 of his 20 big league seasons in a Cleveland Indians uniform, had been able to stay healthy the majority of the time? Could he have gone down as one of the top five catchers in baseball history? Surely he could have gone down as one of the all-time Indians greats. As it stands, Alomar, despite playing more than 100 games four times in his career, still goes down as one of the most popular players of the Tribe’s great 1990s teams.
The reason Alomar is still thought of so highly is not because of the things he could’ve done, but the things he did do, even on limited time a lot of seasons, for the Wahoo Warriors.
The catcher gained fame as rookie in 1990. The prior offseason, Cleveland had traded its best player in Joe Carter to the San Diego Padres for Alomar, second baseman Carlos Baerga and outfielder Chris James. At the time, it seemed like a bad trade. However, it was one of the key deals in turing around a horrid Indians squad and making it into one that would contend for almost a decade. Alomar and Baerga both went on to multiple all star games.
Alomar, for his part, made the trade seem a little better when he won the American League Rookie of the Year in 1990. The 24-year-old hit nine home runs, drove in 66 and batted .290. Not great numbers, but the best for any rookie that year.
He played 132 games that first season and the Tribe appeared to have it’s catcher of the future. Sadly, the next five seasons were marred with injury. Alomar played in more than half his team’s games just twice in that stretch. That was a mere 89 in 1992. He managed 80 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season. That year he had his best season since his rookie year with 14 homers and a .288 batting average.
Following that, things started to look up for both Alomar and the Tribe. Alomar could play in just 66 games during the 1995 regular season, but was healthy enough to participate and contribute to the Indians’ first postseason and trip to the World Series in 41 years.
From 1996-1998, Alomar finally remained reasonably healthy. He played in more than 100 games all three seasons and the 1997 campaign turned out to be his most memorable. That year was a career year, statistically as he hit 21 long balls, with 83 RBI and sterling .324 batting average. He won the MVP of the All-Star Game, played that year at his home park Jacobs Field. In that game, Alomar drove home the game-winning run with a home run.
Alomar keyed an improbable run to the World Series for the 87-win Tribe, hitting a game-tying home run off Mariano Rivera in Game 4 of the first round of the playoffs. The Yankees had the Tribe seemingly elimnated. Instead, the Indians dramatically clawed back and went on to come within two out of winning the World Series, losing to Florida in seven games.
Alomar could not keep the momentum going in 1998 as he had a down year. In 1999, the injury bug again reared it’s ugly head, allowing him to play just 33 games. Sandy did go out in style having a fine 2000 campaign, his final one on the shores of Lake Erie. He batted .289 in 97 games. After that, the Indians let him go as they had younger catchers ready to hit the big leagues and the 35-year-old Alomar did not figure into the rebuilding plans that were just a couple years away.
After leaving the Indians, Alomar bounced around baseball for seven years. He played for the White Sox, Rangers, Rockies, Dodgers and Mets. However, he was never again a regular backstop for anyone.
For his career, Alomar hit 112 round trippers, with 1,236 hits and a career .273 average. He won a Gold Glove, the Rookie of the Year and made six all-star appearances, all as an Indian. It was a solid career, but just think if Alomar had been able to play in about 500 more ball games that he was robbed of.
Photo: Ben Margot/Associated Press