Alomar Starts Behind the Dish on Indians’ All-Time Team
By Ronnie Tellalian
Injuries curtailed what could have been a Hall of Fame career for Sandy Alomar, Jr. He spent 11 years in Cleveland as catcher, and then returned to coach the team that he loves. With a solid bat, good play behind the plate, and some legendary clutch moments, Alomar solidified his spot on the Indians All-Time roster.
Starting Catcher: Sandy Alomar, Jr.
Tribe fans have Benito Santiago to thank for their beloved catcher. Alomar was named Baseball Americas Minor League Player of the Year in both 1988 and 1989, but was unable to win a job at the Major League level because the San Diego Padres had Santiago behind the dish. Santiago was Rookie of the Year in 1987, won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger in 1988, and a Gold Glove again in 1989. Alomar was unable to get more than a September call up in each of those last two seasons. With a young All-Star catcher already behind the plate, the Padres had an expendable commodity. The Indians took advantage of that commodity and sent Joe Carter to the Padres in exchange for second baseman Carlos Baerga and catcher Sandy Alomar, Jr.
He got his first real playing time in his inaugural season with the Tribe. As a rookie in 1990 he batted .290 with 9 home runs in 132 starts. He made the All-Star team that year, and capped the season off with the Rookie of the Year Award. He also won his one and only Gold Glove award that season.
Alomar made the All-Star team again in 1991 and 1992, but both of those seasons would be marred by injury, a theme that would be played out repeatedly over his career. He didn’t play a full season again until 1994. In that year he hit 14 home runs in the strike shortened 114 game season and batted .288.
In 1995 Alomar started the season off with injury again. He didn’t play his first game that year until the end of June. Finishing out the year behind the plate for the Indians, Alomar hit .300 with 10 home runs over 66 games. He would make the All-Star team the next three straight seasons, 1996, 1997, and 1998, but that 1997 season would stamp his legacy in Cleveland.
In that 1997 season, Alomar played more innings than he had played since his rookie year in 1990. He batted a career high .324 with a .354 on-base percentage and a .545 slugging percentage. He hit career high 21 home runs and reached career highs in RBI with 83, runs with 63, hits with 146 and doubles with 37. Even with all those stats, his accomplishment that year went beyond his season numbers.
Cleveland played host to the All-Star game for the first time since 1963. Alomar cracked the roster along with Tribe teammates Jim Thome and David Justice. With the American League and National League tied up at 1-1 and Bernie Williams on second base with two outs, Alomar stepped to the plate to face Shawn Estes. Alomar crushed an Estes pitch deep over the fence into the bleachers in left field to give the American League a 3-1 lead. The AL would go on to win the game 3-1 and Alomar was named the All-Star MVP.
Alomar added more accomplishments on the season with a 30 game hitting streak. His streak fell just one shy of the club record of 31 games by Nap Lajoie, and was just four shy of the Major League record for a catcher. That title is held by Alomar’s former teammate Benito Santiago.
In the Division Series in 1997, Alomar helped the Indians past the Yankees with a .316 batting average in the series. He piled on more long ball heroics with a game tying home run in game 4 off of closer ace Mariano Rivera. Against the Orioles in the American League Championship Series Alomar did not hit as well. In spite of that, he still found a way to be a hero. In game four of the ALCS, Alomar gave the Indians an early lead with a two-run home run in the second inning. He came to the plate again in the fifth with the Tribe trailing 5-4. His single into left center field off of Baltimore starter Scott Erickson scored Thome and tied the game 5-5. Once again, Alomar found himself right in the thick of things in the ninth inning. With Manny Ramirez one second and two outs, Alomar drove a line drive into left center to score Ramirez and give the Indians the win and a 3-1 series lead.
Alomar left the Indians as a free agent after the 2000 season and 11 years in Cleveland. He made six All-Star games, won the Rookie of the Year, and a Gold Glove. He was selected as an All-Star in every season where he played at least 100 games. For his career in Cleveland, he hit 92 home runs and batted .277. He and his brother Robbie Alomar hold the distinction of being fourth all-time in home runs by brothers with 322. Sandy Alomar, Jr. was certainly an Indians great and worthy of the starting spot behind the dish of the Cleveland Indians All-Time team.
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