Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 15 – Sandy Alomar Jr.
Bob Toth | On 14, Mar 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 15 days
On December 6, 1989, the Cleveland Indians made the franchise-altering decision to trade away star outfielder Joe Carter less than a year before he was set to hit the open market in free agency. After it became clear that Carter was tempted to see what his financial worth would be and that he was not interested in any offers made by the Tribe front office, he was dealt to the San Diego Padres for a package of players.
Two of those players would play significant roles in the Indian uprising of the 1990s, one that Carter was supposed to be a part of during the ill-fated 1987 Sports Illustrated cover jinx season and the years to follow.
The key to the deal was a young catcher with a baseball pedigree by the name of Sandy Alomar Jr., son of 15-year Major Leaguer Sandy Alomar. Blocked by All-Star Benito Santiago with the Friars, Alomar was one of the top prospects in the game and came at the cost of the team’s most visible star in Carter. Joining Alomar in relocating to Cleveland was young infielder Carlos Baerga, who would himself be an instrumental piece in the rebuild, and veteran Chris James, who gave the club two seasons of production in the years before the uprising was complete.
Sandy Jr. was not built like his father, a small 5’9” switch-hitting infielder in his heyday. The son was a hulking man, 6’5”, with a pronounced upside in his game as both a good defender and a solid hitter whose power was only just blossoming on the minor league landscape. With little time available with the Padres, he had spent the majority of the previous two seasons before the trade playing for the Las Vegas Stars in the Pacific Coast League, batting .297 with 16 homers in 1988 and .306 with 13 homers, 33 doubles, and 101 RBI in 1989.
He had just a quick cup of coffee in San Diego in those two years, making one plate appearance in 1988 and seven games of action in 1989.
Thrust into regular duty for the Indians behind the plate in 1990 and in the number 15, he would become an instant star. It took him just a few months to match his father’s number of trips to the Midsummer Classic, earning a starting nod in the contest. He would appear in 132 games for the Indians that season, hitting .290 with 26 doubles, nine homers, and 66 RBI while winning both a Gold Glove Award and the league’s Rookie of the Year honor.
He was an All-Star again in 1991 and 1992, but injuries began to haunt him. He missed the final two months of the 1991 season and chunks of the 1992 and 1993 campaigns. He was relatively healthy in 1994, missing just two and a half weeks at the end of April and beginning of May, but the strike cut short a season in which he put together a 14-game hitting streak and hit a career-high 14 homers in 80 games.
It was more of the same in 1995, as backup catcher Tony Pena saw more playing time than expected while Alomar missed the first 56 games of the strike-shortened season. Alomar hit .300 for the year, due in large part to putting up ten hits in his final five games of the year to boost his average 26 points. He appeared in 13 games in the postseason, including five of the six games of the World Series, hitting .220.
Sandy was healthy and an All-Star again 1996 and repeated the feat in 1997, when he put up personal best numbers over the course of 125 games in what would be the most complete season of his career. He hit .324 and had a .545 slugging mark, hitting 37 doubles and 21 homers while driving in 83. His season included a 30-game hitting streak (just short of Nap Lajoie’s 31-game franchise record) and All-Star Game heroics, as his two-run homer off of Shawn Estes in the bottom of the seventh at Jacobs Field broke a 1-1 tie, earning him MVP honors.
The Indians made the postseason for the third straight year and Alomar continued his strong season well into the playoffs. With the Indians four outs away from elimination in the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, he tied the game in the eighth inning with a solo homer off of Mariano Rivera in a game Cleveland would win in walk-off fashion before advancing the next day to the pennant series against Baltimore. Alomar hit .274 in 18 playoff games with a pair of doubles, five homers, and 19 RBI, but the Indians fell short to the Florida Marlins in extra innings of Game 7 in the World Series.
Alomar made a final All-Star trip in 1998, but his numbers at the plate took a hit. He was limited to 37 games in 1999 (despite hitting .307) and he took the field 97 times in 2000 before his contract with the Indians ended. After eleven years in Cleveland, the 34-year-old Alomar was a free agent and he moved across the division to the Chicago White Sox organization.
He would bounce around from there, working as a part-time backstop splitting time at destinations across the country. He spent parts of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2006 with the White Sox, while also playing with Colorado (2002), Texas (2005), and the Los Angeles Dodgers (2006) along the way. He ended his career with eight games with the New York Mets in 2007, playing his final game at the end of that season at the age of 41, writing the final chapter of a 20-year playing career.
Time would bring Alomar back to Cleveland, where he served as a coach on Manny Acta’s staff from 2010 to 2012. Alomar got the title of interim manager in the final week of the 2012 season (going 3-3 in six games after Acta’s dismissal) and he would be considered for the managerial duties before Terry Francona was hired. The new Indians skipper, himself a legacy in the game with previous ties to the Indians organization, retained Alomar on his staff, where he has served as a bench coach and a first base coach, all while remaining in his familiar number 15.
Other notable 15s in Tribe history: Willis Hudlin (the first in 1929), Johnny Allen (1936-40), Joe Krakauskas (1941-42), Birdie Tebbetts (1951-52), Russ Nixon (1957-60), Fred Whitfield (1963-67), Frank Duffy (1972-77), Ron Washington (1988), Tim Laker (2003-04), Andy Marte (2006-09).
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images