Alomar Lives Up to Hype with Rookie of the Year Award, Becomes Tribe Mainstay

He was the scion of a baseball family. But being stuck behind another Rookie of the Year made him expendable.

So Sandy Alomar Jr. left San Diego for Cleveland. The trade jump-started the Indians’ dynasty of the 1990s, and Alomar bore early fruit, becoming the Indians’ first Rookie of the Year since Joe Charboneau a decade earlier. But unlike Super Joe, who flamed out quickly after his rookie of the year season, Alomar was a productive member of the Tribe for a decade – and remains part of the fabric of the team, 25 years later.

In 1989, the San Diego Padres were shopping around Alomar, who was mentioned in a possible deal for Dale Murphy that never materialized. He was a highly-touted catching prospect, but behind Benito Santiago, wouldn’t get a chance to play every day.

Meanwhile, Joe Carter was coming to the end of his contract with the Tribe. He’d turned down a five-year extension at the end of the 1988 season, and the Indians faced the prospect of letting him walk as a free agent after 1990 or trying to get some value from him in trade. He was being offered as well – and had no shortage of suitors. The Cardinals, Royals and Blue Jays expressed interest at that year’s winter meetings, and the Angels and Red Sox made offers.

But in the end, it was the Padres’ offer that won out: Carter for Chris James, power-hitting third baseman Carlos Baerga (whom the Tribe insisted on in the deal) and Alomar, the key to the deal.

“You’re talking about a quality player who fills a position that’s difficult to fill with skilled people,” said then-Indians manager John McNamara. “He’s a quality prospect.”

Others were less sure. “What happens if Sandy Alomar is something less than Johnny Bench,” asked Bob Kravitz in the Plain Dealer. “Or Johnny Oates? Can’t miss prospects have missed before, especially here in Cleveland.”

Alomar was touted even before the season as a Rookie of the Year candidate – a tall order at the time, since only five of the 84 awards given in both leagues went to catchers – and started the season behind home plate.

That July, he was voted on to the All-Star team, the first rookie catcher so honored. Alomar finished the season with a .290 average, nine home runs and 66 RBIs. He received a Gold Glove and won rookie of the year honors from Sports Illustrated, Baseball America and the Sporting News. Alomar expressed happiness with every award he piled up, but he knew that the big one was coming in November.

On November 7, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced the American League Rookie of the Year. Alomar won in a walk, taking all 28 first-place votes and getting nearly three times the total points of the second-place candidate, Kevin Maas of the New York Yankees. Future Indian Travis Fryman got five points, and Alomar’s Indians teammate Alex Cole got one.

Alomar was delighted – and possibly a little relieved.

“I was supposed to be Rookie of the Year, and that made it hard,” he said in the next day’s Plain Dealer. “I was ready to win it or lose it, but I was more positive that I was going to win.”

Unfortunately, injuries took a toll on Alomar in the next three years, but he appeared to be back on track in 1994 until the entire major league season was derailed by a players strike. The following year, he only played in 66 games for the Indians, who won 100 in a shortened season on the way to their first pennant in 41 years.

Alomar remained a mainstay for the Indians throughout the 1990s, with his best season coming in 1997, when he hit .324 and was named All-Star Game MVP after he hit a home run in front of the home fans at Jacobs Field.

But as the 2000s dawned, the Indians were nearing a rebuild. Alomar became a free agent, and ended up with the White Sox. He made three tours on the South Side, but also spent time with the Rockies, Rangers, Dodgers and Mets before retiring after the 2007 season.

Almost instantly, he embarked on his second career as a coach, first with the Mets and since 2009 with the Indians – and although he seems to be attached to an opening or two every off season, he’s remained with the Tribe since.

Photo: Matt Detrich/Akron Beacon Journal

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