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Santos Velazquez Alomar
Height: 6'5" Weight: 200 lbs.
Bat: Right Throws: Right
Acquired: Trade, 12-6-1989 (San Diego):
Left Via: Free Agency, 12-18-2000 (Chicago White Sox)
Although he played in 11 seasons, injuries prevented Sandy Alomar from fully delivering on the promise he showed in his rookie season. But that didn't stop him from giving us several unforgettable memories, especially during his magical 1997 season.
Alomar was signed out of his native Puerto Rico by the San Diego Padres in 1983*. Like Ray Narleski (#100 on the list), Alomar was also the son of a former major-leaguer; Sandy Alomar, Senior played 15 seasons as a middle infielder, primarily for the California Angels. Sandy Senior was just 5'9" and 140 lbs, a gifted defender but not much of an offensive player; his son was 8 inches taller and 60 pounds heavier, definitely not middle infield material. But Sandy, rather than play a corner infield or outfield position, moved to catcher of all positions, not usually a spot for someone that big. Sandy wasn't all that interested in baseball growing up, instead preferring volleyball and dirt bikes, but he eventually chose baseball, and was noticed by a Padres scout. His father later joined the San Diego organization as a coach, and his brother Roberto would be signed by the Padres as well.
Alomar didn't hit at first; as an 18-year-old in the Northwest League (Rookie), he hit .215/.260/.237, but the Padres saw potential and promoted him the following year to the Sally League, and in 1986, as a 20-year-old, he played in AA with Wichita. It wasn't until he repeated AA that his bat blossomed, and once it did, the combination of his defensive excellence behind the plate with power potential at the plate turned him quickly into one of the best prospects in baseball. Baseball America named him its Minor League Player of the Year in 1988 after he hit .297/.354/.496 in Las Vegas; that season, he made his major-league debut with the Padres, appearing in just 1 game. His younger brother Roberto had already cracked the majors and was San Diego's starting second baseman, but Sandy was blocked because Benito Santiago was the Padre catcher. The Padres contemplated trading him that winter (Dale Murphy was one of their targets), but nothing materialized, so Sandy was sent to Las Vegas again, winning many minor-league honors, but only getting 22 major-league plate appearances.
The Padres now had to choose between 24-year-old Santiago, who had won the 1986 Rookie of the Year and was baseball's premier run-stopper, and Sandy Alomar, who had been ready for the majors for two years now. The Padres finished 3 games behind the San Francisco Giants in 1989, so they were ready to win now, and needed outfield help. So they dealt Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and Chris James to the Cleveland Indians for center fielder Joe Carter, who had one season left until free agency. Carter signed a massive 3-year contract with the Padres as a condition of the trade, and the Indians got three players who were ready to play in the majors. For Alomar, there would be no one blocking him at the major-league level in Cleveland; Andy Allanson had been the Cleveland catcher in 1989, and had hit .232/.289/.294.
Alomar didn't waste his long-awaited opportunity. He was voted in as the starting catcher for the All-Star Game (quite an accomplishment for a rookie, never mind a Cleveland rookie), and was unanimously selected the AL Rookie of the Year. He appeared in 132 games and made 483 Plate Appearances, both would remain career highs.
Sandy had had arthroscopic knee surgery while still in the San Diego system, and injuries continued in Cleveland, with his 1990 rookie season an anomalously healthy season. He missed time in 1991 with hip and shoulder injuries, and seriously injured his left knee in 1992. A back injury ruined most of the 1993 season. So while the Indians were building a roster full of young, promising players, one of those core players wasn't around much. So the Indians signed Tony Pena as a free agent in 1994, as they couldn't afford to go with Junior Ortiz or equivalent if Alomar went down with another injury. Alomar was relatively healthy that season, but still visited the DL for the fourth straight year. The 38-year-old Pena was the everyday catcher for the Indians in their magical 1995 season, as Alomar would only appear in 66 games due to another knee injury. It seemed that Alomar's 6'5" frame couldn't handle the everyday rigors of catching.
Pena and Alomar shared catching duties in 1996, but this time it was Alomar who appeared in most of the games, as he avoided the DL for the first time since his rookies season. And though he only hit .263/.299/.397, that full season of play probably brought about what happened in 1997. The healthy season also prompted the Indians to extend him through the 2000 season; otherwise he would have been eligible for free agency in October 1997.
After the 1996 season, Albert Belle left via free agency, and the starting rotation, which was once a strength, had started to develop some serious holes. But for the first time since 1990, Sandy Alomar was both healthy and productive, and he was one of the key offensive cogs to that year's team. He hit in 30 consecutive games, one short of Napoleon Lajoie's franchise record, and did some nice things in the 1997 All-Star Game at Jacobs Field:
His heroics in the All-Star Game were just a prelude to what he would do in the playoffs that year. He hit .316/.316/.684 in the ALDS, and hit a game-tying home run in the eighth inning of Game 4 off Mariano Rivera.
He hit .367/.406/.600 in the World Series, driving in 10 runs (including two home runs). If the Indians had won the World Series, he probably would have been the Series MVP.
Alomar would appear in his 6th All-Star Game in 1998 (the most of any of Cleveland player in the 1990s), but didn't have near the season he had in 1997, though he again had a relatively healthy season. But knee troubles cropped up yet again in 1999, and he had to have yet another knee surgery. He would only appear in 134 games between 1999 and 2000, and when his contract was up after the 2000 season, the Indians made no effort to re-sign him, instead electing to go with Einar Diaz as their starting catcher.
Alomar hung around for seven more seasons in the majors, mostly as a backup. He retired in 2007, and returned to the organization in 2010 as a first base coach under new manager Manny Acta. In 2012, he became the bench coach.
*Up until 1990, Puerto Rico was treated like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela in that players could be signed to major-league contracts after turning 16.
Indians Career Statistics
|CLE (11 yrs)||985||3667||3409||416||944||194||8||92||453||24||22||165||386||.277||.315||.419||.734||92|
Indians Hall of Fame, 2009
1990 AL Rookie of the Year
1997 All-Star Game MVP
AL Gold Glove: 1990
AL All-Star: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1996, 1997, 1998
AL MVP Voting: 14th, 1997