Former second baseman Roberto Alomar isn’t positive that 1996 was his greatest season as a big leaguer, but he knows that first year as an Oriole had to be among the highlights of his Hall of Fame career.
“Numbers-wise, I can maybe say yes, but I had some great numbers, too, with the Cleveland Indians. But I think I had a great year,” said Alomar, who in 1996 hit .328 with 22 homers, 17 steals and a franchise record 132 runs scored. “I was doing everything that I could to bring a championship to the city of Baltimore. But it was good. I had no injuries. I was playing great. It was one of my best years in my career.”
In Alomar’s three seasons in Baltimore, from 1996 to 1998, he who won two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger Award and made three All-Star appearances. On Wednesday it was announced that he had been elected to the franchise’s Hall of Fame.
“I was actually a little surprised. I’m honored. I’m happy to be part of such an elite group of people in the organization,” said Alomar, who has had his number retired by the Toronto Blue Jays and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011. “There are some great players that have been inducted into the [Orioles] Hall of Fame and to me it’s an honor, it’s a treat and it’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I’m real grateful to be a part of that elite group of players.”
Alomar’s accomplishments will be recognized at an Orioles Advocates luncheon at Camden Yards on Aug. 2 and then later that night in a pregame induction ceremony before the Oriolesface the Seattle Mariners.
Former scout and baseball operations executive Don Pries will also be honored, receiving the Herb Armstrong Award for contributions to the organization by non-uniformed personnel.
Pries worked for the Orioles from 1968 through 1974 as an area scout, director of player personnel and assistant to the general manager. He went on to help Major League Baseball design a computer system for its scouting bureau. He eventually became director of the scouting bureau and created the league’s scout development program.
Alomar played for seven different teams in a 17-season career that included 12 All-Star appearances and 12 Gold Gloves. He was the first player to be inducted into the National Hall of Fame as a Toronto Blue Jay, the club he played with from 1991 to 1995 before joining the Orioles as a free agent in 1996.
Alomar helped lead the Orioles to two American League Championship Series while being considered one of the best all-around players of his generation. While with the Orioles, however, Alomar also gained worldwide infamy on Sept. 27, 1996 when he spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck after a disputed strike three call.
Alomar was suspended for five games to start the 1997 season, and he also donated $50,000 to research the disorder ALD, which took the life of Hirschbeck’s son.
“I wish it wouldn’t have happened. It’s a cloud that I have to live with,” Alomar said of the spitting incident. “Me and John are great friends. He forgave me. We keep talking as friends. I know his family. I know his kids. And I think at times it gets blown out of proportion, but we move on. I hope some people can move on the same way John and I did.”
Alomar’s other disappointment was not reaching or winning the World Series with an Orioles team that included superstars such as Cal Ripken Jr., Rafael Palmeiro, Mike Mussina and Brady Anderson.
“There’s always regret when you don’t reach the goal. We wanted to go all the way. We had the team to do it. We just came [up] short,” Alomar said. “There’s always regret when I look back on my career. Any of the three years that I played there, we could have won at least one year. We couldn’t pull the trigger. Yes, it’s disappointing, but on the other hand, we got to the playoffs and we played some good baseball.”
Alomar, now a senior advisor to the American League East rival Blue Jays, says he pays plenty of attention to this current Orioles team and its manager Buck Showalter.
“I believe that the Orioles, first of all, have a great manager,” Alomar said. “He knows the game real well. I think they have done a good job with their minor league system, bringing guys up. It’s proof that if you play people the right way, you can win a lot of games.
“I believe the Baltimore Orioles are on the right track. They have great role players, great young players, great balance from top to bottom, great pitching. The manager is an unbelievable manager. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done a great job with that team.”
Showalter managed against Alomar for several years, including in the early to mid 1990s, when he was with the New York Yankees and Alomar played for the Blue Jays and Orioles.
“He could dial up what was needed. You guys need a longball, here. You need a single and steal a base. You need a turned double play, a tough one. It seemed like he could dial up what was needed for the moment,” Showalter said. “Very alert guy to what situations he would think might be developing. Nothing caught him by surprise. If there is such a thing as being articulate on the field, he was articulate. … Just the way he played.”
Alomar beat out three other finalists this year for induction: Palmeiro, pitcher Scott Erickson and outfielder Jeff Conine. Players must have spent three full seasons with the Orioles to be considered for the honor.
Tickets for the Aug. 2 luncheon are available by calling Ann Serio at 410-247-2703. Tickets to the game that night, which includes the pregame induction, are available at www.orioles.com or by calling 1-888-848-BIRD.