COOPERSTOWN—Roberto Alomar was just a little kid the first time Sandy Johnson saw him.
Johnson was scouting director for the Padres at the time, and spent extended time at the Alomar home in Salinas, Puerto Rico, working out Alomar’s older brother, Sandy Jr., who signed with the Padres in 1983.
“We’d be working out Sandy and some other kids we were looking at, hitting grounders and throwing them batting practice, and Robbie was always there,” Johnson said. “We’d start a drill and he’d start yelling, ‘I want to do that, too.’ He wanted to hit. He wanted to run the 60-yard dash. He wanted to take grounders and shag in the outfield.
“All he wanted to do was play baseball. He was 15 at the time, and even then, he was one of those kids you knew was going to special. It wasn’t just that he had the talent, but he had that desire. He never lost either.”
And that’s why the kid from the dirt fields in Puerto Rico was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with righthander Bert Blyleven at the end of July. He joined Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda as the only Puerto Rican-born Hall of Famers.
At the time of the announcement of Alomar’s election, his mother recalled those mornings in her son’s youth when she would have to work at waking him up to go to school.
“I don’t need to go to school,” she said he would explain. “I’m going to be a big league baseball player.”
Alomar would eventually get up. He would go to school. He also made good on his ambition to play in the major leagues, like his father, who had a 15-year career, and older brother, whose 20-year big league career included six all-star selections.
Roberto, like brother Sandy Jr., signed his first contract with the Padres, who also hired their father to manage in the minor leagues.
Johnson had left the Padres to become the Rangers’ scouting director by February 1985, but the groundwork had been laid for Robbie to sign with San Diego. Luis Rosa, the Padres’ Latin American coordinator at the time, closed the deal with Alomar, along with Carlos Baerga, before he eventually followed Johnson to Texas. Together they also signed Benito Santiago, Ozzie Guillen, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Wilson Alvarez and Jose Hernandez, among others. And while Rodriguez figures to eventually join Alomar in Cooperstown, there is something about Roberto Alomar that makes him special.
“First time you saw him, you felt like he was that Hall of Fame type player if he never lost that flair he had for the game,” Johnson said. “He had all the actions. He was a natural. And he never lost that flair for the game.
“I always had a special feeling for him. I was close with the family. He was special to watch on the field. Unfortunately, I saw a little too much of him from the opposite side of the field than I needed to.”
After breaking in with San Diego, Alomar spent the prime of his career in Toronto, Cleveland and Baltimore, creating headaches for Johnson, the Rangers and the rest of the American League.
“I did finally get him in Arizona in 2004, the last year of his career,” Johnson said.
Alomar finished that career batting .300 with 504 doubles, 80 triples, 210 home runs and 1,134 RBIs. He stole 474 bases, with an 80 percent success rate. He was a 12-time all-star and 10-time Gold Glove winner.
And then there was the way he ran the bases, played defense and created the energy that a winning team needs. He did, after all, claim back-to-back World Series championships with the Blue Jays in 1992-93, and hit .347 in those World Series.
“He is the best second baseman in the history of the game, as far as I am concerned,” Johnson said.
Johnson, who retired last fall as a special assistant with the Mets, was actively involved in the game for more than 50 years, after signing with the Pirates as a middle infielder in 1958. He didn’t reach the big leagues as a player, but he put his stamp on the game as a minor league manager and coach, and then as a scout and scouting director, which gave him a special sense of Alomar’s talent.
“He did things defensively nobody else could do,” Johnson said. “He was the best ever going after pop-ups. He could go to his right, keep his feet and make the throw to first. He was the best ever going to his left and diving and making the layout catch. And then there was his offense. He could start rallies and finish them. He could steal bases. He had tremendous instincts. What more can you say about him?”
You can say he is a Hall of Famer.