Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 19, 2005
BASEBALL: Alomar's Sunset
A sad end to a great career - though in some ways less sad than if he'd played this year in Tampa and played badly - as Roberto Alomar hung up his spikes today. David Pinto, as always, has perspective on Alomar's career, which after five years' time to forget the last few seasons will yet again be remembered as an easy choice for Cooperstown, a lifetime .300 hitter who was, over the twelve years of his peak (1991-2001) the total package of average, power, speed, patience, good defense at a key position, and clutch hits in the postseason, perhaps most memorably his home run in the 12th inning of the deciding Game Four of the 1996 ALCS.
The Mets announcers today were, predictably, ripping Alomar, noting that one reason the Mets got rid of him may have been to avoid having his poor work habits rub off on Jose Reyes, and speculating that Alomar's decline may have stemmed from a loss of competitive drive. Personally, I suspect that Alomar may not have been much of a conditioning fanatic, and that may have contributed to his sudden decline as well as the injuries that finished him.
Or not; maybe there was nothing he could have done. While I defended the Alomar deal at the time, one of the most (almost accidentally) prescient things I've ever written was this, from my 2002 Mets preview column:
Warning: Baseball-Reference.com lists the most similar player to Alomar at the same age as Robin Yount, with Ryne Sandberg third and Joe Morgan (probably the player, along with Jackie Robinson, most genuinely similar to Alomar's talents) seventh. Yount, the AL MVP at 33, lost 71 points off his batting average at 34 and was never again an above-average player. Morgan went from .288, 22 homers, 113 runs and 49 steals to .236, 13 HR, 68 R and 19 SB, and never again scored more than 72 runs in a season, only hitting above .250 one more time. Sandberg dropped from 26 homers to 9, lost 100 points off his slugging average, and was never a star again. Joe Torre is also on the statistical list and fell off sharply at 34, but the fact that the Similarity Scores system thinks Joe Torre, the second-slowest man in baseball in his prime (ahem, Rusty) was similar to Robbie Alomar shows why you can't take it too literally. The news isn't all bad: Frankie Frisch tailed off slowly, Robinson started missing games but stayed productive, and Charlie Gehringer at 34 batted .371 and won the MVP Award. Similarity Scores aren't destiny; all they do is give us the cautions of history. History says that even players as good as Alomar - including several players with similar talents - can just lose it overnight at his age.
(You can check out those comparables now here and their remaining career totals compared to Alomar here; Yount and Sandberg turned out to be eerily good guides to the way Alomar's career would play out).