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Alomar did things 'nobody else could do'
Roberto Alomar was just a little kid the first time Sandy Johnson saw him.
Johnson was scouting director of the San Diego Padres at the time and was spending extended time at the Alomar home in Salinas, Puerto Rico, working out Alomar's older brother, Sandy Jr., who eventually signed with the Padres in October 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 be special. It wasn't just that he had the talent, but he had that desire. He never lost either."
And that’s why on Sunday the kid from the dirt fields in Puerto Rico will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He joins 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 challenging 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 that included an All-Star appearance in 1970 and a postseason trip with the Yankees in 1976, and older brother, whose 20-year big league career included four postseason trips and seven 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 league system.
Johnson had left the Padres to become the scouting director in Texas in February 1985, but the ground work had been set for Robbie to sign with San Diego. Luis Rosa, the Padres' Latin scouting coordinator at the time, closed the deal with Alomar, along with Carlos Baerga before Rosa eventually followed Johnson to Texas.
Johnson, with Rosa as the point man, was arguably the King of the Caribbean of his era. The list not only includes the Alomars and Baerga, but also 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, the prime of Alomar’s career was spent with 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.
The career was one in which Alomar hit .300 with 504 doubles, 80 triples, 210 home runs and 1,134 RBI. He stole 474 bases and was successful in 80 percent of his attempts in his career.
And then there was the way he ran the bases, and played defense, and created an energy that a winning team needs. He did, after all, claim back-to-back world championships with Toronto in 1992-93, and hit .347 in those World Series wins against Atlanta and Philadelphia.
He was a 12-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner.
"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 to the general manager of the New York Mets, was actively involved in the game for more than 50 years, originally signing with the Pittsburgh Pirates as a middle infielder in 1958.
"I tied Willie Stargell for the team lead in home runs that first year at San Angelo/Roswell in D Ball," Johnson said. "I couldn't keep up with him after that."
Johnson did, however, keep up with baseball as a minor league manager and coach, and then as a scout and scouting director, which gave him a sense of the special abilities Alomar possessed.
"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 play.
"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?"
Sunday, you can say he is a Hall of Famer.
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