BALTIMORE -- It's just the first ballot.
Second baseman Roberto Alomar may have missed election by just eight votes in his initial crack at the Hall of Fame, but he has come so close that it carries the whiff of inevitability. Jim Palmer, an iconic Oriole who had a front-row seat for Alomar's prime in Baltimore, said he thinks that the 12-time All-Star will eventually be enshrined with the best of the best.
"I always thought Robbie was one of the most complete ballplayers I ever saw as a player or a broadcaster," Palmer said. "For him to get that kind of percentage bodes well for him. He deserves it, and he's a Hall of Fame type player."
Alomar certainly forged that opinion the old-fashioned way, by dominating his peers for more than a decade. Alomar won four Silver Sluggers and 10 Gold Gloves over his career, and he finished in the top 10 of the league's Most Valuable Player balloting five times. Alomar went to 12 All-Star Games in a row and won two World Series titles with the Blue Jays.
Now, he has another distinction. Alomar was named on 397 ballots, the most of any first-year player who didn't earn election.
"I guess the good news is he got a lot of votes. And the bad news is he didn't get in," said B.J. Surhoff, who played with Alomar on the Orioles in the late 1990s. "You can look at it two different ways, but it's a shame he didn't get in. Robbie had a great career, and I think his numbers at second base match up with anybody who's played the position."
And for Palmer, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990, the indications were all there from the beginning. The right-hander can remember broadcasting one of Alomar's early games and putting him in an imaginary pecking order.
"I had played with Davey Johnson, who had won some Gold Gloves and had come up as a shortstop," said Palmer, who now calls games for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. "And I played with Bobby Grich, who was a terrific second baseman and won four Gold Gloves. Nobody went to his right as good as Bobby. ... I had a chance to see a lot of good second basemen, but when I saw Alomar, I went, 'Wait a minute.' He looked like Baryshnikov. Grich was so good, but he played at an even higher level."
Alomar began his career in San Diego, but he didn't really take off until he was traded to Toronto before the '91 season. There, he starred for one of the best teams of his generation and batted .300 four times in five years. Alomar became a free agent after the '95 season and came to Baltimore, where he teamed up with Cal Ripken Jr., Brady Anderson, Rafael Palmeiro and Surhoff.
The Orioles went to the playoffs in '96 and '97, and Surhoff said his chief memories of Alomar include a late-season home run against Toronto that clinched the team's playoff berth in '96 and a starring performance against Cleveland in the American League Division Series. Bottom line, he said, was that Alomar was a really good player and a really good teammate.
"I got along with Robbie very well, and he was a really good player," said Surhoff, the top overall selection in the 1985 First-Year Player Draft. "He grew up in the game, and he was around the game his whole life. He could do a lot of things that a lot of other people couldn't do. Robbie had good range; he had fantastic hands. He was a switch-hitter with power, he could bunt, he could beat you in a lot of different ways. He was an extremely multidimensional player who had great instincts on the field."
Alomar was an All-Star for all three of his seasons in Baltimore, and he also won two Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger. Chris Hoiles, the catcher on those teams, said Alomar distinguished himself beyond his stat-line.
"He just found a way to beat you," Hoiles said. "Robbie could do everything and do it well. Good fielder, could hit for average, could hit for power, used the whole field. Just one of those special-type players who, to me, could do everything. He could play small ball. He was a very good bunter. He could bunt for hits. He could just do everything very, very well."
Alomar went on to star on a great Cleveland team after leaving Baltimore and then played short stints with the Mets, White Sox and D-backs before retiring on the eve of the 2005 season. The switch-hitter finished with a .300 batting average and 2,724 hits, and he also hit 210 home runs and stole 474 bases over the course of his 17-year career.
"I got to see him in Baltimore, and until you get to see a player on an everyday basis, it's not the same," Palmer said. "Robbie did see things that other players really only wished they could see. He used to drive Davey Johnson crazy, because Brady Anderson would get on and then Robbie would bunt. So I talked to his dad about it last year, and he said, 'It comes from our baseball background. If you get the lead, you win a lot more games than you lose.' And Robbie could do anything. He could steal a base. He could hit a home run. He could beat you with his glove. He was one of the better pound-for-pound players that I ever saw play."