The Blue Jays are aggressive in their scouting and development of Latin American players, and it was around 1985 and '86 that Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick began hearing about a teen-age infielder with better skills than many major-leaguers.
But the Padres signed Alomar in February 1985, 11 days after his 17th birthday, and little more than three years later, he was playing every day for the Padres, hitting .266 in his rookie season. Gillick's scouts were in awe of his talent.
In the summer of 1990, the Padres were sold. Roseanne Barr sung the national anthem in San Diego and made an obscene gesture to the crowd. The Padres asked Alomar to play shortstop, and he balked. The organization in a state of disarray, Gillick watched from afar and waited for the right moment to ask for a trade.
Sandy Alomar Sr. was fired as a coach, and Joe McIlvaine took over as general manager. If the Blue Jays were going to get Alomar, Gillick thought, this might be their only chance. In December 1990, Gillick traded first baseman Fred McGriff and shortstop Tony Fernandez to the Padres for Alomar and Joe Carter. When Alou heard about the deal, he thought it the best evidence of how crazy the game could be -- a guy like Alomar should be with one team his whole career.
As good as McGriff and Fernandez had been and would become, San Diego All-Star Tony Gwynn was shocked by the trade. "How could you give up a guy that young who could play like that?" he asked.
Alomar has won five Gold Gloves since then, and hit at least .295 in all five seasons. He has never had fewer than 37 extra-base hits, no less than 19 stolen bases.
Listen, Felipe Alou says, and you do so.
"I was a good major-league player," he says. "But I came to realize that there are a few players in this game who have a special gift."
The gift manifests itself on several different levels, allowing the player to dominate the game physically, emotionally and intellectually. Willie Mays had this gift, Alou says. Roberto Clemente had this gift. Hank Aaron. Ozzie Smith.
Alou has mentioned three Hall of Famers and one future Hall of Famer, four of the greatest ever to play the game.
"And Roberto Alomar," Alou says, "he has this."
And now the Orioles have Alomar.
Pub Date: 3/31/96