Pain remains for Alomar, Jays fans

July 02, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TORONTO -- Two teen-age girls sat in the lower deck, wearing matching blue Roberto Alomar jerseys and holding a sign that said, "In a new nest, but still the best."

"Everyone's getting really mad at us down there," Joanne Beartup said during a break on the SkyDome concourse.

"Not everyone," said a man standing nearby.

That's how it was yesterday during Alomar's return to Toronto -- a split yet predictable reaction, considering the unfortunate circumstances that led to his departure.

The Blue Jays should never have lost a player who helped them win two World Series, a player who yesterday was named to his seventh straight All-Star Game.

But they blew it.

Club president Paul Beeston said yesterday that the Jays probably would have kept Alomar if they had signed him to a long-term deal before the strike instead of waiting for a new labor agreement.

Alomar, meanwhile, is still bitter at general manager Gord Ash for publicly questioning his attitude and leadership after it became apparent the Jays did not want him back last winter.

Leadership?

Oh no, not the "L" word again!

"The guy I thought would be professional, the guy I thought would never talk about me like that, was the guy who hurt me the most," Alomar said. "I didn't say anything about him. He was just trying to get the monkey off his back."

Ash, however, denied his comments were personal.

"It was about players in general who are paid top dollar," he said. "More responsibility comes with that type of contract than just playing the game. There are a whole host of issues -- leadership on the field, leadership off the field, working in the community."

Ash declined to say whether he believed Alomar could meet those commitments. But Orioles GM Pat Gillick appeared to have similar concerns last winter, and at one point seemed to prefer Craig Biggio over Alomar, a player he originally acquired for Toronto.

Think Gillick regrets how it turned out?

Biggio is batting .291 for Houston, but Alomar leads the majors with a .365 average. He has been one of the most unselfish Orioles, hitting first, second or third -- wherever the team needs him.

Yesterday, he went 2-for-5 and scored two runs in a 7-4 victory over the Blue Jays, then kept four Orioles writers waiting for nearly two hours, explaining that he did not want to talk to Canadian print journalists.

It's not that he was standoffish -- he spoke with Canadian TV reporters, signed autographs before the game and reflected warmly on his five years in Toronto, saying he loved even the fans who booed him.

The only person he seems truly upset with is Ash.

"It's just sad," Alomar said. "I don't blame the fans. It's not something they would understand. It's something that happened between the front office and myself. There were some things said in the paper that got the fans upset."

Responded Ash: "I talked to him in spring training. I thought we had resolved what he had felt were slights. Obviously, he hasn't. I can't do anything more than that."

In fairness, Alomar's problems in Toronto weren't just with Ash. He alienated some fans last season, sitting out a game in protest after the David Cone trade, then missing the final days of the season with lower back pain, leading to charges that he was protecting his .300 average.

Naturally, the booing got louder as the game progressed yesterday, with Alomar starting a double play to end a bases-loaded threat, then hitting an opposite-field double and bunt single. He stung the ball even when he made outs.

As Toronto first baseman John Olerud said, "A lot of that is frustration that he's not back with the team this year." Seeing Alomar work his magic for a division rival -- it doesn't get much crueler for a Blue Jays fan.

Still, many welcomed the return of Alomar, whom even Ash said was "probably the greatest player we've had."

A fan named Dave Hall said he thought a long time about whether to cheer or boo Alomar, but ultimately decided to cheer, pointing to his T-shirt hailing the Jays' back-to-back world championships.

"He's the only reason I can wear a T-shirt like this," Hall said.

Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston also remembered the good times, saying Alomar "did a lot for this city."

His players remembered, too.

Tomas Perez, the new Toronto second baseman, robbed Alomar of a hit leading off the game, diving into the hole to stab a sharply hit grounder.

"Great play," Alomar told him.

"You taught it to me," Perez said.

Yet, Ash chose to rebuild without a superstar who is only 28, saying Alomar might be a poor influence on the Blue Jays' young players.

Ah, the leadership question.

The same one that dogs Alomar's double-play partner, Cal Ripken.

"You lead by example," Alomar said. "That's what they didn't understand. I'm not a rah-rah guy. That's not the kind of player I am. I'm the kind of player who goes out and plays my game."

Does he see the parallel to Ripken?

"Cal is different -- Cal has been on the same team forever," Alomar said. "Being a leader is like Cal says. Everyone here knows what to do. Everyone is professional. We don't have any kids.

"But if you need a pat on the back, a guy like Cal will give you a pat on the back, talk to you separately. . . . If a guy is not doing the job, you talk to them face-to-face. You don't say it to the media."

Apparently, that's what Ash wanted, and Alomar chose to test the free-agent market instead. He's an Oriole now, trying to get back to the postseason. The Blue Jays already are out of contention.

Oh, the fans miss him, all right.

"Look at our second base," lamented Cheryl Gibbs, one of the two girls wearing a blue Alomar jersey. "We don't want to name any names, but watch the ball, how it keeps going through that part of the infield."

Happens a lot these days.

Never happened with Roberto Alomar.

Pub Date: 7/02/96

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