"I feel disappointed, but next year hopefully I make it… (AP photo )
Roberto Alomar, the slick-fielding second baseman who spent three splendid but somewhat controversial seasons with the Orioles, fell eight votes short Wednesday in his bid to become a first-ballot inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Alomar was named on 397 of 539 ballots (73.7 percent) submitted by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. To gain induction, he needed 75 percent, which this year was 405 votes.
"I feel disappointed, but next year hopefully I make it in," Alomar said from his home in New York. "At least I was close."
The BBWAA voted in just one player for 2010 induction, outfielder Andre Dawson, who spent 21 seasons in the major leagues, the majority with the Montreal Expos and Chicago Cubs. He will be joined at the July 25 ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., by former umpire Doug Harvey and manager Whitey Herzog, who were selected in December by the Hall's Veterans Committee. Also that day, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News will receive the J.G. Taylor Spink Award for baseball writing.
Dawson, in his ninth year on the ballot, garnered 420 votes (77.9 percent). Pitcher Bert Blyleven finished second in the balloting with 400 votes (74.2 percent), just five short of the magic number in his 13th year of eligibility. He has two more chances.
The most surprising snub, however, was Alomar, who batted .300, made 12 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves in a 17-season career.
"I was stunned. I expected he would go in, and he should have gone in," said Ken Rosenthal, senior baseball writer for Foxsports.com and a voting member of the BBWAA. "This is not simply a Hall of Famer. This is one of the greatest second basemen of all time. ... For him not to go in on the first ballot, frankly, reflects poorly on us as an organization."
Alomar, 41, amassed 2,724 hits, 210 homers, 1,134 RBIs and 1,508 runs while winning more Gold Gloves than any other second baseman in history. But it's possible that one incident in 1996 might have hampered his first induction campaign.
Major League Baseball fined and suspended Alomar for spitting in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck during an argument over balls and strikes on Sept. 27 of that year while Alomar was with the Orioles. The incident was a firestorm at the time, but Hirschbeck and Alomar have since become friends. Hirschbeck told The Baltimore Sun on Tuesday that he hoped Alomar would be inducted this year.
Not everyone forgives and forgets as easily.
"I don't care that Hirschbeck forgave Alomar for spitting at him; I haven't," Marty Noble, who covers the New York Mets for mlb.com, wrote on the Web site. "It was unacceptable behavior."
Noble, a BBWAA voter, acknowledged that Alomar might have been the "best ever" at second base, but he didn't receive his vote - at least for this year - because of the 1996 spitting incident and because of Alomar's lackluster play in New York.
"During his 222-game tour with the Mets, Alomar repeatedly spit in the face of the game by playing with conspicuous apathy," Noble wrote.
Some BBWAA voters, however, think Alomar's public transgression against Hirschbeck shouldn't have been a deciding factor in his candidacy.
"If anybody didn't vote for Robbie because of the spitting incident, then shame on them," said Phil Rogers, baseball writer for the Chicago Tribune. "It's not our job as voters to hand out discipline. He dealt with the repercussions at the time. It may have changed the way he is perceived, but it shouldn't destroy the track record he built as one of the best second basemen ever."
Because he came so close in his first try, it's likely Alomar will get to Cooperstown next year. Some voters make a distinction between a first-ballot Hall of Famer and subsequent ballots.
"I still haven't figured out Hall of Fame voting. I never bought into that first-time no, second-time yes. I think it is really time to move on from that," said former Oriole B.J. Surhoff, who played with Alomar from 1996 to 1998.
While with the Orioles, Alomar made the All-Star team each season and twice helped his team reach the American League Championship Series. His three-year average of .312 is the Orioles' modern-day club high for anyone with at least 1,200 at-bats. His 132 runs in 1996 remains a single-season Orioles record, and through the first 57 games of that season, Alomar batted an otherworldly .410.
Rosenthal, who covered Alomar for The Sun, said he has never witnessed a player better than Alomar was in the first half of 1996.
"That was best all-around play I have ever seen, offensively, defensively," Rosenthal said. "He did it all. This guy played the game one level above."
That versatility and innate ability likely will one day earn Alomar a spot among the immortals in Cooperstown - just not this July, just not with Dawson.
But that doesn't diminish what he accomplished on the field, Surhoff said.