About 10 days ago, the new class was inducted into the Indians Hall of Fame. The most celebrated member of that class, was Catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. Sandy was one of the symbols of the renaissance of Tribe baseball that took place during the 1990′s. Sandy played here 11 seasons, from 1990-2000 and was the starting catcher on a 100 loss team and a 100 win team. Pretty remarkable.
People in this city put Sandy up on a pedestal about one step down from Omar Vizquel and two from “The Lord” Bernie Kosar and Lebron James. Who can forget perhaps the greatest moment in Jacobs Field history, his eighth inning, game-tying home run off of Mariano Rivera in game four of the 1997 ALDS. That night, he saved the Indians from extinction, and a week later helped propel them into the World Series.
His magical ’97 season has always been the thing Tribe fans look to in reliving the past with Sandy. In 125 games, the Wahoo backstop hit a .324 with 21 homer and 83 RBI’s – all career highs. His 30-game hit streak still is tops in Tribe history, and he was the all-star game MVP after homering off of Giants lefty Shawn Estes at the Jake.
Credit the PD’s Dennis Manoloff for a solid, in-depth interview with the latest member of the Indians hall of fame last week. In the piece, you will find some interesting quotes, particularly on the fateful ninth inning of the ’97 World Series in which Jose Mesa now famously shuck Sandy off on his way to a blown save.
One ninth-inning pitch, in particular, remains shrouded in controversy. Moises Alou led off with a single. After Bobby Bonilla struck out, Charles Johnson hit a 1-2 slider to right for a single, Alou advancing to third. Craig Counsell followed with a sacrifice fly to right to tie it.
Mesa supporters, wherever they are, believe that Alomar had preferred the pitcher throw a slider instead of a fastball — Mesa’s money pitch — on the 1-2 to Johnson. Alomar said he wanted the fastball.
“Charles Johnson had a longer swing, Jose had a sinking fastball, a heavy ball, and we had a good infield,” Alomar said. “But Jose felt like he could get him out with a slider. Basically, when Jose shook you off, he didn’t feel right about the pitch. When he shook you off twice, he definitely didn’t feel right about it. He had the ball, he had a feeling, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.”
And like the diehard Indian fans like me out there, I respect Sandy for this rare admission of honesty when asked if that game still eats at him:
“Oh, bro, it still bothers me,” he said. “I extended my career to 2007 just to get a chance to get back to the World Series. I never got back after ’97. The MLB Network plays the ’97 World Series over and over and over. You can’t escape it. I think about it all the time.”
“I really enjoyed my time in Cleveland,” he said. “We had a great run. I cherish every moment, positive or negative. But I still can’t believe we lost that World Series.”
Now to the truth. As great as Sandy was in ’97 and as a rookie in 1990 (.290 BA/66 RBI – Rookie of the Year and an All Star), the rest of his career was injury filled and full of disappointment. Many people I know referred to him as “Sally” thanks to all of the various injuries that kept him out of the lineup.
Alomar was so banged up, that he only played in more than 100 games in a season four times in his 20 year career. After 132 games as a rookie in ’90, he had a five year stretch where he peaked at 89 games (’92). After the career year in ’97, he hit just .235 /6 HR/44 RBI/117 games in ’98. No doubt he was playing hurt, but Sandy was never the same again.
Regardless, Sandy Alomar Jr will always be in the hearts of Indians fans forever as a link to the greatest era in team history. I know it’s a week late, but congratulations to Sandy for becoming a member of the Indians Hall of Fame.