Saturday, March 19, 2005

Alomar walking into history

With the likelyhood that future Hall-of-Famer Roberto Alomar will announce his retirement this week, now is as good a time as any to appreciate him as a player.

Alomar probably delivered more heartache than joy to White Sox fans. He was part of the 1993 Toronto team that beat the Sox in six games in the ALCS. He was part of the Baltimore team that chased down the Sox for the Wildcard in September of 1996. And he was part of Cleveland teams that beat the Sox for AL Central titles in 1999 and 2001.

A career .300 hitter (exactally .300) with 1,134 RBIs, 474 stolen bases, 2,724 hits and 210 home runs, Alomar has a solid case for the best second baseman of his generation with only Craig Biggio entering the discussion.

The 10-time Gold Glove winner was well past his prime when he arrived in Chicago for the last half of the 2003 season, but for one night I had the opportunity to see flashes of the player Alomar was way back when.

I was at Comiskey Park on August 19, 2003, when Anaheim was in town. Alomar batted leadoff and struck out his first time up -- one of two Ks -- but he would also reach base twice. Once on an infield hit where he slid head-first into first base. The other time he reached on an error, when he again slid head-first into the bag.

Besides the good, if not overrated defense, and the spectacular hitting, his head-first slide, even if ill-advised, is one of the most exciting parts of Alomar's game. And on that hot August night, it was exciting to see an older man play like it were 10 years ago.

Watching baseball players age, for the most part, isn't fun. It certainly hasn't been fun to watch Alomar, who's skill seem to have left him so quickly. As you see a great career fade away, it reminds you of the time that slips by in your own life. It makes you think about your future, even though you don't have to worry about "life after baseball." It makes you think about your own mortality.

But on that night, Alomar defied mortality and aging patterns. Not as a Sox fan, but as a baseball fan, I was captivated by the way Alomar played the game.

There there were a million reasons it was a bad idea to bring Alomar to town in 2003, and again in 2004. But while he didn't help push the Sox to a playoff, he didn't cost them that opportunity, either.
Given that, I can't help but feel like it was a special treat to get to see him show us what it was like when he was one of the game's best. Even if it cost a marginal prospect, and even if it was only on that one night in August.