I Once Loved Roberto Alomar

It took a bombshell to break up the cacophony of self-congratulatory sportswriter backslapping in the aftermath of the shocking news that someone other than Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Canseco and Clemens took steroids.

I’m normally numb to the tawdry tabloid side of sports and entertainment, but Wednesday’s mind-blowing story involving future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar possibly carrying the AIDS virus and knowingly…man, I just can’t get my head around this.

Y’see, we knew about Robbie here in California long before the rest of the baseball world. Even in an age when the game was broadcast almost exclusively on a local basis, we’d heard of Alomar’s exploits despite – in my case – only seeing him play when his Padres faced the Dodgers on KTTV, Channel 11 out of Los Angeles.

Alomar was a base-stealing sparkplug in San Diego before taking a quantum leap forward after being traded to Toronto during the 1990 Winter Meetings. (I still remember the short-lived sports daily The National proclaiming the Alomar/Joe Carter-for-Tony Fernandez/Fred McGriff swap as simply “The Biggest Trade in Years” on its front page.)

Starting in 1991, Alomar went on an incredible 11-year run in which he made the All Star team every year from ’91 through 2001, won ten Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers and the 1992 ALCS Most Valuable Player award as he single-handedly ended my Oakland A’s ersatz dynasty once and for all.

He was the greatest second baseman I ever saw. Alomar’s range to his left was so wide that the Jays could’ve made a legitimate case – on defense AND offense – for playing without shortstop Manny Lee in an eight-man lineup from 1991-92.

Still, I’ll always remain puzzled by Alomar’s carpetbag career. At the risk of forgetting anyone more obvious, he might end up as the first ever “hired gun Hall of Famer”. During his 17-year career, Alomar never spent more than five years with any of the eight different teams he played for (which doesn’t include his ill-fated 2005 spring training with Tampa Bay).

Alomar hit .336/.415/.541 with the Indians in 2001 at the age of 33. The very next season, he was done. Oh, he played for three more years, but that was solely on his reputation. This wasn’t a precipitous drop-off. This was a drop-dead. He retired before the start of the ’05 season.

Now, nearly 20 years after Magic Johnson’s seminal announcement, I’m hoping against hope that one of my top five favorite non-Oakland A’s of all time isn’t carrying the virus. I know it’s selfish to feel this way. I know he’s being accused of a horrific act.

Maybe it’s because I known people who’ve lived with this disease and known people who’ve died from it, too. Maybe it’s because I’m finding it increasingly difficult to imagine a time – 10 or 20 years from now – when I’m romanticizing the players I watched in my youth without wondering if the steroid era rendered my memories moot.

In his only comment on the matter Wednesday, Roberto Alomar says he’s in “good health”, but doesn’t directly dispute the AIDS claim.

I’m rooting for you, Robbie. Now, more than ever.

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