Alomar touches all bases Oriole speaks out on his past, future; perceptions, blame


Another season is not yet 2 months old and another set of contradictions have already descended on Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar.

Almost universally considered the Orioles' most talented member, Alomar has emerged as the player most likely to be traded if the team concludes its current $69 million mix is not aligned properly to challenge for its third consecutive playoff berth. While insisting "I don't believe in rumors," Alomar also acknowledges his days with his third organization may be numbered.

Part of a mega-trade that sent him and Joe Carter from the San Diego Padres to the Toronto Blue Jays on Dec. 5, 1990, Alomar realizes there may be momentum building for his departure.

"Sometimes when a team is struggling, [the front office] knows who are going to be free agents and maybe they think a trade will turn it around," says Alomar. "I understand baseball. It's a profession that one day you can be here and the next day be there. I never thought I was going to be traded from San Diego. But I was traded to Toronto. You never know. I understand perfectly that there could be a trade."

Alomar concedes his dream is to one day play alongside brother Sandy, an All-Star catcher with Cleveland. Aware of this, the Indians approached general manager Pat Gillick last winter but were sent away when they offered only prospects.

Now it's the Orioles who pursue a deal.

"I've said it's a dream of mine to play with Sandy. And it's a dream of his, too. But I don't know if it's going to happen. We never will until the day it does," Alomar says. "If it happens, it happens. I'm not going to say it's going to happen. I don't know if Baltimore is going to offer me a contract. You have to wait and see."

Alomar denies recent reports in a Canadian newspaper quoting agent Jaime Torres as saying his client is disenchanted playing in Charm City. Torres cited the Orioles' underachieving start and Alomar's discomfort with the city itself. Alomar categorized the account as "garbage," insisting Torres was misquoted and taken out of context.

"I love playing in Baltimore. It's frustrating when you have a good ballclub and you're not winning. I love winning. Nobody in this group loves losing. We're trying our best," Alomar says.

'Confront me'

Still, Alomar is bothered by his name seeping from shadows. He wants to know the source of supposed organizational dissatisfaction.

"I don't take [trade talks] personally. I just take things personally when rumors start going around. I think if someone is a man, and he has a problem with me, he should come tell me to my face. Confront me. I don't like rumors," Alomar says.

This is Alomar's third year in Baltimore since signing a three-year, $18 million contract as a free agent in December 1995. And this is the third time he has become the centerpiece for a swirl of unwanted attention.

Once considered among the most congenial players by league umpires, Alomar irrevocably tarnished his image by spitting at John Hirschbeck during the final days of the 1996 season. Alomar apologized to Hirschbeck early last season; however, there are club officials convinced that the second baseman remains a target for retribution, especially on borderline ball and strike calls.

The Johnson rift

Fallout from the incident created tension between Alomar and then-manager Davey Johnson, whom Alomar blamed for not offering a public defense on his behalf. The rift exploded last July when Johnson fined Alomar $10,000 for his unexcused absence from an exhibition game. Alomar said he missed the game after trying to return to Puerto Rico following his grandmother's death.

Johnson asked Alomar to divert the fine to a charity that listed the manager's wife, Susan, as its chief fund-raiser. Alomar resisted and owner Peter Angelos interceded on the player's behalf. The issue eventually became a fulcrum in Johnson's resignation last November.

Alomar insists, "The media took that way too far." But at the same time he recalls the fine as "unfair. It wasn't right."

Alomar, 30, strongly denies his conflict with Johnson contributed to his playing a career-low 112 games last season. Bothered by ankle, shoulder and groin problems, he batted .333 before undergoing off-season shoulder surgery. The Orioles believed Johnson's departure along with pending free agency and a return to health would prod Alomar to a monster year.

Instead, Alomar enters tonight's series opener against the Texas Rangers batting .289 with 17 RBIs in 194 at-bats despite frequently hitting third or fifth in manager Ray Miller's lineup.

Miller has tried to ignite him with positive reinforcement. He spoke with him privately last weekend in Oakland and has often urged media types to praise him whenever warranted.

"He's been through a lot of [stuff]," says Miller. "But he's still a good player. Let the club start playing pretty good and he'll step up like he did in [last] September. He must've hit .800 last September [actually .500] when nobody else was doing anything. The club wasn't playing very well then, too."

The blame game

Yet in some ways Alomar serves as a metaphor for a season gone wrong. He grates over a perceived double standard afforded third baseman Cal Ripken and center fielder Brady Anderson, who stay separate from the club on the road.

Capable of brilliance, he infuriated teammates last Thursday with an errant behind-the-back toss in New York. The error led to an important unearned run in a 3-1 loss to the Yankees. (Alomar works on the flip daily during infield practice.)

At other times he has appeared to coast on the base paths, a charge leveled at several Orioles in recent weeks.

Trade talks involving him and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, another of 12 pending free agents, only contribute to a perception Alomar considers unfair.

"When you're losing, everybody focuses on the negative stuff. One little mistake. Or a trade. It all gets in the paper. Nobody will talk about the positive things we do," he insists. "I bust my tail all the time.

"Maybe one time you hit the ball back to the pitcher and you don't run all the way hard. You're still running 85 percent. But the ball got there before you were down the first base line. I think that's unfair."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Bobby Witt (4-2, 7.71) vs. Orioles' Doug Drabek (4-5, 5.70)

Tickets left: Unavailable

Pub Date: 5/28/98

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