Despite his status as a special assistant to the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays and only a short — yet decorated — tenure in Baltimore, Roberto Alomar called his induction into the Orioles Hall of Fame on Friday "a dream come true."
"I feel honored. It's an honor as a ballplayer," Alomar said. "I never expected this phone call from the Orioles. I only played here for three years and it caught me by surprise. But to be selected by such a great, elite group of players, it is an honor. It is a dream come true for myself."
Widely regarded as one of the best second basemen to play the game, Alomar combined slick fielding with consistent hitting for a potent combination. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who managed against Alomar's World Series-winning Toronto Blue Jays teams while with the New York Yankees, remembered Alomar making airborne, acrobatic plays in critical playoff games.
"I think sometimes guys like him and [Cleveland Indians shortstop Omar] Vizquel got bored playing defense and kind of invented different looks," Showalter said. "There's things that guys do today that I guarantee they were sitting at home and watching Robbie do."
Former Orioles shortstop and current television analyst Mike Bordick battled Alomar's Blue Jays in the playoffs as well as a member of the Oakland Athletics in the early 1990s. An admirer of Alomar's defense, Bordick presented him for induction during an on-field pregame ceremony Friday.
The two would join to form the Orioles' double-play combination when Bordick signed with the team before the 1997 season. That year, the Orioles went wire to wire in winning the American League East before falling to the Indians in the American League Championship Series. Alomar, who batted .333 with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs that season, thinks that Orioles team was the best in baseball. The Orioles wouldn't make the playoffs again until last year.
"I thought we were going to win," Alomar said. "But we came up short. But we had a great team from top to bottom. Great balance in the lineup, great pitching. The other team just played better."
Alomar was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 after a 17-year career in which he batted .300, went to 12 All-Star Games and won 10 Gold Gloves in an 11-season span from 1991-2001. His best statistical season for the Orioles came in 1996 when he batted a team-high .328 with 22 home runs and 94 RBIs while also leading the team in hits (193), doubles (43), and on-base percentage (.411).
In Game 4 of the 1996 American League Division Series against Cleveland, Alomar tied the game with a single with two outs in the ninth inning and then won the game — and the series — with a 12th-inning home run.
"Robbie always seemed like there was another level he could go to," Showalter said. "He could almost will things to happen. OK, the club needs a home run here. There's a home run. Oh, I need a stolen base. Here's a stolen base. He's also one of those guys that you swear he was hitting every inning."
In his three years with the Orioles, Alomar batted .312 — the highest mark in franchise history for players with at least 1,200 at-bats — with 50 home runs and 210 RBIs. His .480 slugging percentage ranks ninth all-time with the team.
Alomar would join Cleveland after the 1998 season and enjoy three more productive years with the Indians, where he would set career highs in average, home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Though he may have enjoyed his best statistical years with Cleveland and won two World Series with Toronto, Alomar was happy to be back at Camden Yards to be enshrined in Orioles history.
"To me, it's a fun ballpark," Alomar said. "I believe that this ballpark is the best ballpark in the game of baseball, especially to play. It's a beautiful ballpark."