Roberto Alomar is a Hall of Fame player. He just is.
I don’t mean that in the pure factual sense, of course -- though that’s also true, or will be after the induction ceremony -- but to the extent that there are any standards for who gets into the Hall of Fame, Alomar meets all of them. He should have been in on his first ballot, but given the way voters tend to apply their silly unwritten rules, I suppose we should be thankful that he had to wait only a year to get what’s rightly his.
Alomar’s statistical case is obvious. He fell short of 3000 career hits, but his 2,724 are seventh all-time among players who were primarily second basemen, and second to Craig Biggio among second basemen who played a game after World War II. (It’s worth noting that Rod Carew played just more than half his games at first base.) Alomar is also eighth in runs, 11th in homers, 10th in RBI, 11th in walks, and fifth in steals. More qualitatively, his 116 OPS+ is eighth among all second baseman with at least 8000 plate appearances; of the seven in front of him, six are in the Hall already, one (Jeff Kent) likely will be, and the other (Bobby Grich) definitely should be. He is also 10th in Baseball-Reference WAR and finished in the top five of his league three times. During his prime, Alomar was revered for his flashy defense (though the advanced metrics’ reports are mixed), and he even hit .313/.381/.448 in 263 postseason plate appearances, on the way to playing on two World Series winners. He’s a top-10 all-time second baseman, and there are already 13 second basemen in the Hall.
To the extent that there are any faults with Alomar’s case at all, they’re pretty easily dealt with.
One that is sometimes put forth is that following a near-MVP season in 2001, his game suddenly fell apart the following year with the Mets. He was done as a productive player at 34, leading some to the conclusion that his career was “too short.” But second basemen seem to burn out early as a rule (if not usually as rapidly as Alomar did), and he started very early, having logged three full (and very good) seasons and an All-Star appearance before his trade from the Padres to the Blue Jays at the age of 22 -- enough to put him sixth all-time among primary second basemen in plate appearances (10 Hall of Fame second basemen have ended their careers with fewer).
So his was not by any means a short career, not by middle infield standards, but the quick fade certainly hurt how he was remembered. For most of Alomar’s first 14 seasons, he was perceived as an elite, Hall of Fame-type talent, as evidenced by his 12 straight All-Star selections, 10 Gold Gloves in 11 seasons, and five finishes among the top six in league MVP voting. The three ugly years at the end, in which he was 0.2 wins below replacement -- and coming mostly in New York and Chicago, the only two “big markets” he ever played in -- make it easy for some to forget exactly how dominant Alomar was for the great bulk of his career. It doesn’t make him any less worthy of the Hall, though, since after all he really was that dominant, just a little less obvious.
Another thing that hurts some fans’ and writers’ perception of his career, probably even more than the abrupt ending, is that he played for six teams in 17 years. He does lead all Blue Jays second basemen in career WAR, and will have his number retired by the team next week, but he accumulated just 20 WAR with the Jays, seventh overall in team history behind the likes of Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield. His lack of a dominant stretch with a single team might tend to obscure his greatness, but again, doesn’t change the fact that the greatness happened, with a couple very good seasons each spent with the Padres, Jays and Orioles, and then three great ones with Cleveland.
Finally, there’s that thing you knew was coming -- in September 1996, during an argument, Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck (to whom he later apologized, and the two are now friends). At least one voter flatly admitted that he withheld his first-ballot vote because of the incident, and there can be no doubt that many others did the same. It was a terrible and disgraceful incident, to be sure, but it’s still just one incident, and one that shouldn’t define a 17-year career, and simply shouldn’t enter into the discussion when we’re talking about an institution that has welcomed all manner of racists, criminals, possibly murderers, and other shady characters.
Those three things -- his career’s abrupt end, his travels from team to team and the spitting -- are all part of Roberto Alomar’s story. But the much more interesting parts are that Alomar was a wonderfully exciting player to watch who, at his best, could hit for average and power, run the bases at an elite level and play brilliant (or at least brilliant-looking) defense; that he was a postseason hero and a twelve-time All Star; and most importantly, that he was unquestionably one of the greatest players ever to play his position. Whatever your definition of a Hall of Famer might be, Alomar almost definitely fits it. Like Bert Blyleven, Alomar is a player who makes the Hall just a little bit better, not worse, and his moment in the sun tomorrow afternoon is well deserved, and a year late.