Roberto Alomar was a 12-time All-Star, a ten-time Gold Glover, and a fantastic hitter. He was really good. And now that he's going into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, we can use another description for him: really, really good. It's been confirmed by the votes of the ancients, or, at least, columnists from the Green Valley News & Sun and their peers. So we can all stop pretending he was really good. He was really, really good. Great, even.
He was a generational defensive talent who could rightfully be talked about in the same breath as Bill Mazeroski and Bobby Grich. Well, I think so, at least. As a National League fan during Alomar's prime, I didn't watch a lot of him. When I watched Roberto Alomar play, he was a New York Met, where he did more active harm to his Hall-of-Fame case than anything else.
So I'm wholly unqualified to write a paean to Roberto Alomar. If you're in the mood for one, Chris Jaffe at the Hardball Times has a very nice greatest-hits package for you. But if I were to build a Hall of Fame of Completely Awesome and Fascinating Trades, there's no question that Alomar would be a part of the inaugural class.
December 5, 1990: San Diego Padres trade Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to the Toronto Blue Jays for Tony Fernandez and Fred McGriff.
The names make it interesting right away -- that's a Hall-of-Famer, a could-be-Hall-of-Famer, and two Hall-of-Very-Gooders. But it's even more interesting than that. Here was Alomar's pre-trade career:
Year Age Tm AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 1988 20 SDP 545 145 24 6 9 41 24 6 47 83 .266 .328 .382 .709 105 1989 21 SDP 623 184 27 1 7 56 42 17 53 76 .295 .347 .376 .723 107 1990 22 SDP 586 168 27 5 6 60 24 7 48 72 .287 .340 .381 .721 98Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Look at the age column. He was already a three-year vet when he was 22. He doing a little more than just holding his own with the bat as a boy among men, à la Elvis Andrus. He had to be showing some ridiculous range as a young pup, and he was a speedy, intelligent runner. Why in the world would you trade someone like that?
Year Age Tm AB H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ 1987 23 TOR 295 73 16 0 20 43 3 2 60 104 .247 .376 .505 .881 130 1988 24 TOR 536 151 35 4 34 82 6 1 79 149 .282 .376 .552 .928 157 1989 25 TOR 551 148 27 3 36 92 7 4 119 132 .269 .399 .525 .924 166 1990 26 TOR 557 167 21 1 35 88 5 3 94 108 .300 .400 .530 .930 153Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
That's why. That's Fred McGriff, pre-trade. He was an absolute beast, and he was entering his peak years. The Blue Jays had a 21-year-old John Olerud, which was the reason they felt McGriff could be traded, but having two hitters for one position isn't a problem in the AL.
Who trades a 22-year-old second baseman who has already proven he has an exemplary glove, speed, and on-base skills? Who trades a 26-year-old first baseman who completely dominated American League pitching for three straight seasons?
What kind of general manager has the rosin bag to make a deal like that? How were there two GMs in baseball at the same time who were bold enough to make such a trade?
It was insane. Think Starlin Castro for Joey Votto-insane, but more so. The New York Times called it "one of the most stunning trades in years," and it's only become more stunning as the years have passed. With Alomar and Carter, the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series. The insanely risky move (for both sides) paid off for the Jays.
Man, a GM who makes a deal like that should go into the Hall of Fame too.
Fernandez and McGriff had very nice post-trade careers ... just not so much for the Padres. Fernandez played two seasons for the Padres; McGriff played two-and-a-half. Both did well. They were traded again in separate deals, with D.J. Dozier, Wally Whitehurst, Raul Casanova, Vince Moore, Donnie Elliott, and Melvin Nieves going to San Diego. The Padres did not win back-to-back World Series.
No matter how the trade worked out for either team, though, there's no doubt that it was one of the most interesting trades of all-time, both at the time it was made and in retrospect. I don't remember the intricacies of Alomar's swing. I can't remember what he looked like turning a double play, or ranging on a ball to his right. But I know that he was a great player, and that he was traded when he was just 22 and showing signs of becoming that great player.
It's possible -- probable -- that we'll never see a trade like that again.