The best Puerto Rican baseball player since Roberto Clemente had
just finished lunch and was standing on the front porch of a
Chili's restaurant in San Juan last month. Roberto Alomar, who
was hours away from agreeing to a three-year, $18 million
contract with the Baltimore Orioles, was dressed in running
shoes, short pants and a green Chili's polo shirt that a waiter
had given him during the meal. When an elegant woman wearing a
long dress slinked out of the restaurant and saw him on the
porch, she approached and handed him a white ticket. "Can you
get my car, please?" she asked.
Rich, handsome and on track for the Hall of Fame, the
27-year-old Alomar is not only the premier second baseman in
baseball but also one of the most eligible bachelors in Puerto
Rico--yet the woman thought he parked cars for a living. After
politely informing her that he was not the valet-parking
attendant, Alomar looked at the ticket and giggled. "I could buy
this place," he whispered to a companion, without a hint of
pretentiousness. "I could take all these cars home."
Instead he climbed into his own black Lexus and headed for Old
San Juan. Stopping at El Morro, a 16th-century fortress, Alomar
started walking unobtrusively around the tourist spot and said,
"I bet Cal Ripken can't even get out of his car in Baltimore."
Obviously Alomar has no such problem in his hometown. While he's
loved and respected by his countrymen, he isn't mobbed wherever
he goes in San Juan as he was in Toronto, where he helped the
Blue Jays win two World Series during his five years with the
team. "Here, people don't bug you," said Alomar, who was stalked
by an armed female fan in Toronto last season. "The people have
big egos here. They don't think anyone is above them. That's why
I like it. I live a normal life. I don't like the spotlight."
He's an introvert, unlike his brother, catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.
of the Cleveland Indians, or popular second baseman Carlos
Baerga of the Indians. "Robby is like [Seattle Mariner DH] Edgar
Martinez; he's private," says Luis Mayoral, who does public
relations work for the Texas Rangers and serves as an adviser to
several Latin big leaguers. "That's how Clemente was; he had to
be. Clemente built a wall around himself. Robby's wall is as
thick as Clemente's."
That invisible wall protects Alomar from those who want to take
his money, or endanger his livelihood, or compromise him; he
knows that Cooperstown frowns on troublemakers. Being
standoffish distinguishes him from some other Latin stars, like
flamboyant Rangers outfielder Juan Gonzalez, who, at 26, has
already been married three times and is currently dating
merengue star Olga Tanon.
Alomar, according to Mayoral, "is a millionaire many times over.
He's very aware of the value of a dollar, but he isn't stingy."
Alomar's sister-in-law, Christie, a CPA, helped him invest his
money. "Our family knows what it's like to be down and up," said
Alomar, whose father, Sandy Sr., was a journeyman infielder who
played for seven teams in 15 major league seasons. "My parents
had a hard time at the beginning. The bank repossessed our
house. So I don't throw my money around."
And nothing gets in the way of baseball, including endorsement
opportunities. While he has done spots for Mennen Speed Stick
and Doritos and will be on Kellogg's Corn Flakes boxes sold in
Puerto Rico beginning next month, "I don't like to do too many
because it takes away from my focus on the game," he says. "I'm
a player; I'm not the commercial type."
In the script for the Doritos spot, Alomar was supposed to slide
headfirst into second to break up a double play. But the correct
way to slide in that situation is feetfirst, and Alomar wouldn't
play his part until the script was changed. That's typical
Alomar. Whatever he does, he must do right--that's what his
parents taught him. His car is spotless and his apartment, says
Mayoral, "is the cleanest I've ever seen." He dresses
impeccably. (When he signed a clothing deal with Puma a few
years ago, he wanted to help design the products.) He doesn't
wear pounds of jewelry the way some players do, just a gold
necklace bearing his number, 12, and a rosary.
But at times this need to achieve perfection, coupled with
episodes of immaturity, causes him to be moody off the field. He
sulked for days after the Blue Jays traded ace David Cone to the
New York Yankees last July. "But," says former pitcher and
Toronto teammate Dave Stewart, "he's a good kid." And he's good
with kids. The wall comes down for them.
During the 1993 World Series, Alomar took Steven Boggs, the
11-year-old son of his marketing agent, John Boggs, in a
limousine to lunch. As they ate at a Chinese restaurant in
Toronto, a line of autograph seekers soon formed at their table.
Alomar asked the waiter for privacy so Steven's special lunch
would not be ruined, and screens were set up around the table.
Alomar does love to go out, though; it's just that the places he
frequents are as low profile as he is. When he plays golf, he
plays miniature golf. "And he cheats," says John Boggs, a
"I have my own scoring system," says Alomar.
"He cheats at everything--dominoes, Ping-Pong, backgammon," says
Sandy Sr. "Winning is everything to him."
That's true even in winter league baseball, which for most Latin
major leaguers is an easy way to stay in shape and perform for
their fans in Puerto Rico. When San Juan played Caguas on Dec.
20, it was a typical night in the Puerto Rican league. The big
leaguers congregated around the batting cage before the game
would have made a formidable All-Star lineup: Baerga, Martinez,
outfielder Bobby Bonilla of the Orioles, catcher Ivan Rodriguez
of the Rangers, shortstop Rey Sanchez of the Chicago Cubs and,
the best of them all, Robby Alomar. San Juan won the game 10-7,
behind Alomar's two doubles and three-run homer. He also made a
signature defensive play, backhanding a ball behind second,
leaping and making a perfect throw to first. He plays all out in
the winter, just as he does in the summer. "I was put on this
earth to play baseball," he says.
There was never a doubt that Alomar would be a major leaguer. "A
scout with the Cardinals saw him play pepper when he was six
years old, and he said to me, 'I want to sign your son right
now,'" says Sandy Sr. "He was determined to be a player. He
always told me, 'I'm going to be better than you.' That wouldn't
Sandy Jr., who is nearly two years older than Robby, signed with
the Padres in October 1983. When San Diego reached the '84 World
Series against the Detroit Tigers, Robby taped the Series and
watched it over and over again. "He'd tell me, 'I'm going to
play in that ballpark [Jack Murphy Stadium] someday,'" says
Sandy Sr. Robby signed with the Padres the following February.
In his first spring training Alomar immediately impressed the
Padres' All-Star rightfielder Tony Gwynn when he hauled a bag of
balls to a back diamond and hit off a tee for an hour--a
commitment to hard work that has not diminished over the past 11
years. In 1988, at 20, Alomar was the starting second baseman
for the Padres. Two years later he was an All-Star, but in a
December 1990 blockbuster, he was traded with outfielder Joe
Carter to Toronto for first baseman Fred McGriff and shortstop
Tony Fernandez. Alomar was the least celebrated player of the
four, but on the day of the trade Montreal Expos manager Buck
Rodgers said unequivocally that Alomar was the best player in
the deal. Chicago Cubs scout Hugh Alexander said Alomar someday
would be better than Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, and he
predicted Alomar would eventually make more money than anyone in
baseball. He could turn out to be right on both counts.
In five seasons in Toronto, Alomar hit a combined .307 and won
five Gold Gloves to go with his two World Series rings. With
Toronto rebuilding after back-to-back losing seasons, Alomar,
this year's prize free agent, jumped to Baltimore, where he will
play alongside Ripken, one of his idols. Alomar's other heroes
are his father and Joe Morgan, the Hall of Fame second baseman.
Alomar had Morgan sign one of his Gold Gloves, and he had former
Kansas City Royals second baseman Frank White sign another one
because White "never missed a ball."
But neither Morgan nor White could make the amazing defensive
plays Alomar does. He has as much range as any infielder in
baseball, and he might have the best infield arm in the majors,
though he rarely has to cut loose from second base. "Ask [Blue
Jays first baseman] John Olerud about my arm," Alomar says. "I
almost killed him with a throw."
The combination of hitting, defense and speed (296 career
steals) has positioned Alomar to reach his ultimate goal:
induction into the Hall of Fame. In the meantime he strives for
modest achievements, such as the one he accomplished this
winter. He got nine hits in his last 15 at bats for San Juan to
win the Puerto Rican batting title, which his father had once
won. The Alomars and the Cepedas, Pedro and Orlando, are the
only father-son tandems to have won batting titles in Puerto Rico.
"He's what great players eventually become, but he's been that
way since he first stepped onto a major league field," says
Stewart. "Defensively, it's like there are five or six of him
out there, not one. My only problem with him is the game's so
easy for him, sometimes he gets bored."
But that may change this season, now that he's in Baltimore,
back with a contender. Alomar begins this new phase of his
career in his prime, at the peak of his skills and with a rich,
new contract. Life is great. As he walked beside El Morro, with
the ocean behind him, a photographer asked him for a big smile.
Alomar raised both arms, looked skyward and said, jokingly, "I
Then he laughed the laugh of a man who has it all.