Saturday, January 26, 2008
Roberto Alomar, 1998 Collector's Choice #310
I became a baseball fan in 1993, and the Toronto Blue Jays were my sworn enemies. It was a simpler time. They were the defending World Champions, and were well on their way to a second straight World Series win. To add insult to injury, Jays manager Cito Gaston didn't let Mike Mussina pitch in the All Star Game in front of the home crowd at Camden Yards. What a bastard, huh? So yeah, with no first-hand experience of the dastardly doings of those damned Yankees, I blamed Canada. So to speak. I even remember crying - crying! - when Toronto bested the Phillies in Game One of the 1993 World Series.
The mini-dynasty of the Blue Jays rapidly came to an end. At the time of the 1994 players strike, they were way out of it. With our northern neighbors no longer a threat, I paid them little mind. Then something strange happened.
They all started coming to Baltimore.
In the winter of 1995-1996, the Orioles overhauled management, bringing in former second baseman Davey Johnson to manage the team. They also hired Pat Gillick as general manager, putting the architect of those great Blue Jays teams in charge of personnel decisions. His first big splash was the free agent signing of second baseman Roberto Alomar, one of the best all-around players in the league. He paid immediate dividends, taking a position that had long been a weakness (particularly offensively) for the Birds and made it a strength. In his first year in Charm City, he established career highs in every major offensive category and was a major part of the first O's team to make the playoffs since 1983. In his short stay in Baltimore, he went to three straight All-Star Games and won two Gold Gloves. No matter what you thought of him as a person (and most people didn't think much), he was a hell of a player.
Of course, most of the other ex-Jays didn't pan out nearly so well for the Orioles. Looking at the rosters of the 1992 and 1993 Blue Jays, ten players ended up wearing orange and black later on in their careers: Alomar (1996-1998), Joe Carter (1998), Greg Myers (2000-2001), Jimmy Key (1997-1998), Juan Guzman (1998-1999), David Wells (1996), Pat Hentgen (2001-2003), Mike Timlin (1999-2000), Mark Eichhorn (1994), and Doug Linton (1999). Other than Alomar, the only ones that met expectations were Key, who had one great year before injuries hastened the end of his career, and Eichhorn. Wells and Timlin did have great careers after leaving Baltimore, which was oh-so-considerate of them. The lesson is simple, though: if these guys were all still great, the Jays would have dominated the rest of the Nineties.