Roberto Alomar waited until 1 p.m., until the final countdown began to the Hall of Fame announcement. He and a handful of friends gathered around his wide-screen TV, fired up the MLB Network and sat through 60 minutes of torture.
The phone rang a few times — Roberto Clemente Jr. and Omar Minaya called to say good luck — but that only made the vigil more unbearable, even though Alomar had been prepped like a prizefighter in his pre-bout locker room.
Induction was a lock, Alomar was told by supporters. There was no reason to sweat, no possible case against him.
“I was so sure,” Alomar said. That is, until 2 p.m. The phone remained silent for a minute, then another, until a soft rain of disappointment finally drenched him.
Announcers brought the news that left Alomar in a state of shock: Andre Dawson was being crowned as the newest — and only — inductee. How? Why? One of the game’s greatest second basemen had fallen eight votes shy of the necessary 405.
Even though Alomar likely will pick up those last few votes in 2011, it was small consolation as he sunk deep into his couch Wednesday.
“I mean, it’s hard to understand. The numbers were there compared to other guys in the Hall,” Alomar said. There was no need to invoke Ryne Sandberg’s name, since the point already was clear. Then again, the mild-mannered Sandberg never spit in an umpire’s face the way Alomar did in 1996.
The unfortunate back story has long been imprinted in our memory — Alomar, then an Oriole, assaulted John Hirschbeck after a disputed called third strike. But a subsequent peace treaty between the men has since morphed into friendship, as Hirschbeck told the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, “If I could vote, I would vote for (Alomar). I would love to see him go in.”
Alomar made a point of calling Hirschbeck shortly after 2 p.m. Wednesday, assuring him, “We’re still friends; this has nothing to do with you.” Alomar later said, “John sounded just as disappointed as me.”
Alomar promises to move on, seal up the hurt for the next 365 days. Still, he admits, “This would’ve been a great thing.” Alomar would’ve been the first Puerto Rican player to be inducted into Cooperstown by the normal election process — Robert Clemente was posthumously admitted less than three months after his death in 1972.
Alomar chose not to criticize the Baseball Writers Association of America and, specifically, the members who used their ballots to punish him. But he had every right to lash out on a day when the organization embarrassed itself.
Of the 539 ballots returned, five were left blank. Since blanks were considered part of the overall percentage, that boycott cost Bert Blyleven, who fell five votes short, and kept Alomar from finishing within three votes.
Of course, a blank ballot could’ve indeed been filled out by an honest, earnest voter who felt no one was deserving. But theory gives way to a smaller, pettier reality in 2010: Those who refused to vote were voting specifically against Alomar because of Hirschbeck. The same goes for the 137 other writers who voted, but not for Alomar.
There are 142 voters who have some explaining to do today.