CLEVELAND - Sandy Alomar has been an All-Star by default. He has been an All-Star on name recognition, when he didn't have numbers. He has sometimes shown up sheepishly to baseball's summer showcase, grateful to be selected, chagrined by his stats.
He has been waiting a long time for vindication. His wait, it would seem, is over.
Cleveland's star-crossed catcher finally got what had been so long withheld from him Tuesday night. In the midst of his most splendid season, to the unqualified cheers of his hometown fans, Alomar smashed a two-run homer that erased all of his old embarrassments and won the All-Star Game for the American League.
"I think I've wasted a lot of my career being on the disabled list," Alomar said after the AL's 3-1 victory over the National League. "This is the way I wanted to play. I've had problems in the past, but that's over with."
Alomar's reputation for unrealized potential effectively ended with two outs in the seventh inning Tuesday night at Jacobs Field. That's when he drove a 2-2 pitch from San Francisco's Shawn Estes over the wall in left-center field and into local lore.
An All-Star first
No player had hit an All-Star home run in his home park since Hank Aaron did it in Atlanta in 1972. No Indians star had hit an All-Star homer since Rocky Colavito went deep in 1959.
With one surpassingly sweet swing, Sandy Alomar was allowed a whiff of nirvana.
"I was just flying around the bases," he said. "I don't think I ever ran so fast on a home run before then."
He felt pride and joy and a peculiar kind of peace. Sunday, Alomar was told that his 96-year-old grandmother, Tonee Valazquez, had died. Among her last requests was the stipulation that her ballplaying grandsons were not to miss games to attend her funeral. Baltimore's Roberto Alomar started at second base for the American League on Tuesday night. Sandy Alomar went behind the plate in the top of the sixth.
"This game was dedicated to her," Alomar said. "The rest of the season is dedicated to her. I guess it (the home run) is a blessing from God."
He had been picked as the American League's backup catcher on the strength of a league-leading .375 batting average and an as-yet unbroken 30-game hitting streak. He stands to become the first catcher to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi did it with Boston in 1942. This was Sandy Alomar's fifth All-Star appearance, and indisputably deserved.
"Sandy's having a magical year," said Indians first baseman Jim Thome, "and he proved it tonight."
Vote of success
Twice, Alomar has appeared in the annual exhibition on the basis of his popularity rather than his play. Injured at length in 1991, he was nonetheless voted into the American League's starting lineup and was introduced at the SkyDome with a .241 batting average, no home runs and four runs batted in.
A year later, he went to San Diego with two home runs, 23 RBI and his tail between his legs. He came to symbolize the shortcomings of fan balloting, and to regard the election with a mixture of pride and dread.
"The fans voted me, so I had to go," he said. "But in that situation you never feel completely comfortable. Now it's different." Now, Sandy Alomar stands at the plate and says the pitcher's delivery seems the size of a beach ball.
"If I could explain it, I think I wouldn't be able to hit," Alomar said. "When you're hitting well, you basically stay behind the ball and try to make good solid contact."
As he awaited Estes' 2-2 pitch, Alomar was intent on hitting the ball back up the middle, knowing a single would score Bernie Williams from second base. He remembered being impressed by Estes' breaking ball, which he had been studying on his satellite television hookup. He could not remember exactly what the pitch was, but he could not forget where it went.
"It was a changeup tailing away," Estes said, "but he got it. He guessed right, and he hit it. I think he was looking for it."
Sandy Alomar isn't an All-Star for nothing. Not this year, anyway.
AL WINS 3-1
ASSOCIATED PRESS COVERAGE on 'THE WIRE'
THREE CHASE MARIS July 8, 1997
CINCINNATI CAN FORM ITS OWN ALL-STAR TEAM July 8, 1997
WALKER'S OFF DAY LIVES ON
Tim Sullivan column, July 8, 1997