The most reviled man in baseball stood in the jubilant visiting clubhouse at Jacobs Field last Saturday and cried like a baby. They were not tears of joy because his Baltimore Orioles had advanced to the American League Championship Series by knocking off the heavily favored Cleveland Indians in Game 4 to win the best-of-five Division Series. They were not tears of elation over his single that tied the game in the ninth inning and his homer that won it, 4-3, in the 12th. And they were not tears of relief that his personal ordeal, which had gone on all week, was over. For it isn't, and it may not be for a long time.
The tears of Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar flowed when his older brother, Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., stopped by the Baltimore clubhouse after the game to show support for Roberto. No words passed between the two, just a hug, then Sandy Jr. softly touched his brother's face. It was a face full of regret over what happened on Sept. 27, when he became so enraged that he spit at umpire John Hirschbeck, and then was vilified from coast to coast.
"I love my brother," Roberto quietly told SI at his locker, after the clubhouse had emptied. "I'm not a bad person. I care about my family. I care about kids. I'm from a good family. I made a mistake. God knows I didn't mean anything bad."
Spitting in Hirschbeck's face after the umpire had ejected Alomar from a game in Toronto was indefensible and warranted a far stiffer penalty than the five-game suspension (to be served at the start of the 1997 season) handed down by American League president Gene Budig. And what Alomar said following the game—that Hirschbeck had become "bitter" since his young son, John, had died in 1993 of adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare and usually fatal brain disorder—was not intentionally malicious but was nonetheless insensitive.
The reaction to Alomar's behavior and the inadequate punishment he received was swift and biting. Major league umpires threatened to strike during the playoffs. The media lit into Alomar as if he were a murderer. He was booed every time he came to the plate at the Jake and was routinely subjected to the kind of abuse directed at him last Friday, after he struck out in the third inning of Game 3: Four fans raced to the seats behind the Orioles' dugout, screamed at and taunted Alomar, and then high-fived each other.
"It has worn on him big-time," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said last Saturday. "What people don't understand is that he has always been liked. He doesn't understand when people don't like him. He's a very sensitive, very emotional player."
"[After the spitting incident] he was just going through the motions, he was in a daze," said Orioles centerfielder Brady Anderson. "You could see the pain in his face and the hurt in his eyes."
"The criticism got to him," said catcher Mark Parent. "But he's not a monster. He doesn't have a rap sheet. I've known him and his family since he was 17. He's a nice kid from a great family. His parents taught him the right and wrong way. Now people think he's Ty Cobb."
Cobb was violent and psychotic. Alomar is immature and selfish, high-strung and pampered. "He's a harmless guy who doesn't bother anyone," former teammate Dave Stewart once said of him. Until the Hirschbeck episode Alomar, who signed with Baltimore as a free agent last December after spending five seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays and three with the San Diego Padres, had three instances in his nine years in the majors—all last season—when his character was called into question.
On May 17, 1995, upset over ball-and-strike calls, Alomar threw his glove in the direction of plate umpire Rich Garcia at the end of the game and was suspended for two games (later reduced to one). After Toronto traded pitcher David Cone to the Yankees for three minor leaguers on July 28, Alomar sulked and sat out a game because he felt Blue Jays management had stopped trying to win. He also missed the last four games of the 1995 season, complaining of a sore back. Skeptics in the media said he was trying to protect his .300 average—a charge that Alomar, who was hitless in the last three games he played, denied. None of that went over well with the fans in Toronto, where he was once the club's most popular player.