When the padres traded Roberto Alomar to Toronto in 1990, then commissioner Fay Vincent remarked, "They traded a future Hall of Famer." Alomar was 22 and already had 497 hits and the polished look of a player born to the game. Last Friday, Alomar, now 37 and with eroded skills, committed two errors in one inning for the Devil Rays and walked off the diamond for good, taking his career .300 average with him. "I said I would never embarrass myself on the field," he said.
It was a quiet end to a quiet Hall of Fame career--but a Hall of Fame career nonetheless. Alomar's Cooperstown profile suffers because he never spent more than five years with one team, went into a steep decline after a near-MVP 2001 season, fell 276 hits short of 3,000 and spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996. In his long prime, however, Alomar displayed instincts--including the way he mastered second base with the feet of a dancer and the hands of a jeweler--that wowed the most exacting of baseball men. Measured against the 20 second basemen in the Hall, Alomar ranks in the top half in hits, runs, RBIs, steals and average. He deserves a more glorious end to his career: the first player enshrined representing the Blue Jays. -- Tom Verducci