12-time All-Star retires; has back, vision problems
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Roberto Alomar retired Saturday, ending a career in which he became one of baseball's best second basemen and, for a time, its most scorned player.
The 12-time All-Star called it quits with Tampa Bay, finishing just 276 hits shy of 3,000. He led Toronto to consecutive World Series titles in 1992-93 and was considered by many a lock for the Hall of Fame until a swift decline the last three seasons as he drifted from team to team.
Alomar's legacy was tarnished, however, when he spit in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck in 1996 while with Baltimore. The messy confrontation made front-page news all over the country and turned Alomar into a target for angry fans throughout the majors.
He made matters worse afterward by saying he thought Hirschbeck was under stress because his 8-year-old son, John Drew, had died of a rare brain disease three years earlier, prompting the umpire to charge into the Orioles' clubhouse looking for Alomar.
Yet soon, the two became friends, and even worked together to raise money to fight that brain disease. And now Alomar deeply regrets losing his temper during a heated argument over balls and strikes.
"I wish it never happened," he said, "and I hope that's not how people remember me."
Alomar's announcement came one day after he committed two errors in one inning of a spring training game with the Devil Rays, who signed him to a $600,000, one-year contract in January.
Tampa Bay was attractive to Alomar because he wanted another chance to play every day, but the 37-year-old switch-hitter has been bothered by back and vision problems in recent weeks.
"I played a lot of games and I said I would never embarrass myself on the field," Alomar said. "I had a long career, but I can't play at the level I want to play, so it's time to retire."
He said he had doubts even entering camp.
"I just can't go anymore," Alomar said. "My back, legs and eyes aren't the same."
Alomar also played for San Diego, Cleveland, the New York Mets, Arizona, and the Chicago White Sox during 17 seasons in the major leagues. In his prime, he was one of the best all-around players in the game, blessed with speed, smarts and extra-base power.
He became the biggest star in a famous baseball family. Alomar's older brother, Sandy Jr., is a catcher with Texas who is entering his 18th major league season. They were teammates in San Diego, Cleveland and Chicago. Their father, Sandy, spent 15 seasons in the big leagues and is now a coach with the Mets.
A 10-time Gold Glove winner and career .300 hitter, Roberto Alomar was an All-Star for 11 consecutive seasons from 1991-2001, but struggled while batting .266, .258 and .263 the past three years.
In 2004, he missed two months with a broken right hand and finished with four homers and 24 RBI in 56 games for the Diamondbacks and White Sox.
Tampa Bay general manager Chuck LaMar said there will always be a place in the organization for Alomar, even though he never played a regular-season game with the team.
"We wanted to give him a chance," LaMar said. "For 17 years he has been one of the greatest, if not the greatest, second basemen ever to play the game. We would be honored to keep him with the team in some capacity."
With Alomar leaving, Jorge Cantu figures to take over at second base. He hit .301 in 50 games for Tampa Bay last season, his first in the majors.
"I learned a lot from him and I have all the respect in the world for him," Cantu said. "I watched him when I was a kid and looked up to him all through the minor leagues. You have to respect what he's done."
Also Saturday, Tampa Bay outfielder Danny Bautista retired. Bautista batted .286 with 11 homers and 65 RBI last season with Arizona.
Bautista was in the major leagues for parts of 12 seasons with Detroit, Atlanta, Florida and the Diamondbacks. He hit .272 in 895 career games, and went 7-for-12 to help Arizona beat the New York Yankees in the 2001 World Series.
"I wasn't caught totally off-guard," LaMar said. "Danny had been struggling the last five days, so we have had a feeling something might happen, but this was kind of surprising. I just think that he's a class act."
The Devil Rays signed speedy outfielder Alex Sanchez, released by Detroit on Tuesday. Sanchez hit .322 with 19 stolen bases in 79 games for the Tigers last season.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press