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The Other Alomar
Tim Crothers
April 28, 1997
Sandy Alomar Jr. is making people forget about his brother Roberto, Cubs Flubs, Middle Relief Madness
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April 28, 1997

The Other Alomar

Sandy Alomar Jr. is making people forget about his brother Roberto, Cubs Flubs, Middle Relief Madness

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Bad from Beginning to End

History tells us that when a team gets off to a dismal start, it has pretty much consigned itself to the second division for the rest of the season. Before the Cubs' 0-14 debut this year, the teams listed below had achieved the five longest winless starts ever—with predictably grim results at season's end.

YEAR

TEAM

START

FINAL RECORD

FINISH

(GAMES BACK)

1988

Orioles

0-21

54-107

Last

(34½)

1920

Tigers

0-13

61-93

7th

(37)

1904

Senators

0-13

38-113

Last

(55½)

1988

Braves

0-10

54-106

Last

(39½)

1968

White Sox

0-10

67-95

9th

(36)

As the 1997 season cleared the launch-pad, it was no surprise to see the name Alomar dominating the headlines. Roberto Alomar, the Orioles' second baseman, figured to be an April story (he was suspended for the first five games this year as punishment for spitting at umpire John Hirshbeck last September), but it was Robbie's big brother Sandy, the starting catcher for the Indians, who was really making news. Through Sunday, Sandy was leading the American League with a .458 batting average and a .938 slugging percentage, which shocked everyone, including his seven-year-old son, Marcus.

"Dad, are you really hitting better than Ken Griffey Jr.?" Marcus asked over breakfast last week.

"Let's find out," Sandy said. "Go get the newspaper."

"That's awesome, Dad!" Marcus yelled after checking the stats. "Can I put your poster up in my room?" Previously Marcus had said that wall space in his bedroom was so tight that he could squeeze in only posters of Griffey and one other big leaguer: his uncle, Roberto.

So much attention has been lavished on the immensely talented Robbie over the past several seasons that it's easy to forget that Sandy was once considered the better prospect. Sandy was named minor league Player of the Year in '88 and '89, as a Padres prospect, and after he was traded to the Indians, he was the Rookie of the Year in 1990. "When I won the Rookie of the Year award, everybody referred to Roberto as Sandy's brother," he says. "But since then, I've become known as Roberto's brother."

Sandy's career has been hindered by injuries. He was the only player in the majors to spend time on the disabled list every season from '91 through '95. "It's been real frustrating for Sandy," Roberto says. "I know he can do much better than he's done. But he has played through the pain."

Last season was the first since '90 in which the 30-year-old Sandy had at least 300 at bats, and he hit .263 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs and made the All-Star team, though he was needled by Cleveland teammates who said the votes he received must have been intended for Roberto. "Sandy's situation is a little like being Billy Ripken with Cal in the league," says Indians pitcher Charles Nagy. "It's got to be tough on Sandy because he's missed a lot of games, and the temptation is to come back and try to hit a five-run homer."

Sandy hasn't done that this season, but he did hit home runs in five consecutive games, tying a club record. At week's end his six homers, 14 RBIs, 11 extra-base hits and 45 total bases ranked him among the top seven in the league in each category. Not bad for a guy who usually hits ninth in the order.

Cleveland hitting coach Charlie Manuel credits Alomar's greater patience for the robust start. "He's always been a contact hitter who would chase bad pitches and get himself out," Manuel says. "This season he's working the count more and hitting better pitches harder. Sandy's learning that he's a much better hitter than he thought he was."

False Start

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