You can remove his name from the Wall of Excellence. You can ban him from baseball. You can prevent him from attending a celebration of his greatest team. But you can’t erase the memory or the significance of what Roberto Alomar meant to the Toronto Blue Jays.
You can’t alter history that way.
This much is true: Without Alomar there is no 1992 World Series championship. And if there is no 1992 World Series title, then you pretty much imagine there would not have been a 1993 championship team either.
The only titles in Blue Jays history began with a home run hit by Alomar on a sunny American League Championship Series afternoon in Oakland, against superb reliever Dennis Eckersley. The franchise changed that day. Before that stirring hit, the Blue Jays were the Auston Matthews’ Maple Leafs. They were full of talent but hadn’t won anything. They were considered chokers all around baseball.
And then one hit, one moment, altered everything. The way an overtime goal against Montreal or Tampa Bay could have done the same for the Maple Leafs. When you’ve never won before, when you’ve always been close, it often takes one play, one jump shot, one goal, one save, one catch, to make a difference.
Alomar is banned from baseball for what the commissioner’s office calls “sexual misconduct” and he wasn’t invited to be part of the honouring of the World Series champions. We don’t know exactly what he has been accused of here. It’s never been explained for public consumption.
We do know he is persona non grata in baseball today and maybe forever — but 30 years ago, he changed a team and a town and our own personal experiences. And that can never be forgotten by those who saw it and lived through that championship magic.
It was special then; it remains special now.
THIS AND THAT
The video presentation and on-field celebration was sensational on Saturday. Everything but the slighting of Alomar, the best player of that era. Alomar’s single and ninth inning stolen base in Game 3 of the 1992 Series led to him scoring the winning run as the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead at what was then the SkyDome. A lead they never relinquished. Alomar was shown on the video screen but wasn’t mentioned in any of the celebration … Pat Borders looked perfect in jeans, still the unlikely MVP of that Series, and maybe one of the least likely World Series MVPs in history … Missing yesterday from the ceremony were some key Blue Jays, not just Alomar. The starting infield of John Olerud, Alomar, Manny Lee and Kelly Gruber weren’t there. Also missing: Tom Henke, the closer; David Cone, who started two of the four winning games for the Jays; Jimmy Key, who started Game 4; Jack Morris who started Game 1 and 5; Ed Sprague, who had the pinch-hit home run to win Game 1. At least they got their say on the video board … What nonsense from television — going from a Joe Carter pre-ceremony interview to a SNBets advertorial format. Like we really needed to see that on a day like this one … Still feel a touch cheated that the Blue Jays didn’t get credited for a triple play after a sensational catch by Devon White and an infield tag by Gruber in Game 3. Things to know now: The umpire then was Joe West. The runner tagged out was Deion Sanders … Nice touch whoever came up with honouring the longtime radio voices Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth … Just thought of this yesterday: Dave Winfield, all-time great, one season in Toronto, one championship. Kawhi Leonard, all-time great, one season in Toronto, one championship.
HEAR AND THERE
If Phil Kessel can play goal, what a great signing by the Vegas Golden Knights. If he can’t, who’s going to stop pucks in Las Vegas? … Kessel will still help the Knights. He’s still an elite passer on a team that needs offensive flair … As expected, Mike Babcock has resigned as coach of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. When and if he gets to coach again in the NHL is anyone’s guess … The guessing around the NHL is that Zdeno Chara has played his last game. For those counting, that’s 1,880 regular season and playoff games. A lifetime — and then some — for the future Hall of Famer … All around sports, players are cheering for Tom Brady, who somehow found time to go on vacation in the middle of training camp. You go, Tom … For sale, the Los Angeles Angels, the Washington Nationals and maybe the Baltimore Orioles and big-wig Ted Leonsis apparently has interest in the Orioles … Could the summer have gone any worse for Bell and Rogers, owners of the Leafs, Raptors, Argos, Toronto FC and in Rogers case, the Blue Jays by itself? The only way it could have gone worse: If either company owned Air Canada or Pearson International Airport? … At even strength last season, Alex Kerfoot had 37 assists and 50 points, nine more assists and one point more than William Nylander. The Leafs are going to have to find a way to replace the 21 goals missing with Ilya Mikheyev gone to Vancouver.
SCENE AND HEARD
Two things that don’t seem to match: Ross Atkins and Twitter … Matt Chapman is so remarkable at third base that you forget, sometimes, how his offence comes and goes. He’s hitting .177 in August after hitting .179 in May. In between, he had OPS numbers at 1.095 and .851 in July and June. So far this season, he’s had two great hitting months and three months of below average production … Bo Bichette’s numbers are down, 37 points in hitting, 43 points in onbase average, 60 points in slugging. There seems to be concern about that at a time when there is little concern that Vladimir Guerrero’s average is down 28 points from a year ago, down 49 points in onbase percentage and down 100 points in slugging … There’s something about manager John Schneider that has the look of a keeper. But we’ll know an awful lot more about him after September and the post-season. The Jays can’t name him as their permanent manager until they go through the minority interview process after the season concludes … Is it just me or does it seem inappropriate that the Blue Jays will open next season playing the St. Louis Cardinals? … It’s entirely possible that the Atlanta Braves, with a Canadian general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, will play the Philadelphia Phillies, managed by Canadian Rob Thomson, in the first round of the National League playoffs. That’s never happened before. The Phillies are 49-26 since Thomson took over for the fired Joe Girardi … Jordan Romano grew up in Markham, Ont., learned to pitch for the Ontario Blue Jays, became a star in Toronto closing for the Jays. So why won’t he be playing for Canada in the World Cup of Baseball? He’s playing for Italy, which is his choice. He’s loyal but in this case, he’s probably wrong.
AND ANOTHER THING
The CFL’s biggest problem right now — aside from the annual CFL problems — is the lack of quality quarterbacking. The East doesn’t have a great quarterback. Before he got hurt, amazing Canadian Nathan Rourke was putting up all-time numbers. And there’s Zach Collaros. And then who? The Eastern teams are 13-27 this season, nobody with a winning record … It’s hard to believe a team coached by Orlondo Steinauer can be as bad as this edition of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats seems to be … On Friday night, McLeod Bethel-Thompson moved up to fourth all-time on the Argos passing list, behind Ricky Ray, Condredge Holloway and Damon Allen. As they used to say on Sesame Street, one of these things is not like the other … The Winnipeg-Calgary game Thursday night should be packaged and sold. That was quality football … The Argos had an open practice this week, which is nice for the public, if you want to pay to get into the CNE, if you want to pay to park or use transit, if you want to pay $8 to play whack-a-mole or $30 for lunch. Not exactly a way to attract new fans … Bianca Belair is the EST of the WWE, whatever that means, but she’s no Air Canada fan. Belair tweeted to her 560,000 followers that she would rather walk in to Canada next time to do her work rather than trust Air Canada, who lost her luggage for days of her Canadian tour … Happy birthday to Sgt. Slaughter (74), Ron Guidry (72), LaMelo Ball (21), Adam Oates (60), Pierre Turgeon (53), Bismack Biyombo (30), Lou Piniella (79), Jim Thome (52) and Rosie MacLennan (34) … And, hey, whatever became of Troy Glaus?
GILLICK WAS REAL MVP OF ’92 WORLD SERIES
The real MVP of the 1992 World Series team, big picture, was general manager Pat Gillick, who was unable to be present for the celebration on Saturday at Rogers Centre.
Gillick traded for Joe Carter and Robbie Alomar in 1991. Before and after that, he picked up Tom Henke, Kelly Gruber, Duane Ward, Devon White and Juan Guzman — giving up next to nothing in exchange for all of them.
He brought in Candy Maldonado to play left field. He drafted and helped develop Jimmy Key, Dave Stieb, Series MVP Pat Borders, Game 2 hero Ed Sprague and starter/reliever David Wells. He signed Jack Morris and Dave Winfield as free agents and traded for David Cone as the final pitching piece for what would become a championship team.
Cone started two of the four winning games for Toronto against the pitching deep Atlanta Braves.
Sprague hit the pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning — the most important hit in the Series — to win Game 2 for the Jays. Had Toronto gone down 2-0, there would have been little chance of the Jays coming back to win the Series.
Key’s only start of the post-season came in the Jays’ second win of the Series in Game 3 but he pitched brilliantly. Guzman won Game 4, putting the Jays up 3-1.Cone started Game 6, which was won by the Jays in extra innings on a Winfield hit.
Henke, picked up from Texas in 1985 as compensation, had a terrific post-season as closer as did set up man Ward, who was acquired six years earlier in a trade for Doyle Alexander.
The Jays bullpen in the 1992 Series pitched 18.1 innings against Atlanta and gave up one earned run. By any standards those are remarkable numbers. And all four wins against the Braves were one-run victories. That seems forgotten over time.
One came in the ninth inning. One in extra innings. One in the eighth. With a Game 4 pitching matchup of Key vs. Tom Glavine, a 2-1 game, tilting the series in the Blue Jays’ favour. The Jays won the Series in the 11th inning of Game 6 in Atlanta, with Gaston using seven different pitchers that night.
Toronto only scored 17 runs in six games in the Series but it was enough to win with the kind of pitching and defence Gillick and manager Cito Gaston so admired. A team pieced together over time by Gillick and his staff. His first World Series. His team.
CANADA’S GOALTENDING NOT WHAT IT ONCE WAS
If Team USA was picking a goaltender to start in the 2024 World Cup of Hockey — assuming there is a World Cup of Hockey — who would be the starter?
Thatcher Demko? Connor Hellebuyck? Jake Oettinger? John Gibson? Jack Campbell? Jonathan Quick? Jeremy Swayman?
That’s an impressive list and if Demko and Oettinger continue on their current path, they will be among the best goaltenders in all of hockey.
The U.S. can go seven deep in goal and a year from now picking a starter might be easier than it would be today.
But the Americans have choices, high-end choices. At a time when Canadian goaltending is probably at an all-time low.
Finland has Jussi Saros to start. Russia, if allowed to play, would start either Andrei Vasilevskiy or Igor Shesterkin. Sweden would look to Jacob Markstrom. And, if there was a team from Denmark, which isn’t likely, Freddie Andersen would be in goal.
There is no Canadian equivalent of the other likely starters in the World Cup. That can change, of course, if Carter Hart finds his way in Philadelphia or Tristan Jarry continues to improve in Pittsburgh or Jordan Binnington returns to form in Philadelphia or Darcy Kuemper is better than many of us believe him to be.
None of them remind anyone of Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy or Roberto Luongo, which should trouble those interested in the development of hockey in Canada. There is a Connor McDavid and a Nathan MacKinnon up front. There is a Cale Makar on the back end. There is absolute elite talent at every position but the most important one.
And how does that get fixed in the immediate and long-term future?
BLUE JAYS FIGHTING FOR PLAYOFF POSITIONING
The series in New York, the three wins for the Blue Jays over the high-end Yankees, was supposed to be the defining series of this American League season for Toronto.
But when the Jays failed to win the fourth game and sweep New York at home, two things seemed to happen almost immediately: The Yankees haven’t lost a game since and, as of Saturday afternoon, the Jays had dropped back to the final wild-card spot in the standings.
If the playoffs were starting now, Toronto would be on the road in Cleveland for all three wild-card games to play the kind of old-school Guardians team they don’t seem to match up well against.
Heading into Sunday, the Jays have 37 games remaining and an easy schedule to end this month and head into September. They go from moribund Angels to the rather dreadful Chicago Cubs and then the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates before the challenge of September gets intriguing.
Toronto plays Tampa Bay nine times in September. Head-to-head, those games could and should decide where the Jays finish in the playoff race. They also play the still-hungry Baltimore Orioles — who may or may not be alive in the playoff race when the season comes to an end — six times in the final month and days of the season.
Cleveland has a three-game lead in the Central Division and looks to be well on its way to maintaining that position.
Seattle is one game and a tie-breaker advantage ahead of the Jays before its Saturday afternoon game, which is basically a two-game lead.
The bet here is that Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Toronto and Seattle will be the four wild-card round teams in the American League playoffs. The question — and maybe it’s more important now than ever — who gets home-field advantage?
The Jays aren’t fighting for a playoff spot as much as they’re fighting for playoff positioning. It should make the final month of the season more fascinating than usual.