After several injury-plagued seasons that threatened to forever delay a promising career, the senior of the two Alomar brothers finally broke through in 1997 with a star-making season. Not only did he hit .324, slamming 21 homers and knocking in 83 runs to lead all AL catchers, but he had a season-high 30-game hit streak and hit the game-winning two-run homer at the All-Star game played at his home park, Jacobs Field. If not for his own brittleness — he made eight trips to the DL in the 1990s — and the unparalleled defensive play of Texas’ Ivan Rodriguez, Alomar might well have been considered the premier American League catcher of the decade.
Alomar topped off his career year with post-season heroics, swatting the game-tying homer off Mariano Rivera in Game Four of the ALDS (his second homer in the series) that helped put Cleveland into the ALCS. He also drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in Game Four of the ALCS, and hit .367 with two homers and a series-high 10 RBIs in the Indians’ seven-game World Series loss to the Florida Marlins.
Alomar came up to the Padres in September 1988 for a cup of coffee after being named the Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. For a brief time, he teamed with his younger brother, Roberto, and his father, Sandy Jr., who was a Padres coach. In 1989 he was again named Minor League Player of the Year (this time both by Baseball America and The Sporting News) but sat on the San Diego bench at the end of the season as Benito Santiago’s understudy. After months of trade rumors, the Padres decided that Santiago was going to be their catcher of the future and in December dealt their blue-chip catching prospect to the Cleveland Indians with Chris James and Carlos Baerga for slugger Joe Carter.
Alomar immediately fulfilled his promise in Cleveland, becoming the first rookie catcher to start the All-Star Game (where he displayed his big-game talent by collecting two hits and scoring the winning run for the AL) and only the third unanimous Rookie of the Year winner, following Carlton Fisk (1972) and Mark McGwire (1987). He also won a Gold Glove, the first Indian to be so honored since Rick Manning in 1976.
But his next three seasons — despite two more All-Star starts — were filled with injuries. In 1991, he missed eleven games with various hip and shoulder woes, and in 1992, Alomar tore cartilage in his knee while sliding into third base on August 16 and played just one more game the rest of the way. In 1993, he was slowed by a back injury over the first month of the season and was batting just .125 when he was placed on the disabled list May 2. After undergoing back surgery, Alomar was out of action until August 7.
The following seasons saw glimpses of Alomar’s talent despite limited playing time. Another injury and the players’ strike limited him to just eighty appearances in 1994, but he smacked a career-high 14 homers — all against righties — and opened the season by spoiling Randy Johnson‘s no-hit bid with an eighth-inning single in the first game ever played in Jacobs Field. Alomar hit .300 for the first time in 1995, but his chronic knee injury limited him to just 54 starts for the Indians.
1996 marked the first time since his rookie year that Alomar managed to avoid the disabled list for an entire season. Appearing in 127 games, he was named to his fourth All-Star team but hit only .232 in the second half, raising questions about his stamina. In 1997, those doubts were set aside. His mid-season 30-game hit streak fell one short of the Indians’ record set by Nap Lajoie in 1906, and four short of Benito Santiago’s major-league record for catchers, set in 1987.
Alomar fell back to earth in 1998 (.235, 6, 44) and bone chips in his left knee forced another visit to the DL in 1999. After undergoing his eighth knee surgery (seven on the left, one on the right) Alomar missed nearly four months of the season. Worst of all, it limited his chances to play alongside his brother Roberto, who had been signed as a free agent before the season began