By now, many of you have become familiarized with my appreciation for baseball years ago when it was discovered that my love for the game and the Toronto Blue Jays was quickly manifesting itself across cyberspace thanks in part to the Jays Journal and a litany of self-produced podcasts, articles, radio appearances, round tables and run-on sentences. I’ve literally interviewed and spoken with just about everyone affiliated with the game in this city; from journalists to players to executives and beyond. The internet is just littered with Shapiro-isms if you’re clever enough to find them.
At one point, it was all about sleeping-eating-breathing-drinking baseball, and for awhile there I thought America’s National Pastime was clearly the alpha and omega in solving everything which ails our world. I mean, who didn’t savour a time when Major League Baseball had Eric Davis, Daryl Strawberry, Kirby Puckett and Rickey Henderson helping them deal with famine, climate change, AIDS and the threat of nuclear annihilation? Ozzie Smith held the pixie-dust, Dennis Eckersley was the equalizer, and Dwight Gooden drank the secret sauce (literally). Sure, they were flawed human beings in one manner or shape or form (who isn’t), but it was baseball played the way baseball was meant to be played and remembered.
I still vividly recall the trade which changed everything around these parts. It wasn’t as one-sided as the history books revealed; sure, landing a mercurial talent destined for Cooperstown in Alomar and a perennial RBI machine in Joe Carter should have ended the discussion, but it took me literally months to recover from the grief of losing both Fred McGriff and Tony Fernandez. The Crime Dog would hit almost 500 home runs with the Braves and should be in the Hall of Fame, while the latter became a close personal friend and was undeniably the greatest player to ever wear the uniform.
It changed everything because that’s what a catalyst does: he changes everything. Like a particle of powerful light, Roberto descended upon Toronto and Canada to change the way baseball was perceived and consumed. We will never replace the heroics that the former San Diego Padres players brought to the dance; it was celestially scripted. Clutch home runs during the ALCS against the best closer in baseball and also to end a World Series? Toronto’s cup spilled over with preordained jubilation and enough cherished memories to last a lifetime.
If you really think about it, Alomar’s fall from grace shouldn’t be terribly surprising to anyone who’s followed his career over the years. For the uninitiated and those too young to remember, a rage-filled Roberto returned to town with the Baltimore Orioles and spat in umpire John Hirschbeck’s face over balls and strikes during a cool September evening in Toronto back in 1996. It was gruesome and shameful; although both men would later bury the hatchet, the mystique that surrounded Alomar was beginning to wane before our very own eyes and it was troubling. Generationally, it was a disaster having moms and dads explaining to their kids why their vaunted diamond hero had suddenly devolved into a petulant man-child right in front of their young and impressionable faces.
By 2009, it was abundantly clear that all which glitters wasn’t golden. Alomar’s trials and tribulations were beginning to reveal a man hounded with a shady past and an even worse public relations agent. One that found himself embroiled in salaciously surreal off-field circumstances and niggling rumours that refused to die. Living at the SkyDome hotel, indulging in the lifestyle of the enormously wealthy and undeniably entitled. We knew and accepted how famous and impactful he was as a sports icon and gifted athlete; what we didn’t bank on was someone clearly playing fast and loose with his own fame in a sport yearning for more inspirational leaders and less opportunistic poseurs.
Now, sadly, he joins a vile pantheon of baseball villainy that needs to be read to be believed; Marge Schott’s racism, Chris Correa’s database theft, and Brandon Taubman’s misogyny are just some of the names associated with the “ineligible list” of ignominious behaviour, questionable ethics and dubious morality that Alomar finds himself on. We don’t know exactly what he did, but we know it was bad. Ugly even. To lose one’s place as an ambassador to the sport and as a steward of enshrined alumni while being removed from the SkyDome Level of Excellence after a league-sanctioned AND franchise-led investigation means you’ve probably done something indescribably horrible and completely irredeemable.
In doing so, he’s sullied his reputation and destroyed what was left of our romanticized nostalgia from an era of baseball in this city that was left largely unscathed, untainted and unbowed by the dehumanizing realities of our modern day sensibilities. Whatever innocence remained inside of me as a young boy who grew up playing baseball at the nearby church parking lot across the street, to the acne-riddled teenager who collected sticker-book memorabilia and flaunted his knowledge of the game in front of friends like a mestre in a medieval keep, has now been replaced by a jaded, disinterested middle-aged man who’s been let down time and time again by a cunningly manipulative and profit-mongering league led by an endless procession of liars, cheaters and abusers. What was anomalous is now the norm.
And that’s brutal. Because baseball can no longer even attempt to redeem itself in the face of all these corrosive scandals and existential shenanigans. In the stunning absence of enlightened leadership and progressive policies, It seems like all our heroes have become rotten to the core. Clemens and Bonds defiling of the record books and avoiding Cooperstown thanks to PEDs, Curt Schilling’s lack of humility, Trevor Bauer’s incendiary behaviour, the Houston Astros cheating their way to a championship, the drug suspensions, Roberto Osuna, Sam Dyson, Hector Olivero and the endless 50-80 game wrist slaps for domestic abuse punishments, ridiculous rule changes straight out of the Naked Gun meant to increase the pace of play and decrease the quality of product, more strikeouts than hits across the board, the gut-wrenching lack of support for their minor league system while the pandemic rages and international bonuses are awarded, surging revenue at record-breaking highs even as attendance plummets and fan interest evaporates; I’m afraid it’s all gone off the rails for me.
Seriously. You’re better off with hockey and basketball.