ESPN is reporting that the Blue Jays are set to retire Roberto Alomar's number 12 jersey during a ceremony prior to the game on July 31, which not coincidentally, is the same date as a previously scheduled Roberto Alomar bobblehead giveaway.
I'm not opposed to the concept of retiring numbers. Most people perceive this to be the highest honor a team can bestow on one of its players. However, the Blue Jays have never done this before, instead opting to honor their great players in the "Ring of Excellence" where their name is displayed prominently, although their jersey numbers may be worn by future players. IF the Jays are going to start the practice of retiring numbers, then there should be some very simple criteria, which I would succinctly suggest be greatness, longevity and character. Any player who's number is to be retired should rate very highly in at least two of these categories and at least reasonably well in the third.
If we were to look at a hypothetical player who perhaps wasn't the best in the game at his position but was still very good, played for the home town team long enough to own numerous team records and was considered by most to be a model citizen, I suggest that they would be worthy (think Carlos Delgado perhaps). By contrast, a player who played at an exceptionally high level, but wasn't here long, and was reviled by teammates, would not be worthy (*cough* Clemens *cough*).
I loved Alomar when he was here. He was brilliant defensively. He had great speed, which he knew how to use. He hit for average and even had some power to go along with it. He was an exceptionally smart player too. His game didn't have any holes. He was the best player on the greatest teams in Blue Jays history, including the 92 and 93 championship seasons. And most recently, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, becoming the first player to enter the Hall wearing a Jays cap.
But beyond that, he hit what is, in my opinion, the biggest home run in Blue Jays history - a 2 run shot off Eckersley in the top of the 9th in game 4 of the 92 ALCS that tied the game. [Yes, I know Joe Carter's home run "won" the World Series. But even if Joe Carter doesn't hit that home run, the Jays could still have won in game 7. And even if they didn't win in 93, they had already won in 92. By comparison, if Alomar doesn't hit that home run, the Jays - who at that time had a well-deserved reputation as chokers after their collapse in the 85 LCS, 87 vs Detroit, and 91 ALCS - are probably only 50/50 to beat Oakland and if they don't win, who konws if they ever sign Molitor and Stewart in 93]. Incidentally, the bobblehead depicts Alomar in the famous image of him with both arms raised and index fingers pionting to the sky after hitting the home run off Eckersley.
The problem I have is that although Alomar certainly qualifies in one of the three categories (greatness), he falls somewhat short in the other two.
For all the memories, he was only a Blue Jay for 5 seasons. Consequently, his name is conspicuous by its absence from virtually all Blue Jays career records. Also, at least from a statistical standpoint, his best and third best career seasons came as a member of the Cleveland Indians, several years after leaving Toronto. I don't necessarily count this against him, but to the extent his number is being retired in recognition of his impending Hall of Fame induction, this is somewhat misguided.
Then there is the whole character issue. For almost the entire time he was in Toronto, he was the darling of the city. His teammates seemed to admire him, the fans adored him, the media treated him well and corporations lined up to have him schill for their brands ("Catch the Taste!!"). But then, in '95 the Jays were terrible and Alomar didn't want to be here. When the trade deadline came and went and he was still listening to two anthems before every game, he sulked and eventually quit on the team.
But even if you're able to sweep the 95 season under the rug, it's pretty hard to forget the spitting incident the following year in Toronto when Alomar was wearing an Orioles uniform. And if you think I'm being overly harsh or unforgiving, consider how the Hall of Fame voters made Robbie sit on the pine for a year as punishment for this incident before electing him to the Hall this year. How else can one explain the unprecedented increase in votes from last year to this year? Did the writers suddenly find some new appreciation for his career? Hardly.
Perhaps if the Jays had already retired someone else's number, I'd feel differently. But to do this now feels...wrong.