Padres Hope That in Alomar, They Have Second to None Other
Remember Timry Flanster?
That’s right, the second baseman with the split personality. He had two heads, four arms and four legs. He was surfer blond, and he was Afro urbane. Naturally, he was a switch-hitter.
He , of course, was the platoon combination of Tim Flannery and Jerry Royster, and he was part of what started out to be a rather good decade for Padre second basemen.
You see, the Padres spent their first 10 years sorting through the most motley crew of second basemen imaginable. The starting second baseman should have had a locker labeled occupant . . . and maybe that was the name he should have had on the back of his uniform.
In those days, to be sure, they would have been happy to find a guy whose combined batting and fielding averages were 1.000.
And then came the 1980s.
Along came Juan Bonilla. He would be the man for the decade. He was a pepper pot whose specialty was taunting the Dodgers. He got them so discombobulated that otherwise mediocre Padre teams took them apart. Now it was only a matter of time to find the players to beat the other 10 teams.
Unfortunately, Bonilla broke his wrist and never made it back. However, the wrist did not end his Padre career. Drugs did. This is not a very forgiving organization when drugs are involved.
So The Great Experiments began.
To replace Bonilla, the guy they thought would be a fixture for as close to forever as baseball can get, they drafted a left fielder out of the Dodger organization. His name was Alan Wiggins, and all they did in his first full year at second was win the National League pennant because all he did was steal 70 bases and score 106 runs.
And darned if drugs did not take him for a walk too.
That was where Timry Flanster came in, replacing Wiggins. Timry could hit a little bit and play a little bit of defense, but he was a salve rather than a solution.
And solutions are not easy to come by, especially when a position has become a black hole into which people keep disappearing.
“It looked like we were set with Bonilla, and he faded,” Jack McKeon said, “and then we lost Wiggins too. You lose two guys like that at such a key position, and it sets the whole organization back. It took us until last year to recover.”
What happened last year was that Roberto Alomar came along.
Not surprising, the Padres seemed reluctant to anoint him. In the aftermath of the Bonilla-Wiggins debacles, they had unsuccessfully attempted to rush Bip Roberts and Joey Cora from double-A to San Diego. Neither was ready.
So Roberto Alomar was sent to Las Vegas to start the 1988 season.
“I thought he was ready to play up here,” said third base coach Sandy Alomar, who happens to be Roberto’s father. “But it was good in a way that he went down, because that way there wasn’t so much pressure after the Bip Roberts thing and the Joey Cora thing.”
As it turned out, Alomar was in Las Vegas about as long as it takes to roll a game of craps. He played all of nine games of triple-A baseball before he went into Manager Steve Smith’s office to complain that his name was not in the lineup for Game 10.
Roberto Alomar’s name was in the lineup . . . the Padres’ lineup.
This, then, is a different sort of spring for the 21-year-old Puerto Rican. There is no job to be won, for the job is his.
“Last year I have to come here and try to make the team,” he said. “You have to do everything, and sometimes you try to do too much. Now I am here. I have to do the best I can do. I don’t have to come and make the team, but I have to come and work hard.”
Young Alomar talks much about hard work, as though nothing is to be taken for granted. Perhaps he is aware of the star-crossed history of those who would be the Padres’ saviors at second base.
“When I came here,” he said, “I never thought about what happened to Joey and what happened to Bip. I just came here to win the position.”
Being his father’s son has helped, because he has been around baseball all his life. When his father was with the Angels, Alomar was not old enough to count to five, but he knew Nolan Ryan wore No. 30. By the time he was 7, Alomar’s goal was to be a switch-hitting major league second baseman by the time he was 20 . . . just like his father.
“When I had to punish him,” his father laughed, “all I had to do was take his bat and glove away. I never had to spank him.”
No one will be taking his bat and glove away now.
After settling into place last summer, he batted .316 for the last two months of the season and finished at .256. The glove was never a problem, since he was almost literally born with it.
And so this young man and this fragile position are givens for the Padres in this spring of great expectations.
It would seem obvious that the Padres have the second baseman who will take them into and through the 1990s, but no one is making such outrageous and sensible predictions. After all, second base on this team is not a position, but rather an insatiable monster that devours its young.