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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Disgraceland

We may be more than halfway home, but down in Met Hell we’ve still got a little ways to go. And two more permanent residents to confront.

In the non-baseball Inferno, the Eighth Circle of Hell was Malebolge, a domain of ditches separated by great folds of earth. The inhabitants of those ditches included hypocrites, thieves, false counselors, sowers of schism and falsifiers — all apt descriptions for the man who dwells forever in the Eighth Circle of Met Hell.

When he arrived in 2002, he seemed destined for a realm both loftier and gentler: He’d just turned 34 and had a fair amount of mileage, but hardly seemed like he was about to slow down. Why, the previous year he’d hit .336, driven in 100 runs, stolen 30 bases and won a Gold Glove. He was a sure-fire Hall of Famer and a member-in-waiting of the 3,000 Hit Club. It seemed quite possible that he’d reach that lofty plateau as a Met — after all, he had 2,389 hits on his resume already, and spent his first winter in Port St. Lucie talking about a contract extension.

When things hit a bump early, our latest Met hero kept talking a good game. Officially, anyway: “I’m happy here. I want to play here and I want to stay here and hopefully things can get better. There’s things said that I haven’t said. I haven’t opened my mouth, and then other people open their mouth and say, ‘Robbie’s not happy,’ this and that. Maybe there’s another Robbie Alomar out there.”

Hmm. If there was, it would explain a lot. Because the Roberto Alomar Met fans endured for 222 dismal games in 2002 and 2003 sure didn’t seem very interested in playing baseball.

In 2002 he hit .266, drove in 53 runs and stole 16 bases. Mediocre numbers, but rarely has a player shown so little in achieving mediocrity. Shea Stadium didn’t seem to agree with him: There were mutterings (always secondhand) that he was dismayed to see previous years’ home runs turn into flyouts, that he was miffed to find Shea’s thick grass turning ground-ball hits into 5-3s and 6-3s and 3-1s. Maybe that was the explanation for his mulish insistence on dropping down bunt after bunt, regardless of whether or not the situation called for one. And then plenty of times Alomar would snatch defeat from the jaws of questionable ideas, turning potential bunt hits, however ill-conceived, into outs by trying to dive head-first into first base.

In the field, that Gold Glove turned into pyrite. Balls that he snapped up in San Diego and Toronto and Baltimore and Cleveland skittered by him, but the worst thing was watching him turn the pivot. One of the most-acrobatic second basemen in the history of the game had turned into Gregg Jefferies: He’d take throws from shortstop with his rear end heading for left-center, shot-putting a lollipop throw that would float into the first baseman’s glove or bounce into it after the batter crossed first. It happened again and again and again, as Met announcers wondered what was going on and the boos came down from the stands.

But surely a lock for Cooperstown made his teammates better with his intangibles? Ha ha ha. Alomar sulked about being moving around in the batting order and took such umbrage to needling about his rookie card from Roger Cedeno (who may not be able to play baseball but has always been hailed as a prince of a guy) that Mo Vaughn had to intervene in the dugout in front of TV, God and everyone. Then in April 2003 he was part of the double-play tandem that blamed Jae Seo — a rookie — for the well-coiffed, Bentley-driving Rey Sanchez’s failure to cover the bag against the Expos. That’s veteran leadership! (Given that Jose Reyes’ first two double-play mates and counselors were Alomar and Sanchez, it’s a testament to his character that he isn’t Maurice Clarett.)

Then, in late June 2003, a miraculous thing happened. Suddenly Alomar was hanging in there on the pivot. Suddenly plays not made for a season and a half were being made. Suddenly he looked like…well, suddenly he looked like Roberto Alomar. The source of this miracle? The Mets were openly shopping him on the trade market. (Talk about testaments to character.) When Alomar was sent to the White Sox, he departed without mentioning the mysterious Other Roberto Alomar: “I didn’t feel real comfortable with the situation. Sometimes teams don’t work for you. I think the New York Mets weren’t the right team for me.”

Of course, sometimes players don’t work for teams. Gary Cohen, witnessing the Miracle of Robbie, turned the blowtorch on, offering a furious, dead-on indictment of his halfhearted play and famously calling him a disgrace. The response from Alomar (who was honoring the White Sox by showing actual interest in the game he was paid millions to play) was to boycott the New York media. “I heard the tape,” he said of Cohen, adding that “I did the best I could. It just didn’t work out. But to say I was a disgrace or I didn’t play hard, I don’t understand that.”

Perhaps he was also baffled by the Arizona Diamondbacks’ reaction to the mystery of Roberto Alomar. Alomar went to camp with the D’Backs in 2004, where it was hoped he’d tutor young Matt Kata. Instead, Arizona officials were left puzzled by his vanished range and lack of interest in fielding uncooperative grounders. He wound up back with the White Sox briefly, signed with the Devil Rays, then retired in March 2005, explaining (without apparent irony) that “I played a lot of games and I said I would never embarrass myself on the field.”

Alomar will undoubtedly be part of the 2010 Hall of Fame class, which means I will seethe at the voting results and again at whatever self-serving nonsense emerges from his mouth upon his induction. But I take comfort in this: No examination of his career that’s more than a couple of paragraphs long will fail to note his precipitous decline, or ponder the reasons for it. And no one who ever watched him play in New York will let a discussion of him go by without noting that he was a selfish, malingering washout in baseball’s premier city.

Robbie, I know you have to wait until 2010 to get to Cooperstown. But you don’t have to wait another minute for your induction into Met Hell, where your plaque will always be displayed. If you’re passing by, here are some words on it that might jump out at you:

HYPOCRITE

THIEF

FALSE COUNSELOR

SOWER OF SCHISMS

FALSIFIER

And finally, this one:

DISGRACE

8 comments to Disgraceland

  • Anonymous

    I had looked forward to a Met collecting a 3,000th hit, so much so that when Robbie Alomar got No. 2,500 on July 26, 2002 versus the Reds, I joined in the standing ovation that all of Shea gave him. Since nobody particularly liked Alomar even by then, it felt like we were responding to a giant APPLAUSE sign the way the Saturday Night Live audience must when it's five clinkers into a show.
    Robbie also got — and Emily should be able to back me up on this (I think you arrived late and missed the heartfelt tribute) — the “Simply The Best” treatment. Surely you'll recall how every time the Mets or a Met did anything from 1999 (ten years after Tina Turner released the song) to that moment, “Simply The Best” was blasted. Force a one-game playoff? Simply The Best. Reach another catcher home run milestone? Simply The Best. Break the all-time pinch-hitting record? Simply The Best. Sponsor Muddy Mudskipper Cereal Bowl Caddy Day? Simply The Best. By the time Ms. Turner was belting one out to Robbie Alomar, it was simply perfunctory. I don't know that it's been used since then. There was a sharp falloff in moments that could be considered remotely the best right around that time in 2002.
    You mention Gregg Jefferies. I remember expending brain cells over worry that young Roberto Alomar would ace our prodigy out of the reserve second base spot on the 1990 All-Star team. He did and I was distraught. In retrospect I was right to take Jefferies' side. He may never have grown up but at least he didn't grow up to be Alomar.
    I heard Gary take Robbie out to the woodshed after the blessed trade. I only wish it had been broadcast over the Shea PA, coast-to-coast and around the world to our men and women in uniform over Armed Forces Radio. It was that monumental a truth-telling. Thing is Gary wasn't just letting loose after the fact. He was on Robbie's case (justifiably so) from the moment Alomar indicated he'd be stealing every penny of his compensation.
    Speaking of compensation, I'd like one standing ovation returned to me, one play of “Nutbush City Limits” to overlay the forever polluted recollection of “Simply The Best” and a do-over for every impulse — including the one reasoning away the trading of Rick for Lawton because Lawton was the bait used to lure Alomar from the Indians — that said, “Wow, this is great that we got Robbie Alomar!” I'm especially disgusted that when Stephanie thoughtfully surprised me in that foreboding '01-'02 off-season with a VAUGHN 42 t-shirt that I reacted with barely masked disappointment that it wasn't an ALOMAR 12.
    Incidentally, I bought DELGADO 21 the other day. I hope the fact that it's the inverse of 12 means something.

  • Anonymous

    This should really be a winter post of its own, but “Simply the Best” (a Google search reveals it's simply known as “The Best,” but who gives a shit) is simply the worst song in the history of ballpark celebrations. Besides the fact that it sucks, it's obvious that it was written for unimaginative cretins who handle stadium entertainment to play. Holly Knight, here's a plaque in Mets Hell for you too.

  • Anonymous

    Are you guys sure? That night, I thought they played, “Dimly depressed! Veteran on recess…”

  • Anonymous

    Not to quibble with your very apt post, I do believe Alomar did more harm to his Hall of Fame credentials than you state. That last impression of him, as a malingering, malcontented dog was powerful. Hall of Fame selection is, after all, subjective and while Alomar's stats place him securely among Hall of Fame second-sackers, he may not be remembered as all that great, especially among the New York writers. While I can't see him not getting in, I don't see him as a lock in his first year of eligibilty.
    Ok, on to Vince Coleman!

  • Anonymous

    I agree that Alomar may have a much harder time getting into the hall than Jason says.
    SPITTER
    TALKS SMACK ABOUT UMPIRE'S SICK KID
    MALINGERER
    These aren't really HoF attributes, especially in NY, where HoF careers certainly have been made of (IMHO) non-HoF careers. Perhaps this HoF career will hit the rocks there. He looks like a member on paper, but in my mind…

  • Anonymous

    Sandberg didn't make it in year one, so I'm guessing Alomar won't either.
    Hey, who said it's Coleman?

  • Anonymous

    Good point. Coleman didn't have any secretaries under his desk, after all. But truthfully, if it's not Coleman, it might just be time for you two to hang up the spikes. Or blow them to smithereens- whichever takes your fancy…

  • […] partner nailed all of this four years ago when he consigned Roberto Alomar to the Eighth Circle of Mets Hell: In 2002 he hit .266, drove in 53 runs and stole 16 bases. Mediocre numbers, but rarely has a […]