Updated: Feb 5, 2021
This week, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about a defensive play that's been living in my mind, rent free, for as long as I can remember. It's always been there, waiting for an opportunity to fully consume my mind, and just for today, I'm going to grant it's wish. I think the reason it's been able to live in my subconscious for years is because it has this unique quality that helps it stick out in the never ending deluge of home run robberies and diving stops. It stands alone as a unicorn of sorts; a play so odd and so amazing that it needs to be documented.
The play in question occurred on August 2nd 1994 inside the newly opened Jacobs Field in Cleveland, Ohio. On that day and in that place, the Cleveland Indians, who had been competing neck-and-neck with the Chicago White Sox for the AL Central divisional crown, were hosting the lowly Detroit Tigers, who were wallowing in the AL East basement.
Pitching for the Tribe that day was Jack Morris, who was just one of a plethora of Hall of Fame-caliber players on the field that day. Beyond Morris, the Indians had two other future Hall of Famers in Jim Thome and Eddie Murray as well as other prominent names including the speedy center fielder Kenny Lofton, the magical shortstop Omar Vizquel, and some young kid named Manny Ramirez. And while each of them were crucial in leading the Indians to a 60-43 record up until that point, the guy at the center of this story was someone entirely different.
No, the main character of this story was catcher Sandy Alomar Jr., who for a time was one of the American League's premier backstops. Born in Puerto Rico in 1966, Alomar Jr. was born the son of former journeyman second baseman Sandy Alomar Sr. and the brother to legendary Blue Jay Roberto Alomar, who is in the Hall of Fame. Over the course of his career, Alomar Jr. was voted on to six All-Star teams and won the Rookie of the Year and a Gold Glove in 1990. His efforts at the dish and behind the plate were celebrated by the Indians in 2009, when the club elected him into their team's Hall of Fame.
But in 1994, Sandy was in the middle of what was a pretty anonymous season for him. While he did finish the season with career highs In home runs, on base percentage, and other offensive categories, his work in the field was slightly worse than many of his previous campaigns. Worse than his struggles was that it didn't seem, at least on paper, that he was improving as a defensive catcher.
Nevertheless, at least for one day, he was able to quash those concerns with one beautiful grab. But we'll get to that in just a minute.
That's because in order to adequately paint this picture, I think that we need to introduce the other main character of this little story. While the Tigers were pretty terrible in 1994, the Motor City did pack a roster with some big names at the time. They had Eric Davis, who was fresh out of Cincinnati, in center field, and a star-studded infield packed with five time All-Star Travis Fryman at third base, Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell, a multiple time Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient in Lou Whittaker at second base, and the other focus of this story, slugging first baseman Cecil Fielder.
For those of you who need a refresher on Cecil, he was, and probably still is, a towering man standing at six-foot three inches and weighing around 230 pounds. Over his 13-year career playing all around the American League, he ripped 319 home runs and drove in over 1000 runs. He was also a part of the 1996 New York Yankees squad that won the World Series. And not for nothing, but just as Sandy Alomar Jr. had a father in the majors before him, Cecil Fielder would later have a son in the majors. Some day, we'll talk about Prince Fielder, because he had a few moments that are worth remembering.
Cecil Fielder came up to bat in the top of the first inning with a runner on first and two outs. After he fought off four pitches from Jack Morris, Fielder swung as the runner on first attempted to steal second in what looked like a hit and run attempt. However, Fielder didn't get all of Morris's pitch and he popped it back behind home plate and almost certainly out of play. Nevertheless, Sandy Alomar Jr. tore off his face mask and went to locate the fouled off pitch.
Alomar Jr. soon found the pop up and shifted his way toward the back wall, a wall that was covered not by padding as most outfield walls do, but by a net. Without any hesitation or concern for his own body, the Puerto Rican leapt all the way up over the fence, somehow made the catch with his arm hanging at a less than comfortable angle, and almost fell over on the other side of the wall.
By the time the fans and media started to realize that Alomar Jr. had actually made the catch, he had righted his body and was starting to make his way back on to the field. The only issue Sandy had in reuniting with the ground was that his left knee protector got caught in the netting. Luckily for him, there was a Good Samaritan who was willing to help him get uncaught while home plate umpire Joe Brinkman held Alomar's leg so that the catcher wouldn't fall and get hurt.
Unfortunately for the sake of historical editorial, I couldn't find any literature about the play from that time. Maybe it was because the Indians ended up losing. Maybe it was because it was a great play but it was irrelevant to the rest of the game. Or maybe it was because the season was just days from being cancelled. Yes, this happened during the fabled 1994 campaign in which all of baseball shut down on August 11th. That AL Central Divisional race ended up meaning nothing. The Tigers' horrific season could be flushed down the toilet. But that play made by Sandy Alomar Jr. will always mean something to those who have been able to witness it.
I'd like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my previous posts on Gary Matthews Jr. and Adam Dunn. Both posts have had incredible support, not only in how many of you have read them, but also in your kind comments all across the Internet. I hope you all stay around, subscribe to this blog down below, and enjoy the posts to come.
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