The Cleveland Indians second base position has all but been a position carousel since the 2001 season. As a matter of fact, Ron Belliard is the only player that has played in more than 100 games in back-to-back seasons since then (2004 and 2005), at least in the Aught seasons. Belliard was a solid player, but his defensive shortcomings and rather average bat keep him off anyone’s all-anything team.
The best player at the position since the Aught-One season had been Asdrubal Cabrera, a true shortstop. Cabrera never played 100 games at second, and has since been moved back to short. Top prospect Brandon Phillips and Josh Barfield both logged singular 100+ game seasons at the position, which traumatized both so much that they were sent down to the minors the following year. Ricky Gutierrez was signed in 2002, but a severe neck injury kept him from ever being an effective player on the reservation. To find the best player of the decade, you had to look prior to 2002.
The All-Aught Indians second baseman is Roberto Alomar.
Alomar’s career with the Indians began in 1999, but there was some scuttlebutt that he might come to Cleveland as a free agent after the 1995 season. Roberto had played winter ball with his brother Sandy Jr. and Carlos Baerga. Baerga moved to third during these winter excursions between friends, while Alomar manned second base. There was some thought that the same could happen in Cleveland if Alomar took a pay-cut, but Alomar signed with the Orioles instead.
Alomar went on to infamously spit in John Hirschbeck’s face during the last series of that season (which marred a spectacular season, and up until recently, a sensational career). Thanks to the union, Alomar wasn’t suspended until the start of the 1997 season, allowing him to play against the Tribe in the playoffs. Alomar eventually hit the deciding game-four home run against Jose Mesa and the Indians to eliminate them from the 1996 playoffs.
Boy, it makes you wonder what would have happened to the Indians and Alomar had they signed him instead of Baltimore.
With the elephant in the room taken care of, Alomar’s career with Cleveland was nothing short of brilliant, and you could make a good case that there has been noone better at the position in the history of the Cleveland Indians without entering the land of hyperbole. He entered the decade after posting 1999 numbers of .323/.422/.533 for Cleveland, finishing third in the MVP voting, setting career highs in runs (138), home runs (24) and RBI (120), and winning the gold glove.
Unfortunately, we can’t count that year with the Tribe.
Alomar continued his brilliance in 2000 even though the Indians didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1994. Alomar once again batted over .300, made the all-star team, and won the gold glove for the third year in a row, and the ninth time in ten years. Alomar had a scorching second half, batting .359, while leading the Indians on a tear during the late summer that saw the team see their chances at the playoffs foiled on the last day of the season. The Tribe won 20 of their final 32 games, only to fall short.
The Indians and Alomar returned to the top of the division in 2001. Alomar finished third in batting with a .336 average, finished fourth in the league in MVP voting, won another gold glove, and went to another all-star game. He became the first infielder in major league history (2nd player ever in the AL, and fifth player all-time) to have hit at least .330, with 30 doubles, 10 triples, 20 homers, 100 RBI, 100 runs and 20 SB. Alomar went on to win his second Indians’ Man of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the Baseball Writers of America.
The bottom line with regards to Alomar is that if he isn’t the best second baseman of all time, he is certainly in the conversation. When you watched Alomar play second base for the Indians, and everyone else for that matter, he was that guy that made plays look easy because he could cover more ground than any other second baseman, had soft hands, and worked harder than most.
Offensively, he hit for power and average, scored more runs than all of his contemporaries except for Barry Bonds and stole bases. He was a five-tool player at a position that didn’t see many. During his tenure with the Indians, he was arguably the best player in the league. Top all of that off with the brilliance that was Alomar and Vizquel, and he was a hall-of-fame lock, and for sure have an All-Aught lock.
Mark Shapiro dealt Alomar prior to the 2002 season, and the move ultimately symbolized the end of both Alomar’s career and the Cleveland Indians as a successful team. Alomar never again hit over .300, and his final two seasons were considered busts.
Congratulations to Roberto Alomar, hall-of-famer, and the Tribe’s All-Aught Second Baseman.
The Two Thousand, Aught Second Basemen: Roberto Alomar, Jolbert Cabrera, Enrique Wilson, Ricky Gutierrez, John McDonald, Brandon Phillips, Bill Selby, Greg LaRocca, Angel Santos, Zach Sorenson, Ron Belliard, Lou Merloni, Alex Cora, Ramon Vazquez, Jose Hernandez, Joe Inglett, Hector Luna, Josh Barfield, Asdrubal Cabrera, Mike Rouse, Chris Gomez, Luis Rivas, Jorge Velandia, Jamey Carroll, Tony Graffanino, Luis Valbuena