A lot of big things were predicted for Sandy Alomar Jr. long before he was in the big leagues.
After all, Alomar was a two-time minor league player of the year. His father and brother were major leaguers. He had been traded for one of baseball's top stars. And, he was breaking in as a catcher, the toughest position for a rookie.But if Alomar felt any pressure, it didn't show. Instead, all he showed was production for the Cleveland Indians.
For turning promise into prosperity, Alomar was the unanimous choice Wednesday as the American League rookie of the year. He joined Mark McGwire (1987) and Carlton Fisk (1972) as the only major leaguers to be unanimous selections since the rookie award was first presented in 1947.
"You only get one chance to get this. To get it unanimously is much better," Alomar said from Japan, where a major league all-star team is traveling.
Alomar, 24, hit .290 with 26 doubles, nine home runs and 66 RBIs in 132 games. Along the way, he became the first rookie catcher to start an All-Star game.
Thurman Munson, Fisk and Alomar are the lone catchers to win the AL rookie award. Alomar was the fourth Indian to receive the honor, along with Herb Score, Chris Chambliss and Joe Charboneau.
Alomar got all 28 first-place votes for a total of 140 points. Two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America in each AL city voted.
Kevin Maas, who hit 21 home runs for the New York Yankees, received 14 second-place votes and had 47 points and Kansas City pitcher Kevin Appier was third with 31 points.
On opening day, it was expected to be a big year for two rookie catchers - Alomar and Todd Zeile. While Alomar succeeded, Zeile succumbed to the trouble that befalls many first-year major leaguers and wound up batting only .244 and playing third base for St. Louis.
That Alomar did so well did not surprise a lot of people in baseball. A lot of them, including Alomar, just wondered when he would get a chance to play.
Despite his accomplishments in the minors, Alomar was backed up in San Diego's system because the Padres already had All-Star catcher Benito Santiago. After more than a year of trade rumors, San Diego finally made a deal last December, sending Alomar, Carlos Baerga and Chris James to Cleveland for Joe Carter.
Carter was the Indians' best player and had averaged 31 home runs and 108 RBIs for four seasons. But he was eligible for free agency at the end of the 1990 season and had said he would not return to Cleveland. So Alomar was separated from his brother Roberto, San Diego's second baseman, and his father Sandy Jr., a coach for the Padres.
"Everybody had their eye on me," Alomar said. "I was traded for Joe Carter, so everything was going to be a bit harder."
Alomar, however, was ready.
"I felt more prepared this year," he said. "I didn't want to go back. I wanted to go forward."
Alomar had played a total of eight games for the Padres in late-season callups the last two years, hitting .200. He batted .306 with 13 homers and 101 RBIs for Triple-A Las Vegas in 1989 and hit .297 with 16 home runs and 71 RBIs for the same team in 1988.
The 6-foot-5 Alomar surprised himself by hitting for average with the Indians.
"Everybody exepcted me to hit .250. I expected me to hit .250, too," he said. "My goal is to hit .300 in the majors."
Alomar also did well handling a veteran pitching staff that included Tom Candiotti, one of baseball's few knuckleballers. He did, however, lead major league catchers by committing 14 errors; ironically, his brother led major league second baseman with 17 miscues.
As it turned out, the Padres could have used Alomar this year. Santiago sustained a broken hand early in the season and was out of action for several weeks. Carter hit .232 with 24 homers and 115 RBIs for the Padres.
Alomar's strong start helped get him elected by fans to start the All-Star game. He and Roberto became the seventh brother combination to play in the same All-Star game, and they joined their father as the only the second family, along with the DiMaggios, with three All-Star members.
"Starting the All-Star game was a great accomplishment for me and my family," Alomar said. "But you get a lot of chances to be in the All-Star game. You only get one chance to be the rookie of the year."
The AL won the All-Star game 2-0 and Sandy Jr. beat out an infield single with a headfirst slide to help break a scoreless tie in the seventh inning. In a game dominated by pitching and defense, Alomar got two hits.
Alomar began his pro career in 1984, but never hit above .240 in his first three seasons. He first showed his true potential when he improved to .307 for Class AA Wichita in 1987. The Alomar brothers played together for 21/2 years in the Padres' system.
Dave Justice, who hit 28 home runs for Atlanta, was named the National League rookie of the year Tuesday. Next up for baseball's postseason awards are the Cy Youngs - the AL's on Tuesday and the NL's on Wednesday.