Elliott: Looking back at Hirschbeck Alomar friendship

Robbie Alomar, not yet a Hall of Famer, left, apologizes to umpire John Hirschbeck. The two became good friends and Hirschbeck supported Alomar as a HOF candidate. Hirshbeck retired this week after 33 years.

Robbie Alomar, not yet a Hall of Famer, left, apologizes to umpire John Hirschbeck. The two became good friends and Hirschbeck supported Alomar as a HOF candidate. Hirshbeck retired this week after 33 years.

Originally published April 20, 2010

By Bob Elliott
Everyone knows about Robbie Alomar losing his temper as a member of the Baltimore Orioles and spitting at John Hirschbeck at the SkyDome Friday, Sept. 27, 1996. 

Not every Hall of Fame voter knows about what happened two years later when Alomar joined the Cleveland Indians and Hirschbeck began a their friendship.

“When he signed with the Indians (in 1999) I was working second one night at Jacobs Field, I reached out, just ‘Hi how you doing? How’s your family?’” said Hirshbeck seated in the umpires room at Rogers Centre. 

It was the first the two had spoken since his Alomar’s first game playing with Hirscheck on the field. Alomar stopped by at the start of the game, shook his hand and apologized.

The two began talking that night in Cleveland. 

They haven’t stopped. 

They talked Jan 6, moments after Alomar missed being elected, by eight votes, to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Alomar was named on 397 of 539 ballots (73.7%) by Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters with 10 years experience. To be elected a player must receive 75%.

They talked because that’s what one friend does when another is down in the dumps.

“I told him he’ll get in next January,” said Hirshbeck. “If I’m not angry why should writers be? Why give him a slap on the wrist?” Why should anyone hold it against him when I don’t?”  

Hirschbeck and his family live in Poland, Ohio. After Alomar left the Blue Jays to sign a three-year deal with the Orioles, he joined his brother Sandy Alomar with the Cleveland Indians. Hirschbeck researched Alomar, asking Jack Efta, who ran the umpire’s room at Jacobs Field.

“I told this story so many times,” Hirschbeck said, “I asked Jack and he said Robbie was one of the two nicest people he’d ever met in the game.”

Because Hirschbeck has told the story so many times he pauses, even raises an eyebrow for affect.

“I asked Jack ‘who is the other?’ Jack said ‘you.’”

Does Hirschbeck, now in his 27th year, think Alomar belongs in Cooperstown?

“I’ve never seen a better second baseman, he could do so many things,” said Tuesday night’s third base ump. “I had Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, but mind you that was near the end of his career.

“If what happened that day between Robbie and I at home plate is the worst that he ever does in his life, he’ll have lived a pretty good life,” said Hirshbeck. 

Hirshbeck’s son, John Drew, died from adrenoleukodystrophy, a rare nerve disorder, before the spitting incident. Michael Hirschbeck, another son who also has the unfair disease and has a bone-marrow transplant, served as the Indians bat boy and would high five Alomar routinely after he scored a run. Michael is now 23.

Alomar donated $50,000 to ALD research. Both Alomar brothers were willing participants when it came to charity auctions in the Ohio area, according to Hirschback.

The second baseman has always said his best seasons were his three years in Cleveland (a career-high 120 RBIs in 1999 and 100 two years later), but if he was ever elected he’d like to go into Cooperstown wearing a Jays cap because three times the Jays reached post-season, winning the World Series in 1992-93 during his five years here.

With Hirschbeck’s endorsement, next year will be Alomar’s year.