02/09 Blue Jays Library in a Box: Second to None

Thursday, February 26 2009 @ 08:11 PM EST

Contributed by: Matthew E

Catch the taste!

Title: Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story

Published: Penguin Books, 1993.

# Pages: 231

Availability: Out of print. I imagine they're giving them away free as used books.

Author: Stephen Brunt. Actually, the cover says, “The Roberto Alomar Story with Stephen Brunt,” but when you read it, there's no pretense at all that Roberto had much of anything to do with putting this thing together.

Who Is: Stephen Brunt is among the finer sportswriters working in Canada. We're going to be hearing from him again in another of these articles.

What It's About: It tells the story of Roberto Alomar's long and storied baseball career. Well, right up until his age-25 season, anyway.

What It's Really About: It's really about selling the photo spread in the middle to as many teenaged girls as possible.

How's the Writing? I've heard Brunt discuss this book once or twice on Bob McCown's show on the FAN. He's pretty funny. I'll paraphrase/recount what I recall of what he said as best I can. Apparently he took over the book fairly late in the game, after another writer dropped out, and he was only able to spend a little time with Alomar. “I make no claims about the literary qualities of this book,” he said.

He did a book signing at some mall or other with Alomar, and the aforementioned teenage girls were much in evidence. “I've never gotten such dirty looks from signing a book. These girls were glaring at me for getting ink all over their new Robbie Alomar books... I'm sure we could have included a $100 bill tucked into page 140 of every copy, and if you found those books now, the money would still be there.”

Really, though, Brunt doesn't have a lot to be embarrassed about; he does what he can with what he has. He talks about Puerto Rico, and the career of Sandy Alomar Sr., and the politics of the San Diego Padres, and it all reads just fine. The problem is that there's just no story here. Here's the Roberto Alomar story, up to age 25: Talented boy tries to become star baseball player, and succeeds quickly.

One thing that would help is if we got some insight into Alomar's character that made the whole story more interesting. But we don't. Alomar seems guarded. He says more than once that he doesn't really trust anybody outside his family. All we get in this book is Alomar's public persona, and we already had that.

Brunt seems aware of this, and copes by allowing the book to contain contradictions. Like this passage about the difficulties of playing for a team where your dad is one of the coaches:

Especially in the minor leagues, coaches are instructors, handling the day-to-day business of teaching players the game. They are also confidantes, comrades, buddies and intermediaries between the guys on the field and the guy at the top.

All of which gets complicated if one of your coaches is also your dad. “It was good for us,” Roberto says.

So, good or complicated? You can believe who you want.

It's a better book than I remember it being. But there's not much in it to bring me back for a reread.

Anecdote: Game 6 of the 1992 World Series. Two out in the bottom of the ninth, Jays up by one. Henke vs. Otis Nixon with runners on first and second. If Henke gets Nixon out, the Jays are World Champions for the first time. I give you Joe Carter.

“We told Henk, he's killing us if you pitch him outside,” Carter says. “Robbie and I knew Nixon from playing in the National League. We told Henk, just bust him inside with fastballs. He can't handle them.”

And, temporarily, Henk heeds their advice. “The first pitch he threw him was an inside fastball, and he swung for strike one,” Carter says. Two strikes from the championship. “The second pitch, he took a fastball inside for strike two.” The Blue Jays are one strike away from winning the World Series, when Henke or Borders or both of them has a different notion. “On 0-2, he threw a forkball out over the plate and he hit a single. Robbie and I just said to each other, Oh God, doesn't anybody listen?”