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Roberto Alomar during his time with the Cleveland Indians in 1999. (EZRA O. SHAW)
Roberto Alomar during his time with the Cleveland Indians in 1999. (EZRA O. SHAW)

Baseball

Alomar left Toronto for business reasons Add to ...

Given the opportunity to do it all over again, Roberto Alomar would have preferred to stick around the Toronto Blue Jays for the rest of his career.

The year was 1995 and the perennial all-star second baseman was still at the height of his powers, having batted .300 that season with 13 home runs and 30 stolen bases on a team that struggled to win just 56 games.

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But more than anything Major League Baseball was, and still is, a game of big business.

And with the Blue Jays heading into an obvious rebuilding mode under the direction of former general manager Gord Ash, the American League club could not come to terms on a new contract to retain the veteran.

So Alomar packed up his bat and glove and headed to Baltimore to play for the Orioles, who lured him with a three-year, $18-million (U.S.) offer - a decision he still looks back on somewhat ruefully.

"One of the things in my career that hurt me the most is leaving Toronto," said Alomar, who played five years with the Blue Jays and was a key component of their back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. "To me Toronto is my second home, is still my second home."

Alomar, who will turn 42 next week, was in Toronto for last night's Conn Smythe Sports Celebrity Dinner where he was an honoured guest at the head table.

Considered one of baseball's great second baseman, Alomar said he gave the Blue Jays every opportunity to re-sign him back in 1995.

"Before I made the decision [to sign with the Orioles]I came back and said I have this deal on the table, I'd love you guys to match it," Alomar said. "I didn't want more or less and it didn't happen. It's a business."

These days Alomar is looking fit and trim and feeling content - a disposition he credits to his recent marriage to Maria Del Pilar Alomar, who accompanied her husband to Toronto for last night's charity event along with Robitito, their 8-year-old son.

Alomar said the union helped ease the sting earlier this month when he missed getting inducted into National Baseball Hall of Fame by just eight votes in his first year of eligibility.

Players must be named on 75 per cent of the ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America and Alomar fell just short with support from 73.7 per cent of the voters.

There is no doubt some of the voters continue to penalize Alomar for his infamous spitting incident involving umpire John Hirschbeck back in 1996 when he was playing for the Orioles.

Hirschbeck has since publicly forgiven Alomar and the two have become friends.

"Many voters, they know that me and Hirschbeck are great friends and we've moved on," Alomar said. "And they still throw that out there.

"But I don't think they can use that as an excuse."

It's a virtual lock Alomar will get voted into Cooperstown next year.

"It's a matter of time," said Alomar, who retired in 2005. "I feel disappointed, I wish I would have made it in the first round but I know how it is. I'm positive and I hope next year it will be a different story."

In the meantime, Alomar will have to make do with being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, an honour he first learned about on Tuesday.

The official induction ceremony will take place on June 19 in St. Marys, Ont., where the hall is located.

Alomar may still have a chance to re-establish ties with his old team.

According to current Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos, Alomar's name is on a list of guest coaches that manager Cito Gaston would like to have on hand at spring training, which starts in Florida next month.

Alomar, who is about to launch a new clothing line, has expressed an interest to get back into the game in the future, perhaps as a roving instructor.

"Immediately when he speaks, you listen," said Anthopoulos, who joined Alomar at the head table last night. "When you look at his career and what he's done and his experience, for obvious reasons the words that come out of his mouth are pretty powerful.

"Just listening to him talk baseball, I feel I got better the five minutes we just talked."

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