by Rabbi Wayne Allen
On Jul 31, 2011 the Toronto Blue Jays celebrated the election of second-baseman Roberto Alomar to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by retiring his No. 12 jersey. Alomar is the first Blue Jay to be afforded that honor. Some argue that Alomar was the greatest second-baseman to play in the last fifty years and others claim that he may have been the greatest second-baseman of all time. What is undeniable is that his stellar play led the Blue Jays to two consecutive World Series victories in 1992 and 1993.
Yet Alomar’s election to the Hall of Fame was by no means assured, despite his worthy credentials. The uncertainty hinged on an ugly incident in 1996 when Alomar was then playing for the Baltimore Orioles. Umpire John Hirschbeck called Alomar out on strikes and Alomar took exception to the call. In the course of disputing it, Alomar spit in the umpire’s face, resulting in an immediate ejection from the game and a subsequent five-game suspension. The battle persisted in the media. Alomar claimed that Hirschbeck’s personality changed for the worse by the death of one son to a rare disease and the diagnosis of a second son with the same disease. The umpire, he suggested, had become bitter and his judgment warped. Alomar further charged that Hirschbeck assaulted him with racial epithets. Alomar is a Latino. Election to the Hall of Fame requires conformity with a character clause and Alomar’s conduct in this case could have been held against him.
What convinced the baseball writers who elected Alomar to look beyond this incident is the fact that while his feud with Hirschbeck lasted for seven months, it ended with an apology by Alomar and a shaking of hands the first time the two met at home plate the following season. Since that time, Hirschbeck and Alomar have remained close friends. Alomar has raised hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars for the foundation fighting the disease that afflicted Hirschbeck’s family. And when Alomar learned of his election, it was Hirschbeck who sent him the first congratulatory text message. I think the Hall electors were impressed with a different kind of power. It wasn’t the power to hit home runs that moved them, but the power to make amends.
This is, of course, a very Jewish idea and an apposite one for this season leading up to the Days of Awe. Repentance is very powerful tool in mending interpersonal relationships. It can also get you into the Hall of Fame.