A Farewell to Albert Almora Jr.
It was a late May 2019 night in Houston during a nationally televised game between the Cubs and the Astros. The ball that flew from Albert Almora Jr.'s bat in Houston was no different than hundreds of other balls that fly from bats every baseball season in cities around the county except in one way--its trajectory directly lined up with a small child in the stands. It was probably something Almora hadn't even thought about until the incident, but his extremely emotional reaction to the accident showed many fans all they needed to know about the young player's character.
You're such a good egg, Al.
Character scarcely matters on a major league team when a player doesn't perform, however. How many times have we seen a domestic abuser carried on a squad simply because they were good at baseball? A shining example came just this October, when the Dodgers' World Series win was closed out by Julio Urías, a player suspended for domestic abuse just a year ago. While players like Urías chased a title in 2020, Almora was optioned to the Cubs' alternate training site on August 31 with a .167/.265/.200 slash line and 35 wRC+, completing his steady offensive decline since his first full promising season in 2017. Almora's journey with the Cubs ended on December 2 with his non-tender, making him a free agent for the first time in his career.
What is truly sad about losing Almora goes back to his character. Whether he was out with his wife Krystal rescuing dogs or posting pictures of his adorable sons, Almora always seemed like a guy you'd want to sit down and have a burger and a beer with. Beyond that, it was his reaction to the accident with the girl in Houston... something completely out of his control... that made you think he's was the kind of high character guy you'd want to see on your favorite team.
Unfortunately, fans turned on him regardless of his character long before his offense declined to 2020 levels. Just his name appearing in a lineup triggered trolls and angry social media responses that I won't post here out of respect. Who knows why Almora never reached is potential with the Cubs. Did Joe Maddon use him too much? In the incorrect spot in the order? Did the coaching staff fail him? Was it Almora himself and a problem with his mechanics? We may never know, but what I can tell you is that Cubs fans were, to a large degree, brutally unkind to a guy who, in my opinion, deserved a lot better.
You'll note that, in contrast to Kyle Schwarber, there has been no "thank you" note to Cubs fans from Albert Almora Jr. Nothing gushing about our kindness or how "it's just different here." No platitudes for what a great bunch of fans we are, and frankly... I'm kind of glad. It's consistent with how I see his character for him to be honest, and his silence is speaking volumes as far as I'm concerned.
Maybe a fresh start on a different team will be exactly what Almora needs. I suspect he'll sign a minor league deal somewhere given the current financial climate and have to fight his way onto a major league roster, but I wish him nothing but the best. Here's hoping another front office/manager combination can come together on the best plan to unlock all of that potential we all saw in there a few years ago. Until then, thanks to Albert Almora Jr. always for being a part of the one thing we never thought we'd see.