Felipe Alou

The oldest of the Alous (Jesus and Matty are his younger brothers), Felipe was the only one who hit for power — but unlike many sluggers Felipe seldom struck out. His finest year was 1966 when he hit 31 homers and batted .327 for the Braves with a league-leading 218 hits and 122 runs — the same year his brother Matty won the batting title with a .342 average. San Francisco fans still recall he scored the winning run in the Giants’ come-from-behind victory over the Dodgers in the final game of the 1962 playoff.

A tall, solemn man, Alou was among the first born-again Christians to come to the big leagues. A native Dominican, he also was a powerful speaker on behalf of fellow Latin American players, arguing that they were underpaid and overly criticized for being “hot dogs.”

Alou found work as a batting coach and minor league manager with the Montreal Expos after his playing career ended, jobs which eventually led to his hiring as the club’s manager in 1992. Although the Expos spent much of the 1990s trying to save money by trading away higher-paid players, Felipe was able to get the most out of the team’s seemingly endless supply of talented youngsters. He was named the 1994 NL Manager of the Year after the Expos finished the strike-shortened season with the best record in baseball, despite Olympic Stadium’s omniscient revolving door which had left the team with the National League’s second lowest payroll and only two players over 30.

Top talent continued to leave the cash-starved Expos for greener pastures. Many of the game’s young stars of the ‘90s began their careers under Alou’s watch — Cy Young laureate Pedro Martinez, who was traded to the Red Sox just after winning the award in 1997; 1997 MVP Larry Walker, who hit .366 with 39 homers for the Colorado Rockies; closer John Wetteland, th 1996 World Series MVP; second basemen Delino DeShields and Mike Lansing, and Alou’s own son Moises, an outfielder who left for the Marlins via free agency after the 1996 season.

Despite the team’s turnover, Alou led the Expos to an amazing second-place finish in the NL East in 1996, battling Atlanta for the division lead all year after stumbling to last place in 1995. The low point of the year came on Alou’s 61st birthday (May 12), when he was ejected under bizarre circumstances from the second game of a doubleheader against the Astros. In the spirit of a hockey tradition that calls for fans to toss hats into the ice after a hat trick, Montreal fans had taken to flinging “Oh Henry!” candy bars whenever popular slugger Henry Rodriguez got a big hit. Alou was ejected after contesting umpire Harry Wendelstedt’s decision to stop play after a particularly excessive confectionery-chucking incident.

As the penny-pinching Expos slid into the cellar of the NL East, Alou continued to do his best with the inexperienced talent at hand. Without veteran players, his Expos finished under .500 in 1997 and lost 97 games in 1998. Montreal’s poor finishes never tarnished Alou’s sterling reputation as a manager; in fact, after the 1998 season he was offered a contract worth nearly $1 million a season to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Canadian newspapers later reported that Alou agreed to terms with the Dodgers in the Dominican Republic, but wanted to return home to Florida before finalizing the deal. Dodgers GM Kevin Malone and president Bob Graziano were forced take a later flight; when they landed, they discovered the Expos had offered twice as much to keep Alou in Montreal.

Yet Alou, who had many close ties to the city (his wife was a native of Quebec) insisted his decision to stay with the Expos was based as much on intangibles as dollars. “Money is not what makes me happy,” Alou explained to the Globe and Mail. “One has to have principles in life. Loyalty is very important…There is no barometer in life that says if you make a certain amount of money you will then be happy.” Later in the ’99 season, he expanded: “I could have easily gone. Our owners gave me their blessing, but they asked to me stay, so I stayed.”

Midway through the 1999 season (a 68-94 campaign) Alou managed his 1,127th game for Montreal, passing Gene Mauch for the longest tenure at the helm of the Expos. Even so, his position was far from secure. During the 2000 season, it was rumored that new owner Jeffrey Loria wanted to replace Alou with his close friend, Jeff Torborg. After the season, Loria apparently offered the Expos’ bench-coach position to Steve Scott, an executive with the St. Paul Saints, promising Scott the manager’s job when Alou moved on.

Rumor became reality in May 2001. With the Expos floudering at 21-32, Alou was finally replaced by Torborg. “I almost feel relieved, you know,” Alou told reporters. “I could feel it coming.”