The Amazing Alous
by James Floto
The First Dominican Wave. The distinguished looking manager of the San Francisco Giants, Felipe Alou, came by all that silver hair honestly. When he first arrived in the States in the late '50s, he was shocked by the racism. He knew he wouldn't be invited to the Vanderbilt mansion, but he didn't think it would be so hard just to get a meal, a cup of coffee, or a seat at the front of the bus, just because he had dark skin. This was unheard of back home in the Dominican Republic. True, the lighter-skinned mestizos (like the Trujillos) tended to run things, but in the basics of life, like eating in a restaurant, there was no such prejudice in the D.R. But Felipe, who first came to the attention of American scouts when he, like Juan Marichal, shone in the Pan American games, persevered, and eventually joined the Giants in 1958. In those early years with the Giants, Juan Marichal moved in with Felipe and his wife, and when Mateo (Matty) arrived, he moved in with them as well. They remain one big, mostly happy, extended family to this day; Felipe is godfather of Rosie, Juan's daughter Marichal is godfather to Felipe's oldest daughter, while Matty stands godfather to the second one.
There was more to the arrival of these Caribbean exports than just raising families, of course. Following the Dodgers' lead, the Giants started stockpiling their farm system with Latin players, and soon Orlando Cepeda, Jose Pagan, and the youngest Alou, Jesus, made the big club. In fact on Sept. 15, 1963, the Alous made major league history by becoming the first trio of brothers to play together in the same outfield
Felipe's Playing Career. Felipe, by now a recognized power hitter and All Star, was traded to the Braves in the winter of '63. He was a Brave until 1969 and had some of his finest seasons with them, especially 1966, when he hit a career best .327, led the NL in at bats, runs, and hits (218), while smacking 34 homers and driving in 74. During his career with the Braves he hit .295, gathering 989 hits and building a reputation as a consummate team player, serious student of the game, and five-tool player. The Braves played him at all the outfield positions as well as all four infield spots, and had him hit from top to bottom of the order. Besides his strong work ethic, he carried himself with the same grace and dignity we see today as he manages the Giants. Injuries--- a bum knee, hairline wrist fracture, and a bad arm in '69, either put him out of action or hindered him while he played through the injuries, but when he was healthy he was one of the best players in the NL.
After the injury-riddled '69 season, he was dealt to Oakland, and although he played five more seasons, with stops in New York (Yanks), Montreal and Milwaukee, he had already had his best years with the Giants and Braves. Ending with the Brewers made him one of three players---Phil Roof and Hank Aaron are the others--to play with both the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers.
Although he was no hot dog, he was outspoken on the treatment of Latin players and the ugly stereotypes about them, particularly the one that they didn't hustle. No one played harder than Felipe Alou. He also pointed out that, like American blacks, Latin players were underpaid. The tall, solemn born leader was also one of the first born-again Christians in a heavily Catholic country.
Matty. Smaller by four inches and younger by two years, Matty was also less inclined to speak out on social issues, letting his bat speak for him instead. After five seasons as a part-time Giant, he went to Pittsburgh in 1966, where he would enjoy his finest seasons, under the tutelage of batting coach Harry "The Hat" Walker. Matty was Walker's prize pupil, on a club that had Clendenon, Maz, Stargell and Clemente. Walker encouraged him to choke up, giving him more bat control. In his first year as a Pirate, Matty led the league with a .342 average (Felipe was #2, at .327, and another Dominican, Rico Carty was #3 at .326.) He hit over .330 the next three seasons, and in 1969, his second consecutive All Star appearance, led the NL with 231 base hits and 41 doubles. By the time he was dealt to the Cards in 1971, he had become an all-time Pittsburgh favorite.
His .327 average as a Pirate places him 5th on their all-time list, and only Paul Warner (237) had more hits in a season than Matty did in '69.
Like Brother...,Matty started with the Giants, had his best years elsewhere, then played his final years as a baseball nomad, making some of the same pit stops Felipe did, from the Cards to the A's, to the Yanks (for part of '73 they were reunited in NY), then back to St. Louis and finally down to San Diego. He hit .315 and .314 his first tour in St. Louis, but never reached the heights he had as a Pirate. Still, he retired with a .307 average and 1,777 hits.
Jesus. The youngest brother was also the biggest, slowest and had the least impressive career, but he still managed to play major league ball for 15 seasons and retire with a .280 average. He also started with the Giants, and in his case, those six years (1963-68) were his best except for one .306 seasons in Houston. A contact hitter, he lacked the power of Felipe and the speed of Matty. He became the Giants right fielder in '64 and he had one memorable game on July 10th when he got six hits off six different Cubs' pitchers. Traded to Houston in '69, he still played about 120 games a year his first three seasons there, but then began the round of injuries and trades that typified the end of Felipe's career, except that from 1972 through '79 he never had more than 220 at bats, jumping from Houston to Oakland (he did manage to appear as a pinch hitter in the '73 and '74 World Series), to the Mets and one last attempt with the Astros.
The First Generation. When Jesus retired in '79, the 22 season odyssey of the Alou Brothers ended. While none was quite Hall of Fame material, they retired with 5,094 safeties, second highest of any brother combo, more than 200 above the DiMaggio's 4,853. (The Waners had 5,611.) They are also first of all brothers in seasons (47) and games (5,129). They were among the most popular of all baseball families.
The Next Generation. A decade passed and then Baseball America, the magazine of minor league baseball, began having articles on Felipe's son, Moises, an outfielder in the Pirate organization who was moving up the ladder. BA also covered a young pitcher, Mel Rojas, the son of Felipe, Matty and Jesus' sister, who was in the Expos organization, where his uncle Felipe had been a major league coach and minor league manager.
In 1990, Mel came up to the big club, while Moises made the Pirates, only to be traded to Montreal at the end of the season.
Mel. When Mel, like so many Expo free agents before him, announced after the 1996 season that he was not returning to Montreal, he was a sought-after commodity. By 1995, at age 28, he had moved into the upper echelon of closers, after working his way up from part-time to full-time setup man under John Wetteland, who walked following his free agent season, 1994. Mel took advantage of the promotion, saving 30 of 39 while fanning nearly a batter per inning. In 1996 he improved, saving 36 of 40, dropping his ERA to 3.22 and whiffing 92 batters in 81 IP. Like his cousin, who was also in his walk year, he had had enough of Montreal's upper management, although he didn't like leaving Uncle Felipe behind. Otherwise, his future seemed limitless and the Cubs decided he was too good to pass up. After 54 games in 1997, however, Chicago demoted him back to set-up man; his save total was but 13 of 19 and his ERA jumped to 4.42, although he continued his torrid strikeout pace. The Mets decided a change of venue would help, but he did even worse in New York. With Franco as the Mets' closer, there was little chance for him to close, and the slump continued. After a year that saw stops in LA, Detroit and Montreal, he called it a career. Why a talented young player loses it when he moves is one of those unknowables, but at the age of 32 Mel Rojas was out of baseball.
Moises. The move from Montreal has been nothing but wonderful for Moises, although he missed playing for his father. One of many stars brought to Florida to help the Marlins win the championship in '97, Moises was a big contributor, hitting .292, 23, 115. At 6' 3", 195 he is the largest Alou yet, and at age 35 he seems to be attaining the stardom many predicted for him early on. He had many good seasons with the Expos, peaking in batting average at .339 in an injury prone 1994 season, and was usually good for about 20 homers and 75 rbis. After a one year stop in Florida, Moises spent three years in Houston, posting a .355 average in an injury season in 2000. He now resides in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field, and enjoys playing in the same lineup as his fellow Dominican Sammy Sosa.
Felipe as manager. After many years in the Montreal system, Felipe became the first Latin American major league manager on May 22, 1992. He has earned a reputation as a players' manager, stern, serious, but understanding. A typical Alou team is made up of some excellent veterans waiting for free agency so they can leave; several talented youngsters fresh out of the Montreal farm system, and some marginal players from other franchises who blossom under Alou. When the Expos were putting money into the roster he did quite well, with finishes of 2-2-1-5-2. With a near-minor league roster he straggled to 4-4-4-4-5 finishes in the NL East. He now returns to San Francisco to join Barry Bonds and the defending National League champions.
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