BY KEVIN KERNAN
Let Hall of Fame season begin.
On Sunday night the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee (managers, executives, umpires) results will be announced, a nominated group that includes managers Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella, and Cito Gaston.
Here at BallNine we want to nominate a name that is not on the ballot, but should be in the Hall of Fame and that’s Felipe Alou. Baseball cannot forget Felipe Alou and his contributions to the game as both a trailblazing player and manager, and a future HOF veterans committee must get this right.
I always enjoyed my various encounters with Alou during the years, especially his time as manager in Montreal, San Francisco, and of the Dominican Republic team in the WBC. Alou became the first Dominican-born manager in the major leagues when Dan Duquette named him to replace Tom Runnells in 1992 in Montreal.
Alou, 88, was always there for the media with an honest quote and he has been around the pro game since being signed by the New York Giants in December of 1955, a lifetime in baseball. On September 15, 1963, 60 years ago, at Forbes Field, the Giants put forth an all-Alou outfield, with Felipe in center and brothers Matty in left field and Jesus in right. To make that happen Willie Mays came out of the game and Felipe went to center.
In 1966, Felipe finished second in the batting race to his brother Matty, who batted .342 for the Pirates. Felipe hit .327 for the Braves and led the league with 218 hits.
AMBS is smart enough, though, to know when to turn it over to someone who knows much more about the subject; and there is no better expert on Felipe Alou and his fabulous playing and managerial career than my friend, author Peter Kerasotis.
Peter wrote the book on Felipe and it’s a fabulous read: Alou: My Baseball Journey.
If you haven’t read it, you should – and with Christmas coming up it’s a great gift for any baseball fan who wants to go deeper into the game than exit velocity and spin rates.
It’s about life and baseball.
Kerasotis said it’s “inconceivable’’ to him that Alou is not in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and I agree. Ozzie Virgil is credited as the first Dominican-born player to make it to Major League Baseball but Kerasotis said there is much more to the story, noting that Virgil’s parents were from Turks & Caicos and then came to the Dominican Republic where Virgil was born. Virgil moved to the United States at the age of 13, and grew up in the Bronx.
“When Felipe and these other guys were growing up they never knew who Ozzie Virgil was; in fact, Ozzie Virgil Jr. lives in Puerto Rico, there is no D.R. connection,’’ Kerasotis explained.
“So Felipe was the first born and raised Dominican to leave that country and become a major league player, the first Dominican to become a major league manager, the first to play in a World Series and became part of the brain trust for the Giants that helped develop those three World Series teams (2010, 2012, 2014).’”
“The biggest mistake I made in my career,’’ Dombrowski said, “was not recognizing his ability to be a terrific major league manager. He’s one of the best in the game.’’
“When I talked to Pedro Martinez, because he did the forward to the book, he said, ‘You don’t understand, when you are studying history in your country you study about Jim Thorpe, you study about Babe Ruth, you study about Lou Gehrig, other sports figures; in our history books, Felipe Alou is the guy we study about. He’s the one that opened the way for us.’
“Now that country produces more players per capita than any other country in the world, plus when Felipe’s playing career was over, I think it was he and Julian Javier who really developed that Winter League in the D.R. because they understood the cultural differences of trying to go from a poor background, dirt poor, to another country not knowing the language, not knowing the culture, or the food, being homesick, they were trying to provide a second avenue for those guys who failed when they came over to the U.S. to still play baseball and have a feeder system to maybe get back,’’ Kerasotis explained.
“That later morphed into all the academies because that country now has an academy for every major league team. The academy for the Giants is the Felipe Alou Baseball Academy, so they named it after him.’’
Kerasotis was rolling now.
“Here’s the other thing, when he came to this country, Felipe experienced two levels of racism, obviously white America, but even Black America; the Black players looked down on the Latino Blacks. Yeah you can come into our neighborhood, but still know your place – so there were two levels of racism to overcome.’’
Felipe Alou, center, receives congratulations from trainer Frank Bowman, left, and Bob Speaks, right. Felipe Alou was the hero on July 13, 1958 after driving in the winning run in the ninth inning that gave the San Francisco Giants a 6-5 win over the Milwaukee Braves at Candlestick Park. (Photo by Leo Cohen/MediaNews Group/Oakland Tribune via Getty Images)
No matter who gets elected to the Hall on Sunday night they did not have to walk in the same trailblazing spikes that Felipe Alou had to walk in the minors and then when he started in the majors with the San Francisco Giants in 1958, the first year they were in San Francisco, and throughout his career as well.
Alou played with the Giants through the 1963 season and those Giants battled the Yankees in the seven-game World Series of 1962. From there it was on to the Braves, the first two years in Milwaukee and then when they moved to Atlanta, through the 1969 season. He was teammates with both Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. In 1979 Alou played with the Oakland A’s and went on to finish with the Yankees, Expos, and Brewers, his 17-year career ending in 1974. The 1962 NL pennant-winning Giants won 103 games and Felipe hit .316, one of four starters to hit over .300. Mays hit .304, Orlando Cepeda batted .306, and Harvey Kuenn batted .304.
This past season only five NL players batted over .300.
After Alou’s playing career ended, there were more hurdles.
“Felipe did not get to manage until he was 58 years old,’’ Kerasotis said.
Alou managed 12 years in the minors and also spent three years in the majors as a coach. So that is 15 years of not being at the helm of a major league team.
When he finally got the chance, Alou went on to manage 14 years in the majors, compiling 1,033 wins.
Kerasotis remembers going to lunch in 2019 in Boston with a group that included Dave Dombrowski, Hall of Famer Tony La Russa, and future Hall of Famer Bruce Bochy, along with Red Sox historian Gordon Edes; and everyone was lauding Felipe for his accomplishments in the game and especially his ability to manage.
That’s a winning baseball group.
“Just think if Felipe had gotten to manage like Joe Torre. Joe started as a player manager, if Felipe had had that opportunity and got to manage 20 more years and just won an average number of games, he’d be maybe top five all time,’’ Kerasotis said..
“These Latino managers today that they are not afraid to hire, it is because of what Felipe did with Montreal and then later with the Giants.’’
APRIL 1982: Wichita's Felipe Alou stares down an umpire.; (Photo By John Prieto/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
In 1988 Dombrowski was named the GM of the Expos at the age of 31 and was there until the Marlins hired him in September of 1991, two years before they started playing in the majors. In Kerasotis’ book on page 218, a Dombrowski quote from a 1995 Michael Farber story in Sports Illustrated speaks volumes about Felipe Alou. “The biggest mistake I made in my career,’’ Dombrowski said, “was not recognizing his ability to be a terrific major league manager. He’s one of the best in the game.’’
Alou, who lives in Boynton Beach, Fla., was always confident he could manage in the majors and at his introductory press conference on May 22, 1992, he told Duquette: “If an evaluation at the end of the season is going to determine if I’m going to continue to do this, then I am going to be doing this for a long time.’’
Felipe was right.
In 1994, unfortunately, Felipe and all the Expos were penalized by the strike. The Expos were 74-40 at the time. He was named Manager of the Year but never got the postseason his Expos deserved.
“They were surging toward the end of the season,’’ Kerasotis said of the Expos.
Then there is the development side of Felipe Alou as a coach and minor league manager, and then in Montreal and San Francisco. “You look at the players Felipe developed,’’ Kerasotis said. “They wanted to cut Andres Galarraga, who he discovered when they were playing Winter Ball in Venezuela; and Felipe went ballistic during one of the organizational meetings. ‘You are not cutting this guy!’”
Galarraga turned out okay. The five-time All-Star played 19 years in the majors, and totaled 2,333 hits, 399 home runs, 444 doubles, and 1,425 RBIs.
Alou, a three-time All-Star outfielder, hit .286 over his 17-year career with 2,101 hits, 206 home runs, 985 runs, and 852 RBIs
“There was Galarraga, Randy Johnson, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez… Pedro reveres the guy,’’ Kerasotis said. “Not only did Felipe push to get him from the Dodgers when the Dodgers didn’t think he was strong enough and durable enough to be a starting pitcher, but when he came to Montreal, Pedro said, ‘Felipe gave me the confidence to believe that I could be successful in this league. He gave me the ball one day in spring training and said, ‘You’re my fourth starter, but when I give you the ball, you’re my No. 1 starter for that day.’’’
Those comments resonated with the future Hall of Famer.
JANUARY 1995: Manager Felipe Alou of the Montreal Expos signing autographs in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic . (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)
“Buck Showalter will tell you that Felipe was schooling him when they were both minor league managers and you are not going to school that guy,’’ Kerasotis said. “Buck was learning things just being out-managed by Felipe in the minor leagues. Buck gets to become a manager as a young man and Felipe is wallowing around in the minors. When he knew he wasn’t getting a major league job, Felipe requested ‘Don’t have me at the Triple-A level, have me at Single-A or Double-A, because I can develop guys better down there.’’’
Alou managed at Class A West Palm for seven years.
He managed his son Moises in the majors, and got to see another son Luis Rojas become manager of the Mets and now on the Yankee coaching staff. From brothers to sons, it is Alou family baseball.
“No doubt about it, he should be in the Hall of Fame,’’ Kerasotis said.
Alou was named to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015. Cooperstown should be next.
When it comes to the moments in a game, Alou never forgets. There are stories of him telling his hitters how a pitcher attacked that hitter when they faced each other months earlier. As a manager he was a human iPad.
“He would actually give them the sequence of pitches from months ago,’’ Kerasotis said with wonder in his voice. “And the guy going to the plate can barely remember facing this middle innings relief pitcher and Felipe knew how he pitched to him.
“I had lunch with him recently and when he says his memory is not what it used to be it is still better than 95 percent of the population,’’ Kerasotis said with a smile.
Alou’s Giants in 2003 won 100 games but were knocked out of the playoffs by Jack McKeon’s Marlins. McKeon did a number on the Alou family that October, because his Marlins also knocked out the Cubs – and Moises Alou was the Cubs’ left fielder on the Bartman Ball 20 years ago.
Manager Felipe Alou of the San Francisco Giants sits in the dugout during the MLB spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at the Peoria Sports Complex on March 7, 2003 in Peoria, Arizona. The Giants won 8-5. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
McKeon also should be in the Hall of Fame for his innovative ways and a lifetime of success in the game. As GM he got the ’84 Padres to the World Series and then won a World Series as a manager with the Marlins in 2003; but that is The Story for another day.
I do remember Felipe Alou as a player and he was outstanding. Kerasotis told me that Felipe has the most home runs against Sandy Koufax. “He’s got seven, tied with a couple of guys,’’ Kerasotis said.
“You look at his numbers and Joe Torre’s playing numbers and they are pretty similar,’’ Kerasotis noted of Alou’s former Braves teammate.
Torre, though, as a Major League manager, had a much earlier crack at it than Alou.
Leave it to Pedro Martinez to put a baseball bow on it all.
“I love Felipe Alou,’’ Pedro said in the forward to the book. “Felipe is a treasure in my country, in the game of baseball, and, most important, in my heart … Felipe paved the way. For those of us who followed him from our small island to the big leagues, Felipe was the light at the end of the tunnel.’’
The Hall of Fame needs to keep that light glowing. Felipe Alou needs to be in Cooperstown for his baseball career as a player and as a manager and for paving the way for Dominican players and managers to find a baseball home in the major leagues.
His baseball life is Hall of Fame worthy. Shine the light on Felipe Alou.