'I could feel it coming'
Expos fire longtime manager Alou, hire Torborg
Updated: Thursday May 31, 2001 8:44 PM
MONTREAL (AP) -- Felipe Alou's former players took their share of the blame for his firing.
"I don't think it's Felipe's fault," Montreal second baseman Jose Vidro said Thursday, hours after Alou was fired by the Expos. "We didn't play the way we could. It's our fault."
Alou, Montreal's manager since May 22, 1992, was let go with the Expos last in the NL East with a 21-32 record.
"I almost feel relieved," Alou told RDI, a network of Canadian Broadcasting Corp. "I could feel it coming."
Alou was replaced by Jeff Torborg, a personal friend of Expos owner Jeffrey Loria.
Alou, whose overall record with the Expos was 691-717, managed Montreal to winning records in four of his first five seasons.
"I feel very bad," Vidro said. "Not because he was fired, but what the man means to me. Nobody trusted me. He was about the only guy behind me. If I ever see him, I will say thank you to him for what he did for me. We have a good team. It's not his fault but it always happens like that. You can't blame the team, you blame the manager."
Larry Walker, John Wetteland, Pedro Martinez and his own son, Moises, were a number of the young players Alou helped develop into stars before they moved on to greater prominence with bigger-budget teams.
"I became a star, and I've been a solid star for many years," Martinez said before Boston's game in Toronto on Thursday. "Felipe believed in me."
Toronto catcher Darren Fletcher played for Alou from 1992-97 and was a member of the 1994 team, when Alou was voted NL manager of the year after the Expos were a major league-best 74-40 when the strike ended the season in August.
"He truly enjoyed coming to the yard," Fletcher said. "He enjoyed watching the younger players develop and progress to be quality major leaguers. And then, unfortunately, the majority of the time those players ended up leaving and going to other organizations and having great success."
In a statement, Loria said the decision to change managers was difficult, but necessary.
"Our team has been underperforming for some time," he said. "Before the season started, and many times since, I have reiterated the fact that we expect to win and that excuses of past years will not be accepted.
"Jeff Torborg understands that the pressure for this team to turn around starts tonight."
Torborg, who signed a three-year contract, previously managed Cleveland (1977-79), the Chicago White Sox (1989-91) and the New York Mets (1992-93). He was a catching instructor for Montreal during spring training last year and had been working as a broadcaster with Fox.
He has a 492-551 record in parts of eight seasons.
"Felipe and I have been friends since 1964 and I have tremendous respect for him, admiration for him," Torborg said. "I learned a great deal being around him that it makes a day like this very difficult."
Alou, who spent 27 years with the Expos as a player, coach and manager, turned down a chance to leave Montreal after the 1998 season, when the Los Angeles Dodgers wanted to hire him. The 66-year-old Alou was in the final season of a $6 million, three-year contract.
"He is a tremendous baseball man, and a very popular sports figure in this city," Loria said. "I believe it's in the best interest of the organization to proceed in this new direction. We have a lot of baseball yet to play this season, and we feel this change is a positive one that is needed to turn our team around."
Montreal has not finished with a winning record since 1996, when the Expos were 88-74.
Nonetheless, Martinez felt that Alou did the most he could with the players he was provided with.
"They didn't believe in Jose Vidro," Martinez said. "'Oh, he's got too little arms, and he's not going to be able to do that or this in the big leagues', and now look at him. Orlando Cabrera, (Javier) Vazquez, (Dustin) Hermanson. He took Hermanson from pitching 100 innings in the minor leagues and made him into a star. He made Ugueth Urbina into a closer."
"If he was given the team he could keep, he would have built a winner," said Phillies left-hander Rheal Cormier, who pitched for the Expos from 1996-97.
The Expos, who have the lowest attendance in baseball with an average of 9,605 going into Thursday night's game against Philadelphia, are widely thought to be the major league team most likely to relocate or fold as repeated efforts to gain a new stadium have stalled.
"If you're going to keep the team in Montreal, you have Felipe Alou as the manager," Fletcher said. "If you're going to move the team, you're going to move Felipe. They fired Felipe so that sends a signal to me that they're opening up the door to possibly moving the organization."
Alou was the fourth major league manager to lose his job this season -- and the second this week. Jerry Narron replaced Johnny Oates in Texas, Hal McRae took over from Larry Rothschild in Tampa Bay and Tony Perez was hired Monday as interim manager of Florida after John Boles was let go. Perez took the job for the rest of the season on Thursday.