The Expos are starting to create some excitement in Montreal. As of Sunday les Expos were in second place in the National League East, five games behind the Pirates. The man most responsible for the team's recent success is Felipe Alou, the first Dominican to manage in the majors.
Alou, 57, has dazzled the league with his strategic wizardry, once even double-switching four times in a game to keep his pitcher from hitting. More important, he has brought a calm to a team that was playing scared under former manager Tom Runnells, who was fired on May 22 with a 17-20 record.
Runnells was a big proponent of team meetings. During a stretch when Montreal went 0-12 in night games this year, Runnells even called a meeting to discuss winning at night. "He worried about too many things in the clubhouse and off the field," says pitcher Ken Hill. "We had a curfew at home in Montreal. Can you see telling Gary Carter what time he has to be in his house?"
Alou has a more relaxed approach. "When Felipe took over," says right-fielder Larry Walker, "he told us, 'I know there have been lots of rules. We'll get rid of some of them, like the curfew, because I know I broke that one a lot myself.' "
Second baseman Delino DeShields, who was hitting .308 at week's end and .335 since Alou took over, has thriven under his new manager. The difference between the two managers has been "like night and day," DeShields says. "He's bringing out the potential in guys by using them properly and showing a lot of patience. The best thing he has done for me is leave me alone."
Yet everyone on the team knows Alou is the boss. This is, after all, the same man who, when he was managing in winter ball, once suspended his own brother for part of a season. It happened in 1981 when Alou got into an argument with one of his players, Pedro Guerrero. Alou's brother Jesus, a player-coach on the team, tried to intercede with Felipe on Guerrero's behalf. "I saw it as an act of insubordination," says Felipe, "so I put him off the team. It hurt both of us. It still hurts my parents. But all's forgiven. I had to do it, or I would have lost the team."
Alou has an equally firm grip on the Expos, including his son Moises, an outfielder. Moises responded to his father's managing with his best streak as a major leaguer before going on the disabled list on July 7 with a hamstring injury. "I've managed for 30 seasons—including winter ball seasons—everywhere in the Western Hemisphere," says Felipe, who also played in the major leagues for 17 years. "I've managed more games than almost any manager in the game. No one can out-manage me. I don't think I'm going to see anything new up here. If I had to be a pilot or drive a race car—things I cannot do—I would worry. But I don't worry when I put the uniform on. I'm not going to make many mistakes. I'm not dumb."
Alou, in fact, once planned to be a doctor but gave up that dream because his parents couldn't afford to send him through school. He studied medicine for one year at the University of Santo Domingo before signing a contract with the Giants in 1956. His brothers, Jesus and Matty, also played with the Giants.
Montreal is glad to have Felipe now. In addition to Spanish, he speaks English and some French. He's a fan favorite and a favorite of the players, most of whom played for him somewhere during his 12 years in Montreal's minor league system or in winter ball. "My first meeting with the team, I talked about relaxing," says Alou. "When you're afraid of losing, you don't show your best stuff. I don't know why, but this team had a fear of losses. We're working to eradicate it."