"I'm going to sign Felipe Rojas," says his uncle Matty, the Giant scout. "His mother and my wife are close. No way are they going to take that kid away from me. I believe in bloodlines."
There is, of course, a true Alou fish story.
On the May 1992 afternoon that Felipe Alou was hired as a major league manager, he sat in Expo general manager Dan Duquette's office, "smelling like fish, like hell," Felipe says. Duquette had asked him to drop by his office that day, an off day, but Alou first went fishing, casting high, hard ones on Lac St. Pierre, an hour outside Montreal. Duquette told Alou he was going to fire manager Tom Runnells, who had been hired by Dave Dombrowski, Duquette's predecessor, in 1991. For a few hours Alou, who had joined Runnells as the Expos' bench coach in '92, argued on behalf of his manager.
Runnells is going, period, Duquette finally said. Do you want it or not?
"Eventually," Alou says, "I said yes." Having managed in as many games and in as many places over the previous 30 years as anyone—winters, summers, Venezuela, Mexico, the U.S., the Dominican Republic—he was confident he could do the job. He had a flair for handling pitchers. He was fair. He was tough, so tough that he once suspended his brother Jesus, then a player-coach at Escogido, when Jesus intervened in a dugout dispute between Felipe and Pedro Guerrero after Guerrero had balked at being repositioned.
"I managed against him in the Florida State League," New York Yankee manager Buck Showalter says of Felipe, "and when I heard him talking to his players, I thought he was God."
But there were no disciples. Alou had had two earlier tours as an Expo coach, from 1979 to '80 and in '84, and had managed a year at Double A and four at Triple A, but his second tour at West Palm Beach, between 1986 and '91, seemed to brand him as an A-ball lifer. When Dombrowski was ready to fire Buck Rodgers in 1991, only two members of the Expo organization—Gary Hughes and consultant Angel Vazquez—pushed Alou. "The biggest mistake I've made in my career was not recognizing his ability then to be a terrific major league manager," Dombrowski says. "He's one of the best in the game."
"Dombrowski was not alone," Alou says. "There are 28 teams. It doesn't take much to entice a Class A manager to leave. I don't think people are prejudiced, but to give a Latin manager—a black manager, at that—a team and that kind of responsibility, you think twice. I was given the team with the most talent in baseball, but it wasn't ready to win games yet. [Larry] Walker, Grissom, Alou, [Wilfredo] Cordero...my job was to make sure they developed into stars. But if you hire a Latin manager and these players don't develop, it reflects on all Latins. Your manager has to have a program, be a citizen, relate to the community. You have to ask what relationship a black Latin will have with the community."
The question was answered the day after Alou—who lives with his wife and her parents in the Montreal suburb of Laval during the season—was hired. There was no stink. The front-page headline in La Presse, a French-language Montreal daily, read: EXPOS HIRE LAVAL MAN. Felipe Alou was instantly embraced as one of French Canada's leading citizens. The Expos, who were three games under .500, responded immediately, going 70-55 the rest of 1992. The next year Montreal won 94 games, one less than the team record. Felipe Alou made baseball in Montreal worth watching again.
"Managing is like fishing," Alou says. "Whether or not you catch a fish is ultimately up to the fish. You just have to prepare and make the effort."